New species of prehistoric crocodile identified from fossil

Thursday, 14 January, 2021

New species of prehistoric crocodile identified from fossil

A new species of prehistoric crocodile, measuring more than five metres long and dubbed the ‘swamp king’, has been identified by University of Queensland (UQ) researchers from a fossil first unearthed in the 1980s.

The crocodile’s partial fossilised skull was originally discovered near the town of Chinchilla by the late Geoff Vincent. For years the giant skull — known as ‘Geoff Vincent’s specimen’ — had been assigned to the extinct crocodilian species known as Pallimnarchus pollens; however, the UQ researchers found that the skull had several distinguishing features that indicated it belonged to a previously unidentified species: Paludirex vincenti.

“‘Paludirex’ means ‘swamp king’, and ‘vincenti’ honours the late Mr Vincent,” UQ PhD candidate Jorgo Ristevski explained.

“Its fossilised skull measures around 65 centimetres, so we estimate Paludirex vincenti was at least five metres long.

“The largest crocodilian today is the Indo-Pacific crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, which grows to about the same size. But Paludirex had a broader, more heavy-set skull so it would’ve resembled an Indo-Pacific crocodile on steroids.”

Paludirex was one of the top predators in Australia a few million years ago, capable of preying on giant prehistoric marsupials. According to Ristevski, “The waterways of the Darling Downs would once have been a very dangerous place because of it.”

Ristevski’s supervisor, Dr Steve Salisbury, noted that various species of prehistoric crocodilians previously existed in Australia, with crocodiles having been an important component of Australia’s fauna for millions of years.

“But the two species we have today — Crocodylus porosus and Crocodylus johnstoni — are only recent arrivals, and were not part of the endemic croc fauna that existed here from about 55 million years ago,” he said.

“Whether Paludirex vincenti went extinct as a result of competition with species like Crocodylus porosus is hard to say.

“The alternative is that it went extinct as the climate dried, and the river systems it once inhabited contracted. We’re currently investigating both scenarios.”

The team’s research has been published in the journal PeerJ.

Image credit: ©Георгий Лыкин

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