For decades, paleontologists have wondered about a mysterious, toothy jaw fragment discovered on the island of Madagascar.
Dating to the mid-Jurassic period about 166 million years ago, the jaw was clearly from a large predatory animal—but what kind, exactly? Now scientists have finally identified the species, Razanandrongobe sakalavae (nicknamed Razana), as an enormous crocodile ancestor.
It was likely an apex land predator whose teeth were optimized for chomping on bones and tendons.
The discovery, described in a recent article in PeerJ, reads a bit like an after-school special about why fossils shouldn’t be kept in “private collections.” Researchers Cristiano Dal Sasso and Simone Maganuco from the Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan, Italy, were able to recreate and identify this crocodilian’s skull only after locating more fossils from the same species in a private individual’s cache.
This collector had excavated his fossils back in the early 1970s, from exactly the same area in Madagascar that the other Razana skull fragments were found.
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