Ancient Croc with ‘Shovel Mouth’ Likely Enjoyed Clam Dinners

Ancient CrocA peg-toothed crocodile relative with a mouth like a shovel lived in the prehistoric swamps of Peru about 13 million years ago, a new study finds.

The newly discovered reptile (Gnatusuchus pebasensis) is one of seven types of extinct crocodylians researchers found recently near the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. (A crocodylian is an order that includes crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharials.)

Two of the crocodylians were already known to scientists, but the other five are newly discovered species, said the study’s lead author, Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, a graduate student at the University of Montpellier, in France, and chief of the paleontology department at the National University of San Marcos’ Museum of Natural History in Lima, Peru.

Salas-Gismondi and his colleagues spent more than a decade traveling to Peru to excavate the same bone bed on the banks of the Amazon River during the dry summer months. It’s almost unprecedented to find seven ancient crocodile species living in the same sediment layer at the same location, he said.

“It’s a single fossil community,” Salas-Gismondi told Live Science. “All of these [crocodylians] were living at the same time and the same place.”

Crushing clams

With their peglike teeth, the crocodylians may have been adept at crushing and crunching mollusks, such as clams and snails, Salas-Gismondi said. Modern-day crocs also eat mollusks, but shellfish are just a small part of their diet, he said.

It’s possible the ancient crocodylians regularly dined on mollusks, as the bone bed has an abundance of damaged mollusk shells. In fact, 93 percent of the fossilized shells have “crushing predation scars,” the researchers wrote in the study.

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