A review of the fossil record by Birmingham researchers has discovered a new species of giant Triassic crocodile named Mambawakale ruhuhu. Excavated in Tanzania nearly 60 years ago, the fossils revealed several distinct features that set the creature apart from previously known archosaurs. Finding this missing link expands our understanding of crocodile evolution.
Picture: Reconstruction of the life of Mambawakale ruhuhu. Only the skull, the mandible and some post-cranial elements are known to Mambawakale ruhuhuso the rest of the body, tail, and limbs are reconstructed based on the anatomy of hypothetical close relatives of similar size. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto
A set of Triassic archosaur fossils, discovered in the 1960s in Tanzania, have been officially recognized as a separate species, representing one of the earliest known members of the crocodile evolutionary line.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, the Natural History Museum and Virginia Tech University named the animal Mambawakale ruhuhu. It is one of the last to be studied from a collection of fossils unearthed nearly 60 years ago from the Manda Beds, a geological formation in southern Tanzania.
The remains, which are the only known example of Mambawakale ruhuhu, include a partial skull, lower jaw, several vertebrae, and a hand. From these, the research team was able to identify several distinguishing features that set it apart from other archosaurs found in Manda beds.
These included a large skull, over 75 cm long, and a particularly large nostril, as well as a particularly narrow lower jaw and a strong variation in the size of the teeth at the front of the upper jaws.
Richard Butler, professor of paleobiology at the University of Birmingham says:Mambawakale ruhuhu would have been a large and terrifying predator, which roamed Tanzania around 240 million years ago. Measuring around 5 meters in length, it is one of the largest predators we know of from this period.
“Our analysis identifies Mambawakale as one of the oldest known archosaurs and one of the earliest members of the lineage that eventually evolved into modern crocodilians. This is an exciting discovery, as identifying this animal helps us understand the rapid early diversification of archosaurs and allows us to add an additional link to the evolutionary history of modern crocodiles.
The study, published in Royal Society for Open Science, also ended an ambitious fossil expedition undertaken by scientists, including paleontologist Alan Charig, in 1963. Although most of the findings reported from this expedition have now been formally described and cataloged, Mambawakale ruhuhu remained unpublished until now.
By naming the specimen, the research team sought to recognize the previously little-recognized contributions of Tanzanians to the success of the 1963 expedition. The name chosen derives from Kiswahili, one of Tanzania’s native languages. Mambawakale means ancient crocodile, and ruhuhu refers to the Ruhuhu basin, the region in which the fossil was excavated.
Read the original article: “A new pseudosuchian archosaur, Mambawakale ruhuhu gen. and sp. nov., from the Middle Triassic Manda beds of Tanzania.’ via Royal Society for Open Science.