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Scientists rename prehistoric crocodile species

A new species of prehistoric sea crocodile has been identified by scientists.

The fossil, which is about 145 million years old, is similar in size to saltwater crocodiles of today, and would have been one of the largest coastal predators of its time.

Researchers say the animal was a sea-going member of an extinct group called teleosaurs, common during the Jurassic Period but only distantly related to modern crocodiles.

Classification challenge

Artist's impression of Lemmysuchus.
Artist's impression of Lemmysuchus. Credit Mark Witton and Trustees of the NHM, London

The specimen, which was originally found by fossil collectors in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 20th century, was studied by a team including Michela Johnson, a PhD student at the University, scientists from the Natural History Museum and researchers from France, Germany and Hungary.

They found that the fossil had been classified incorrectly with other sea crocodiles from the quarries at Peterborough, and it needed a new scientific name.

Star status

The species was named Lemmysuchus by a member of the research team, in honour of Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, frontman of the band Motörhead.

Its body was almost six metres long, with a skull measuring more than one metre. It had large, blunt teeth perfect for crushing prey such as turtles.

The study was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

It can be difficult to identify new species as we are normally working with incomplete fossil skeletons. Following careful anatomical comparison, and by referring to the main specimen held at the Natural History Museum, we could see that most of the previous finds were actually from relatives of this croc rather than the species itself, and we were able to assign a new name.

Michela JohnsonSchool of GeoSciences