06 August 2010

SA scientist finds ancient mammal-like croc

THE international journal Nature published an article yesterday 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 100million years ago in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Wits University in Johannesburg in a statement.
The fossils were discovered in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania in 2008.
“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 rocks. “This specimen will now form the holotype (reference material) of the new species,” said Jinnah.
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 crocodile. You would wonder at whether it is a strange mammal or mammal-like reptile.”
The new species, named Pakasuchus (Paka is the Ki-Swahili 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.
“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 to survive,” said the Wits statement.
“The new species … is a member of a very successful side branch of the crocodyliform lineage that lived during the Mesozoic era.” — Sapa

SOURCE: Daily Dispatch , Friday , 6 August 2010

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