The concept of ancient crocodyliforms as snake food has its parallel in the modern world, as anacondas have been documented consuming caimans in the Amazon. Given the ancient reptile's size, it would have been no competition for Titanoboa, Hastings said.
Cerrejonisuchus improcerus is the smallest member of Dyrosauridae, a family of now-extinct crocodyliforms. Dyrosaurids typically grew to about 18 feet and had long tweezer-like snouts for eating fish. By contrast, the Cerrejon species had a much shorter snout, indicating a more generalized diet that likely included frogs, lizards, small snakes and possibly mammals.
"It seems that Cerrejonisuchus managed to tap into a feeding resource that wasn't useful to other larger crocodyliforms," Hastings said.
The study reveals an unexpected level of diversity among dyrosaurids, said Christopher A. Brochu, a paleontologist and associate professor in geosciences at the University of Iowa.
"This diversity is more evolutionarily complex than expected," said Brochu, who was not involved in the study. "A limited number of snout shapes evolved repeatedly in many groups of crocodyliforms, and it appears that the same is true for dyrosaurids. Certain head shapes arose in different dyrosaurid lineages independently."
Dyrosaurids split from the branch that eventually produced the modern families of alligators and crocodiles more than 100 million years ago. They survived the major extinction event that killed the dinosaurs but eventually went extinct about 45 million years ago. Most dyrosaurids have been found in Africa, but they occur throughout the world. Prior to this finding, only one other dyrosaurid skull from South America had been described.
Scientists previously believed dyrosaurids diversified in the Paleogene, the period of time following the mass extinction of dinosaurs, but this study reinforces the view th
|Contact: Alex Hastings|
University of Florida