In a new find, researchers have revealed that they have found a missing link between crocodiles and dolphins. As per the scientists, some of the crocodile species that lived during the dinosaur era evolved into dolphins.
For the study, researchers examined a 180 million-year-old fossil named Magyarosuchus fitosi in honour of the amateur collector who discovered it, Attila Fitos. The specimen was unearthed back in 1996 from a mountain range in north-west Hungary and was later sent to a museum in Budapest where it was kept in the display for over two decades.
The specimen of the crocodile from the Jurassic era features a large portion of backbone, and scientists believe that it is can be the missing link between crocodiles and their evolution to become marine animals like dolphins. The five-metre long fossil has large, pointed teeth for grasping prey.
“With an estimated body length of 4.67—4.83m [15 feet — 16 feet] M. fitosi is the largest known non-metriorhynchid metriorhynchoid,” the study’s abstract reads.
“The combination of retaining heavy dorsal and ventral armours and having a slight hypocercal tail is unique, further highlighting the mosaic manner of marine adaptations in Metriorhynchoidea.”
In addition, study authors found that the specimen shares features from the two distinct families of prehistoric crocodiles. Some Jurassic-era crocodiles had bony armour on their backs and bellies, and limbs adapted for walking on land. Another group had tail fins and flippers but did not have armour.
The new species was heavily armoured but also had a tail fin, suggesting it is a missing link between the two groups, researchers say.
“This fossil provides a unique insight into how crocodiles began evolving into dolphin and killer whale-like forms more than 180 million years ago,” Dr. Mark Young, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, said in a statement. “The presence of both bony armour and a tailfin highlights the remarkable diversity of Jurassic-era crocodiles.”
The study appeared in the journal Peerj.