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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Chicago learns from crocodile rock
Croc AP
A face only its mother could love
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Crocodiles are fierce, irritable and eat meat, okay?

Well, no. Fossil remains of a 70-million-year-old ancestor of modern crocs, found on the island of Madagascar, show this reptile was in fact a plant-eater.

Simosuchus clarki (from the Greek simos meaning pug-nosed, and souchos, the Egyptian crocodile-headed god) is only the second known vegetarian crocodile to be discovered.

"This is the weirdest crocodile ever found," said Dr Greg Buckley, a research associate with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, who discovered the specimen in 1998.

It dates from the Late Cretaceous, near the end of the age of the dinosaurs. It measured 1.2 metres (4ft) long and weighed between 90-136kg (200-300 lbs).

It also had a face only its mother could love.

Its strong neck, blunt snout, and the position of its eyes and nostrils indicate it lived mostly on land and not in the water.

Dr Buckley said that fierce competition for resources may explain why Simosuchus turned to a vegetarian diet.

"Simosuchus went to the extreme, taking advantage of one food source that other crocodiles weren't after. That is, plants," he said.

The Simosuchus clarki fossil will go on display at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History in July.

The research is reported in the journal Nature

Croc AP
Dr Buckley found the remains two years ago

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