Friday Fossil Feature – An investi-Gator of the Oligocene of South Carolina

by Sarah Boessenecker (@tetrameryx)

Happy Fossil Friday!

Dentary of Gavialosuchus americanus. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

Dentary of Gavialosuchus americanus. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

This week we take a look at Gavialosuchus americanus.

Gavialosuchus americanus wasn’t actually an alligator; rather, they were more closely related to today’s gharials and crocodiles. Crocodile puns, however, don’t seem to have the same bite as alligator puns.

Gavialosuchus was a long-snouted crocodylian. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

Gavialosuchus was a long-snouted crocodylian. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

Gavialosuchus lived in estuaries and coastal environments rather than the freshwater habitats its modern relatives prefer; it also grew quite large, growing in excess of 20 feet. That’s as big as today’s saltwater crocodiles!

For prey of Gavialosuchus, a view like this would likely be your last. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

For prey of Gavialosuchus, a view like this would likely be your last. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

Its diet likely consisted of animals commonly found as fossils here in South Carolina, including the Charleston area. These include the dugong Metaxytherium, the river dolphin Pomatodelphis, and shallow water sharks. As Gavialosuchus was a polyphylodont similar to its modern relatives, it was able to constantly replace its teeth throughout its lifetime. Because of this, shed teeth are very commonly found by those hunting for fossils.

 

Teeth of varying ages and sizes, as Gavialosuchus was constantly replacing them. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

Teeth of varying ages and sizes, as Gavialosuchus was constantly replacing them. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

A new tooth emerging. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

A new tooth emerging. Photo by S. Boessenecker.

 

Recently, there’s been some controversy about this taxa; some scientists think that it is the same species as a previously named fossil Thecachampsa americana, as well as a handful of other taxa – this just goes to show the more specimens we find of an extinct animal, the larger our data set becomes, and we’re able to piece together better how these animals lived and evolved. Science is always evolving as we learn more!

Further Reading:

Erickson, Bruce R.; Sawyer, Glen T. (1996). The estuarine crocodile Gavialosuchus carolinensis n. sp. (Crocodylia: Eusuchia) from the late Oligocene of South Carolina, North America. The Science Museum of Minnesota St. Paul, Minnesota Monograph 3, Paleontology. St. Paul: The Science Museum of Minnesota. pp. 1–47.

Myrick, A.C., Jr. (2001). “Thecachampsa antiqua (Leidy, 1852) (Crocodylidae: Thoracosaurinae) from the fossil marine deposits at Lee Creek Mine, Aurora, North Carolina, USA”. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 90: 219–225.

 

 

 

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