Berlin – Scientists reveal that recently discovered fossils of a small crocodile could point at discovery of a new species that inhabited Germany’s Langenberg Quarry some 154 million years ago.

The Langenberg Quarry in Germany has proven to be a rich source of marine-related fossils, including small crocodile-like atoposaurid species. Scientists reveal that the fossils of the species, which has been named Knoetschkesuchus, were exceptionally well-preserved but were still partly in sediment, making it difficult to examine the fossils fully.

After initial analysis, the crocodile was assigned to the Theriosuchus genus. To study this atopasaurid in more detail, Daniela Schwarz from Leibniz Institute for Evolutionary and Biodiversity Research in Germany and colleagues carried a 3D reconstruction of one of the fossil skulls based on micro-computed tomography. On analysis they concluded that the atoposaurid they studied is actually a new species.

Scientists have based their claim owing to the unique features of the skull, such as openings in the jaw bone and in front of the eye, as well as of tooth morphology. The latter may have reflected dietary specialisation, and diversity of tooth morphology is thought to have been a driver of atoposaurid evolution during the Jurassic.

“The study describes a new diminutive crocodile Knoetschkesuchus langenbergensis that lived around 154 million years ago in Northwestern Germany,” said Schwarz.

“Knoetschkesuchus belongs to the evolutionary lineage that leads to modern crocodiles and preserves for the first time in this group – two skulls in 3D, allowing us detailed anatomical studies via micro-CT images,” he said.

The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, is part of the Europasaurus-Project which studies the remains of a unique Jurassic island ecosystem in Northern Germany.