Paul Sereno on discovering an ancient fanged ‘boar-croc’

Two horns coming out the back of the skull, a stub nose in the front, and three sets of fangs. This boar-croc is a relative of the modern crocodile and lived in the African Sahara 90 million years ago.

Paul Sereno: You’re looking at an animal that is a cross between a boar and a crocodile. Never doubt the creativity of evolution!

That’s Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. At a 2009 science meeting, he showed EarthSky the unusual fossil that his team unearthed in a remote region of the Sahara Desert. Sereno said he’d never found anything quite like it.

Paul Sereno: Some of the features we see in the skull that we’ve never seen in a crocodilian are two horns coming out the back of the skull. At the front end of the skull, it’s sort of got a stub nose and a horny covering as if it was ramming itself forward in some way – and then the outstanding feature are the three sets of fangs going up and down.

This ‘boar-croc’, said Sereno, is a relative of the modern crocodile, and lived in the African Sahara 90 million years ago, in an area which, back then, was a lush riverway.

Paul Sereno: The unusual features that we see in the boar-croc and all the other strange crocodilians – sometimes they are walking, sometimes they are eating plants – is because the crocodilians then were more than they are now, evolutionarily speaking. They were playing the roles that mammals are playing today in some of these environments. So where you have an animal with fangs, it’s pretty quick. It can take down a fairly large animal – you might think of a lion, you might think of a hyena, something that can crunch through bone. This was the animal – there were no lions and hyenas at that time.

Our thanks to:
Paul Sereno
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Beth Lebwohl