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What a croc! Scientists discover supersized reptile

Paleontologists announced the prehistoric find this week.

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Paleontologist Paul Sereno's latest find might send even the unflappable Crocodile Dundee sprinting for Ayers Rock.

It's dubbed SuperCroc - a 110-million-year-old beast that ruled a deep, wide river running through what is now the African country of Niger.

The croc, formally known as Sarcosuchus imperatur, stretched 40 feet long, tipped the scales at about 8 tons, and regularly dined on dinosaurs. The crocodile hosts a large bony growth the size of a toilet bowl on the end of its snout - a feature that could have played a role in communication or been part of a hypersensitive nose for sniffing out prey.

The enigmatic creature remains "one of the greatest crocodiles the world has ever seen," says Dr. Sereno, whose team has been working in the region for the past decade to answer riddles posed by bits and pieces of SuperCroc that others had found since the early 1950s.

During SuperCroc's heyday, the continents of Africa and South America were still joined at the geophysical hip. The fossils come from a formation in a remote section of the Ténéré Desert that sits atop an ancient rift valley - a zone where the crust tried, but failed, to split in two under the stress of the continents' separation. The valley hosted an expansive river that, as years passed, covered and preserved the creatures who died in and along it in layers of silt.

Unlike many early crocodiles during this period, which were ocean-going, SuperCroc inhabited fresh water, Sereno says. Based on the size, shape, and orientation of teeth and jaws, SuperCroc's salt-water compatriots dined exclusively on seafood. SuperCroc's jaw and teeth arrangement, however, is more suited to puncturing and crushing a wider variety of prey.


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