You would probably turn and run the other way if a crocodile crossed your path. You’d run twice as fast if confronted by the 95-million-year-old Late Cretaceous crocodile known as “Shieldcroc.” Casey M. Holliday from the University of Missouri and Nick Gardener from Marshall University recently conducted an analysis of a partial skull fossil of this dinosaur-age beast. Shieldcroc, formally named Aegisuchus witmeri, measured 25-35 feet long (based on the skull fragment), but that wasn’t even its most menacing characteristic. Shieldcroc gets its name from a thick layer of skin positioned on its forehead, the presence of which was determined by analyzing blood vessels scarring the bone. It’s long, relatively thin skull was probably best suited for trapping fish along the shallow shoreline. Its biting strength is interpreted as less than impressive, allowable because of the croc’s sheer size. Holliday (who is an assistant professor of anatomy in MU’s School of Medicine) and her colleagues believe that the thickened area was meant both to attract mates and deter competition. Close study of this piece of its five-foot-long skull, discovered in Morocco, revealed “Shieldcroc” as the oldest descendant of today’s modern African or Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), which by comparison seldom reaches 20 feet long. Shieldcroc’s enormous skull will be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto later in 2012.

Read more at the New York Times Science online.

Find the original article in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Published On: March 22, 2012

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