Wits scientist finds ancient mammal-like croc

2010-08-05 12:47

The international journal Nature has published an article about

Johannesburg-based scientist Zubair Jinnah, who discovered the holotype of a new

species in Tanzania – an ancient crocodile with mammal-like teeth.

“The unusual creature is changing the picture of animal life at 100

million years ago in sub-Saharan Africa,” said the University of the


The fossils were discovered in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania in


“I discovered the specimen, which has an articulated skull,

vertebrae and limb elements, whereas previously discovered material found by our

research team of the same species in previous years was of isolated or

incomplete elements,” said Jinnah, who is a sedimentologist and an associate

lecturer in the Wits School of Geosciences.

Sedimentology is the study of modern sediments such as sand, mud

and clay.

Jinnah’s research focuses on fossil-bearing sedimentary


“This specimen will now form the holotype of the new species,” said


Patrick O’Connor, associate professor of anatomy at the Ohio

University College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the specimen’s teeth made the

discovery very interesting.

“If you only looked at the teeth, you would not think this was a


You would wonder at whether it is a strange mammal or mammal-like

reptile,” he said.

The new species, named Pakasuchus (Paka is the Kiswahili name for

cat and souchos is Greek for crocodile), is a small animal whose head would fit

into the palm of a person’s hand.

In a statement, Wits said: “It was not as heavily armoured as other

crocodiles, except along the tail, and its gracile limbs suggest that the

creatures were quite mobile.

Other aspects of its anatomy suggest that it was a

land-dwelling creature (unlike water-dwelling crocodiles) that likely feasted on

insects and other small animals.

“The new species is not a close relative of modern crocodilians,

but is a member of a very successful side branch of the crocodyliform lineage

that lived during the Mesozoic Era.”

Pakasuchus lived alongside large, plant-eating sauropod and

predatory theropod dinosaurs, other types of crocodiles, turtles and various

kinds of fish.

It is believed that Pakasuchus was abundant during the middle

Cretaceous period, from around 110 million until 80 million years ago.

Former Wits scientist Eric Roberts, who was the lead geologist on

the Tanzanian project, said the discovery was important in understanding past


Jinnah added: “Understanding the African fossil record from the

Cretaceous (145 to 90 million years ago) period is important for a number of


“Gondwana (South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, India) had

begun breaking up at that time and the types of animals we find in Cretaceous

ecosystems help us hypothesise about how the continents broke up.”

Jinnah said it would help scientists understand how African

landscapes evolved over time.

“Africa’s records of sedimentary rocks and fossils are relatively

poorly understood and documented.” – Sapa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.