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Ancient Crocodile Was World's Largest

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The comparative sizes of the newfound crocodile species and present-day Nile crocodiles, next to an ancient hominid and a modern human. (Image credit: Illustration by Chris Brochu.)

Scientists have announced the discovery of a newfound crocodile species that may have been the largest to ever roam the Earth. The colossal reptiles trolled East African waters between 4 million and 2 million years ago, and may have snacked on human ancestors, researchers said.

The largest fossil specimens recovered belong to massive crocodiles some 25 feet (7.5 meters) in length; and the ancient giants may have grown larger than 27 feet (8 meters), according to Christopher Brochu, an associate professor of geosciences at the University of Iowa.

Brochu stumbled upon the new species three years ago, while examining enormous fossils housed at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. It took four men to lift the skull of one of the specimens, which were originally excavated from the Turkana Basin, an area surrounding Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

The region is a famed hotspot for human fossil finds. Many early hominids have been unearthed from the Turkana Basin, and Brochu said it's possible some of them came to a nasty end, thanks to the prehistoric crocodiles, dubbed Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni.

"It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them." Brochu said in a statement, adding that the colossal reptiles may have swallowed them whole.

"We don’t actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today's crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn't much biting involved," he said.

Brochu's research is published in the May 3 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The newfound species isn't closely related to Nile crocodiles, Brochu said. "We really don't know where the Nile crocodile came from," he said, "but it only appears after some of these prehistoric giants died out."

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Live Science Staff
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