Science News

Brazil finds fossil of "missing link" to crocodile

An undated image of a newly discovered prehistoric crocodile (Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi) released by the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro January 31, 2008. Brazilian paleontologists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossil of a new species of prehistoric predator that represents a "missing link" to modern-day crocodiles. REUTERS/Federal University/Handout

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian paleontologists said on Thursday they had found the fossil of a new species of prehistoric predator that represented a “missing link” to modern-day crocodiles.

The well-preserved fossil of Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi, a medium-sized lizard-like predator measuring about 5 1/2 feet (1.7 meters) from head to tail, dates back about 80 million years to the Late Cretaceous period.

“This is scientifically important because the specimen literally is the link between more primitive crocodiles that lived in the era of the dinosaurs 80-85 million years ago and modern species,” said paleontologist Ismar de Souza Carvalho of Rio de Janeiro Federal University.

Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi, an agile terrestrial predator of the Peirosauridae family, had different habits from today’s crocodiles but it was similar in form and structure despite having longer limbs, scientists said.

The fossil was found near the town of Monte Alto in Sao Paulo state and is named after the place and the local scientist who dug up the fossil in 2004 -- Arruda Campos.

The new species is one of a number of important finds by paleontologists in Brazil and Argentina over the past few years.

Reporting by Leonardo Teixeira and Andrei Khalip; Editing by David Storey