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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Giant crocodile was length of bus
Super-crocodile Sarcosuchus imperator, Michael W Skrepnick
The super-crocodile weighed eight tons
Image: © Michael W Skrepnick 2001

By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

Scientists have released new details of a giant super-crocodile which lived around 110 million years ago and grew to the length of a bus.

Sarcosuchus imperator skulls, Science
S. imperator had a snout broader than those of modern crocodiles
Sarchosuchus imperator specimens were first discovered in the Ténéré Desert in Niger in 1964, but new finds in the Sahara have made it possible to form a clearer picture of the giants.

The creature is the largest of several different fossil crocodiles investigated by Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago, US, and colleagues.

The smallest could not eat more than a biscuit.

Mystery bump

"That's the fascinating thing about crocodile evolution.

Super-crocodile skeleton, Science
The super-crocodile had a range of prey
"It seems like modern crocodiles have been trimmed at each end of their size range, with the little ones and the big ones disappearing," Professor Sereno said.

S. imperator's jaw and teeth suggest it ate a generalised diet of large, back-boned animals like fish, turtles and dinosaurs. Its name means "flesh crocodile emperor".

The large bump or bulla at the end of its snout is a mystery, though.

Vocal reptiles

Professor Sereno said: "We're still wondering what it's for.

It was living an ambush lifestyle

Paul Sereno
"Crocodilians are among the most vocal reptiles, so I wouldn't doubt that it may have been involved in both sound and smell."

The giant crocodile dwarfs its modern relatives. The new finds suggest that adults took 50-60 years to reach a full length of 11-12 metres (37-40 feet) and a weight of eight tonnes.

The creature's eyes were tilted upwards, allowing it to conceal much of its body under water. "It was living an ambush lifestyle," said Professor Sereno.

Details of S. imperator are published by the journal Science on its Sciencexpress website.

The BBC's Nathalie Knowles
"It lay in wait in the shallows"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's largest ever dinosaur
03 Oct 01 | England
Dinosaurs felt the heat
27 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Dinosaur eggs discovered
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