Researchers analyzed all known crocodilian fossils from the Panama Canal, including the oldest records of Central American caimans, which are cousins of alligators. The more primitive species, named Culebrasuchus mesoamericanus, may represent an evolutionary transition between caimans and alligators, Hastings said.
"You mix an alligator and one of the more primitive caimans and you end up with this caiman that has a much flatter snout, making it more like an alligator," Hastings said. "Before this, there were no fossil crocodilian skulls known from Central America."
Christopher Brochu, an assistant professor of vertebrate paleontology in the department of geoscience at the University of Iowa, said "the caiman fossil record is tantalizing," and the new data shows there is still a long way to go before researchers understand the group.
"The fossils that are in this paper are from a later time period, but some of them appear to be earlier-branching groups, which could be very important," said Brochu, who was not involved with the study. "The problem is, because we know so little about early caiman history, it's very difficult to tell where these later forms actually go on the family tree."
The new mammal species researchers described is an anthracothere, Arretotherium meridionale, an even-toed hooved mammal previously thought to be related to living hippos and intensively studied on the basis of its hypothetical relationship with whales. About the size of a cow, the mammal would have lived in a semi-aquatic environment in Central America, said lead author and UF graduate student Aldo Rincon.
"With the evolution of new terrestrial corridors like this peninsula connecting North America with Central America, th
|Contact: Jonathan Bloch|
University of Florida