RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazilian paleontologists Thursday unveiled a fossil of a creature that they said is the "missing link" between prehistoric and present-day crocodiles.
Called "Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi," the predator measured 1.5-1.7 meters (56-64 inches), weighed about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and lived in the late Cretaceous Period (80-85 million years ago) in the region of Palo Alto, in Sao Paulo state.
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro paleontologist Felipe de Vasconcellos, who helped research the fossil found in 2004, said the reptile's physical characteristics placed it between prehistoric crocodiles and their current descendants.
It lived on dry land and was quick on its feet, instead of living in marshlands and spending most of its time under water, he said.
"Its nostrils were at the front (of its snout). If it went in the water it had to keep its head erect making it an easy target for other predators. Its eyes were placed laterally, like other land-walking animals," Vasconcellos said.
He said these characteristics made the Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi the "missing link" of crocodiles.
The discovery could also lead paleontologists to revise theories that place the origin of crocodiles in the northern hemisphere, where no fossiles of such "intermediary" species have been found, he added.
"Perhaps the origin of crocodiles around the entire world was in the south and not in North America or Europe as it was always believed," Vasconcellos told reporters.
"They may have first appeared in South America or Africa, when they were fused together in a single continent. That would change the way an entire species has propagated."