Brazil has put on public display for the first time at the Federal University of Rio do Janeiro, the fossil of a land-bound reptile that could be a link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles. The information came courtesy of National Geographic.
Brazilian paleontologist Felipe Mesquita de Vasconcellos presented the 80-million-year-old predator, dubbed Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi, during a news conference at the University. The remains were found in 2004 near the small Brazilian city of Monte Alto, about 346 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of São Paulo.
The 1.6-meter-long (5.2 feet) Montealtosuchus was a long-limbed and extremely agile animal that roamed arid terrain in what is now the Brazilian countryside instead of living in marshlands and spending most of its time in the water, de Vasconcellos said.
"As a missing link to prehistoric crocodiles, it offers us an excellent opportunity to study the evolutionary transition of these animals," de Vasconcellos explained. "It has a mix of morphological traits common in prehistoric crocodiles and in the ones that exist today."
"Its nostrils were at the front (of its snout). If it went in the water it had to keep its head erect making it an easy target for other predators. Its eyes were placed laterally, like other land-walking animals" said de Vasconcellos.
He said these characteristics made the Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi the "missing link" of crocodiles.
The discovery could also lead paleontologists to revise theories that place the origin of crocodiles in the northern hemisphere, where no fossils of such "intermediary" species have been found, he added.
"Perhaps the origin of crocodiles around the entire world was in the south and not in North America or Europe as it was always believed," de Vasconcellos told reporters.
"They may have first appeared in South America or Africa, when they were fused together in a single continent. That would change the way an entire species has propagated."
Details of the discovery were published in October 2007 in a peer-reviewed journal based in New Zealand.
Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio said the find could be of major importance.
"We have very little evidence of terrestrial crocodiles, so the example from Brazil could form a missing link of a whole evolutionary diversity," Ryan said.
Two years ago, paleontologists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro announced the discovery of the fossil of a 70-million-year-old croc-like reptile.
The team named the species Uberabasuchus terrificus, or the "terrible crocodile of Uberaba."
Uberabasuchus was smaller than today's crocodiles – only about 3 meters long and weighing about 295 kilograms (650 pounds).