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'Missing Link' Croc Displayed in Brazil

Brazilian scientists displayed the 80-million-year-old fossil of what they say is the missing link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles. (Image credit: AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes)

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) — The 80 million-year-old remains of a land-bound reptile described as a possible link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles were displayed to the public for the first time on Thursday.

The fossil of the 5 1/2-foot-long predator was found in 2004 near the small city of Monte Alto, 215 miles northwest of Sao Paulo, paleontologist Felipe Mesquita de Vasconcellos said by telephone, after presenting the find to a news conference at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The long-limbed and extremely agile animal, dubbed "Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi," roamed arid and hot terrain that is now Brazilian countryside, Vasconcelos said.

"As a missing link to prehistoric crocodiles, it offers us an excellent opportunity to study the evolutionary transition of these animals," Vasconcellos said. "It has a mix of morphological traits common in prehistoric crocodiles and in the ones that exist today."

Details of the discovery were published in October 2007 in Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal based in New Zealand.

Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said the discovery could be of major importance.

"We have very little evidence of terrestrial crocodiles, so the example from Brazil could form a missing link of a whole evolutionary diversity," said Ryan, who was not involved in the research.

Two years ago, paleontologists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, announced the discovery of a fossil of a prehistoric crocodile which they called Uberabasuchus Terrificus, or the "terrible crocodile of Uberaba."

Uberabasuchus lived 70 million years ago and was smaller than today's crocodiles — only about 10 feet long and weighing about 650 pounds.