The first crocodiles sailed to America from Africa

The skull of an ancient African crocodile showed features that today are characteristic only of American reptiles – it seems that he was their ancestor.

Scientists have re-examined the skull of a crocodile that lived on the territory of modern Libya several million years ago. He showed traits typical of modern American reptiles, which may indicate an African origin of crocodiles. This is discussed in an article published in Scientific Reports.

Massimo Delfino and his colleagues at the University of Turin, Italy, studied the skull of an extinct Crocodylus checchiai, who lived seven million years ago in North Africa. The sample was found back in 1939 and was kept in the museum for many years. Only now was it possible to conduct a detailed computed tomography and examine a 3D model with a high resolution.

This work found that there were bumps in the middle of the ancient animal’s muzzle, which today are characteristic of crocodiles in the New, not the Old World. On the other hand, some features of the anatomy indicate its connection with the local Nile crocodiles. Thus, C. checchiai can be called a long-awaited “intermediate link” between these and other reptiles.

The find seems to close the long-standing question of whether the “ancestral home” of crocodiles was located in Africa or America. The C. checchiai specimen is a couple of million years older than the oldest American specimen. Most likely, it was from Africa that they once got there. It happened not so long ago that the outlines and positions of the continents were very different from modern ones.

The resettlement could have been done by a small group of crocodiles – or at least one pregnant female – who somehow managed to cross the Atlantic. According to scientists, this would not be something incredible at all. “This is not surprising at all,” says Massimo Delfino, “when you think about the wonderful ability of crocodiles to survive in saltwater and swim hundreds of kilometers using sea currents”.

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