Previously unknown crocodile species lived in Asia 39 million years ago

Skull of the new crocodile species Maomingosuchus acutirostris from 35-39 millio

Skull of the new crocodile species Maomingosuchus acutirostris from 35-39 million year old lake deposits in Vietnam.

Based on the many fossil finds of false gharial relatives from North Africa and Europe, palaeontologists believe that this crocodile species originated more than 50 million years ago in the western Tethys, a precursor to today’s Mediterranean Sea. However, little is known about how, why and when exactly the species reached its current range in South Asia.

The newly-described species was named Maomingosuchus acutirostris (acutirostris is Latin for "the pointy-snouted one") and - along with known crocodile species from southern China and Thailand - is the oldest representative of the false gharial relatives in Asia. "The results indicated that the dispersal of these species to Asia was not a one-time event, but rather a complex scenario," said Tobias Massonne of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen. "The data suggest that relatives of the false gharial colonized Southeast Asia three times independently. The first-time colonization by the stem lineage of Maomingosuchus from North Africa and Western Europe to East Asia occurred during the Eocene era, more than 39 million years ago."

In 2019, the research team described a previously unknown alligator relative (Orientalosuchus naduongensis), approximately two meters long, from the same site. Both crocodiles, the short-snouted Orientalosuchus and the long-snouted Maomingosuchus, lived in a lake in what is now northern Vietnam. Close relatives of both species also lived at similar times in southern China and Thailand. "Despite the proximity of the three localities where Maomingosuchus and relatives of Orientalosuchus were found, it is striking that they are distinct species and that no species occurs in all three regions. We see this as evidence of the high diversity of crocodiles in Asia at that time," adds Professor Madelaine Böhme, who led the excavation campaign in Vietnam from 2009 to 2012.

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