The super crocodile is a prehistoric beast, whose previous existence on earth was first made known in the 1950s when paleontologist Alfred Felix de Lapparent discovered exceptionally large teeth and what appeared to be fossilized bony plates or armor, in the mid-20th century. Lapparent’s find in the blistering Sahara led to the conclusion that a huge crocodile, about ten times the weight of the biggest crocs today, once roamed the earth (and waters). The super crocodile was given the scientific name Sarcosuchus imperator, which translates as flesh crocodile emperor.
Carbon dating suggests that that the super crocodile lived about 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, known as the final dinosaur period. Paleontologists and modern herpetologists (reptile specialists) were very interested in finding a more complete skeleton to gain more information about the super crocodile. It took a long time to find such a skeleton, and it wasn’t until 2001, that Dr. Paul Sereno and a team of paleontologists found a partially complete skeleton in the Sahara Desert in Niger.
The proportions of this ancient super crocodile are pretty astounding to consider. Research on the skeleton suggests super crocs may have weighed as much 17,500 pounds or about 8 metric tons (about twice the weight of an elephant), and measured as much as 40 feet (12.19 m) in length. The length of the skull alone is vastly impressive; at 6 feet (1.83 m) it was large enough to easily eat most of us in a single gulp! Total length is roughly equal to that of the average bus.
Since Dr. Sereno’s discovery, much has been theorized about the habits of the super crocodile. Research suggests that primary sources of food were likely large fish, but that the super croc was also fully capable of catching dinosaurs that came too close to the water. Based on crocodile research today, paleontologists believe the super crocodile probably behaved in the same way as modern crocs do when it came to encountering prey partially on land. They would hide their bodies mostly in water, and then quickly emerge out of the water to snatch and grab unwary dinosaurs at the water’s edge.
From what scientists have gleaned, super crocodiles didn’t downsize into today’s crocodiles. Instead, the species went extinct at approximately the end of the Cretaceous period. Smaller crocodiles appear to have survived this mass extinction and are the ancestors of today’s crocs.
There’s still much guesswork involved in the science of the super crocodile, since Sereno’s team only uncovered 50% of a skeleton. Moreover, digs in the Sahara are physically challenging due to the extreme temperatures. If there are more skeletal remains of super crocs, they may be very hard to find. Yet finding a complete skeleton, especially in another area of the world, could give us more information about the lives of these ancient and fearsome reptiles.