The Ancient Crocodile That Preyed on Dinosaurs

Artist’s reconstruction of Isisfordia molnari (Image: by Josè Vitor Silva)
Artist’s reconstruction of Isisfordia molnari (Image: by Josè Vitor Silva)

Two fossils, one found more than a century ago and another collected 70 years later, were the clues that enabled a Masters student to identify a new species of prehistoric crocodile.

The new species of crocodile has been described from opalized fossils found at Lightning Ridge in NSW, Australia, from a fossil dug up more than a century ago and a second one found more than 70 years later.

Dating back 100 million years, the new species, Isisfordia molnari, is one of the oldest known direct ancestors of today’s living crocodiles. The species was named after Ralph Molnar, a paleontologist whose many valuable contributions to Australian science include research on fossil crocodiles.

Artist’s reconstruction of Isisfordia molnari (Image by Josè Vitor Silva)

Artist’s reconstruction of Isisfordia molnari. (Image: by Josè Vitor Silva)

This is the second species of Isisfordia discovered, with Isisfordia duncani named in 2006 from fossils found near the Queensland outback town of Isisford. Isisfordia molnari grew to between 1.5 and 2 meters in length and is thought to have been a semi-aquatic ambush predator, like modern crocodiles.

Its prey probably included small dinosaurs such as Weewarrasaurus. Lead researcher Lachlan Hart, a Master of Science student at the University of New England in Armidale, explained how the new species was discovered. Mr. Hart said:

Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from above, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. (Image: University of New England)

Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from above, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. (Image: University of New England)

Like other fossils from Lightning Ridge, the Isisfordia molnari fossils are opalized, meaning that the original bone and tooth material has been replaced by opal.

Photos of the partial braincase (top view) and jawbone of the new crocodile species, Isisfordia molnari, from Lightning Ridge, NSW. (Not to scale). (image: by Lachlan Hart)

Photos of the partial braincase (top view) and jawbone of the new crocodile species, Isisfordia molnari, from Lightning Ridge, NSW. (Not to scale). (image: by Lachlan Hart)

Other famous opalized fossils from Lightning Ridge include those of the recently-announced herbivorous dinosaurs Fostoria dhimbangunmal and Weewarrasaurus pobeni, fossils of which are at the Australian Opal Centre, a public museum that earlier in 2019 secured $20 million to construct a new building at Lightning Ridge for its world-leading collections and programs.

Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from underneath, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. (Image: University of New England)

Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from underneath, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. (Image: University of New England)

Australian Opal Centre paleontologist and Special Projects Officer Jenni Brammall said:

The new crocodile species was published in the journal PeerJ by scientists from the University of New England, Australian Opal Centre, and the University of Queensland.

Provided by: University of New England [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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