Duck-faced croc had a gap-toothed grin

From Boston, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

SMILE! The fossil skull of an ancient dwarf crocodile rests neatly in a paleontologist’s palm. Christina Reed/Geotimes

Paleontologists have unearthed fossils of a tiny crocodile that boasted a smile like no other.

The 60-centimeter-long species lived about 110 million years ago in the rivers of what would become Africa, side by side with 12-meter-long cousins that ranked among the largest crocodilians ever (SN: 10/27/01, p. 260: Fossils Indicate. . .Wow, What a Croc!). It’s also interesting that the nostrils on the smaller animal’s blunt muzzle faced forward, says Paul C. Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.

That suggests the creature spent most of its time on the riverbanks, not in the water.

The dwarf crocodile, which hasn’t yet been described in detail, had a broad-snouted skull about 9 cm long. The creature’s lower jaw had about 15 teeth and fit inside the 20-tooth upper jaw, which was shaped like a duck’s bill. Neither the upper nor the lower jaw of the fossil has any teeth across the front. It’s not that the teeth fell out or weren’t preserved, Sereno notes–the jaws didn’t even have any tooth sockets there. A gap that wide in an otherwise tooth-filled mouth is a feature not seen in any other animal species.

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