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A New Eusuchian Crocodyliform with Novel Cranial Integument and Its Significance for the Origin and Evolution of Crocodylia
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Author: Casey M. Holliday et al.

by Casey M. Holliday, Nicholas M. Gardner

Crocodyliforms were one of the most successful groups of Mesozoic tetrapods, radiating into terrestrial, semiaquatic and marine environments, while occupying numerous trophic niches, including carnivorous, insectivorous, herbivorous, and piscivorous species. Among these taxa were the enigmatic, poorly represented flat-headed crocodyliforms from the late Cretaceous of northern Africa. Here we report a new, giant crocodyliform from the early Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) Kem Kem Formation of Morocco. Represented by a partial braincase, the taxon has an extremely long, flat skull with large jaw and craniocervical muscles. The skull roof is ridged and ornamented with a broad, rough boss surrounded by significant vascular impressions, likely forming an integumentary structure unique among crocodyliforms. Size estimates using endocranial volume indicate the specimen was very large. The taxon possesses robust laterosphenoids with laterally oriented capitate processes and isolated epipterygoids, features allying it with derived eusuchians. Phylogenetic analysis finds the taxon to be a derived eusuchian and sister taxon to Aegyptosuchus, a poorly understood, early Late Cretaceous taxon from the Bahariya formation. This clade forms the sister clade of crown-group Crocodylia, making these taxa the earliest eusuchian crocodyliforms known from Africa. These results shift phylogenetic and biogeographical hypotheses on the origin of modern crocodylians towards the circum-Tethyean region and provide important new data on eusuchian morphology and evolution.
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