While birds are a more direct ancestor to ancient dinosaurs, crocodiles come with a similarly ancient lineage. With a species whose life stretches hundreds of millions of years, there are bound to be a few mysteries—but it seems at least one is slowly being solved.
Five years after discovering an incredibly well-preserved crocodile fossil the late Jurassic period, paleontologists are learning that the croc’s early ancestor Cricosaurus bambergensis had a tail fin and paddle-like limbs—similar to sea turtles or dolphins.
The Cricosaurus bambergensis, named after the German town of Bamberg in which it was found, gives insight into how this group of ancient crocs evolved. The fossil will also assist researchers in better understanding the metriorhynchid family, and ancient species to which Cricosaurus bambergensis belongs.
The discovery—which showed a fully preserved body—also showed physiology that has never been seen in any other species.
“The skeleton has several distinguishing features in its jaws, the roof of its mouth and tail,” according to Science Daily.
“The study reveals peculiar features at the palate that have not been described in any fossil crocodile so far. There are two depressions which are separated by a pronounced bar. It is not clear what these depressions were good for,” said Sven Sachs, the lead author of the study on Cricosaurus bambergensis.
The tail of the Cricosaurus bambergensis is similar to that of other species of the same metriorhynchid family and features bone physiology that was suited for life in the ocean.
Although it has distinct differences, a phylogenetic analysis showed researchers that Cricosaurus bambergensis is similar to two other Cricosaurus species: Cricosaurus elegans and Cricosaurus suevicus, both from Germany.
Researchers believe that Cricosaurus bambergensis fed on fast-moving sea creatures such as squid and other fish due to their small teeth and the fact that a preserved cephalopod shell was found in the stomach of Cricosaurus suevicus.
Cricosaurus bambergensis is on display at the Naturkunde-Museum in Bamberg, Germany.