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It’s a simple skull, but it says it all: The fossil of a now extinct African crocodile species has revealed a disturbing similarity to its modern American cousins, whose ancestors are believed to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean a decade ago. at least 5 million years ago, according to a study released Thursday.
American crocodiles could all be the descendants of a single pregnant female of this ancient African species, which would have been transported by the ocean currents to land in the New World, speculate the authors of this study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
A crocodile skull of the species “C. checchiai ”was discovered in 1939 at the site of As Sahabi in Libya, with four other identical specimens unfortunately destroyed during the war or lost. Only the fifth has been preserved and stored at the Earth Sciences Museum of the Sapienza University in Rome, in fairly good condition despite being 7 million years old.
Recently reexamined with a scanner, the almost 50 cm long skull was reconstructed in 3D images, and finally revealed the secrets of its anatomy: “C. checchiai ”protruded from the muzzle, giving it a convex profile. A form that cannot be found anywhere else in Africa, but which is strangely reminiscent of four cousin species now inhabiting America, as well as ancient species from Venezuela, explains the study.
This shared skeletal structure therefore suggests a close evolution between “C. checchiai ”and those American crocodiles.
Complementary morphological and molecular analyzes supported this thesis, and concluded that this African ancestor could be at the base of the phylogenic tree of crocodiles, and would be the missing link between the African and American lineages.
But how did the branches get mixed up? The study suggests that the large reptiles would have migrated from Africa to America to disperse on the continent, in the Miocene era, between 11 and 5 million years ago.
Yet at that time, the Atlantic Ocean already represented “a gigantic paleobiogeographical barrier”, explains to AFP Massimo Delfino, the main author of the study. But the presence of several currents, in particular the north-equatorial current, probably facilitated the dispersal of the crocodiles, develops this researcher from the University of Turin.
The extinct species “C. checchiai ”is indeed close to a current species of Australasia which is“ capable of traveling nearly 500 kilometers in a month simply by floating and allowing itself to be carried by the current, as satellite images have shown ”, adds- he, specifying that further studies will be necessary to better understand the modalities of this dispersion.
Source: tva nouvelles