Washington, May 7: A 27-foot crocodile, capable of swallowing humans, once roamed east Africa, dwarfing even its counterparts in the Nile – the biggest recorded so far, a scientist says.
Christopher Brochu, associate professor of geoscience, University of Iowa, recognised the new species from fossils that he had examined three years ago at the National Museum of Kenya.
“It’s the largest known true crocodile. It may have exceeded 27 feet in length. By comparison, the largest recorded Nile crocodile was less than 21 feet, and most are much smaller,” says Brochu, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, reports.
The new species that lived between two and four million years ago resembled its living cousin, the Nile crocodile, but was more massive, according to an Iowa statement.
“It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them,” Brochu says. He explains that although the fossils contain no evidence of human or reptile encounters, crocodiles generally eat whatever they can swallow, and humans of that time period would have stood no more than four feet tall.
“We don’t actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today’s crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn’t much biting involved,” Brochu says.
He adds that there likely would have been ample opportunity for humans to encounter crocs. That’s because early man, along with other animals, would have had to seek water at rivers and lakes where crocodiles lie in wait.
Regarding the name he gave to the new species, Brochu said there was never a doubt. The crocodile Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni is named after John Thorbjarnarson, famed crocodile expert and Brochu’s colleague who died of malaria while in the field several years ago.
“He was a giant in the field, so it only made sense to name a giant after him,” Brochu says. “I certainly miss him, and I needed to honour him in some way. I could not do it.”
Among the skills needed for one to discover a new species of crocodile is, apparently, a keen eye. Not that the fossilised crocodile head is small — it took four men to lift it. But other experts had seen the fossil without realising it was a new species.