Fragments of Fossilized Crocodile Skull Indicate Previously Unknown Ancient Species

Posted on March 15, 2014

Koumpiodontosuchus aprosdokiti drawing

Fragments of a fossilized crocodile skull were found on a beach near Sandown on the Isle of Wight. Two different pieces of the skull were found by different people on the beach on separate occasions. These two pieces fit together perfectly to form a complete skull. Diane Trevarthen and Austin and Finley Nathan are credited with finding the skull fragments and donating them to the Dinosaur Isle museum.

The previously unknown species has been named Koumpiodontosuchus aprosdokiti, which means the "unexpected button toothed crocodile." University of Portsmouth palaeontologist Dr. Steve Sweetman named the species and published a paper, "A new bernissartiid crocodyliform from the Lower Cretaceous Wessex Formation (Wealden Group, Barremian) of the Isle of Wight, southern England," on the discovery in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

Dr. Sweetman says in the announcement, "Both parts of this wonderful little skull are in good condition, which is most unusual when you consider that crashing waves usually batter and blunt the edges of fossils like this within days or even hours of them being washed onto the beach. Both parts must therefore have been found very soon after they were released from the mud and debris originally laid down on a dinosaur trampled river floodplain around 126 million years ago. The sheer serendipity of this discovery is quite bizarre. Finding the two parts is in itself remarkable. That they should be found three months apart by different collectors and taken to the museum where the same members of staff were on duty and therefore able to recall the first specimen defies belief."

Dr. Sweetman say the crocodile's button-shaped teeth helped it crush mollusc shells and invertebrates. In studying the lower part of the ancient croocdiles skull he discovered it was not only a previously unknown species, but also a new genus.

Dr. Sweetman says, "The location of the hole in the mouth, where the airway from the nose opens, was surrounded by bones at the very back of the palate. This tells us that the discovery is not only a new species but also a new genus of ancient croc closely related to, but subtly different to those alive today."

Image: Dr. Mark Witton

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