Baru iylwenpeny, a newly discovered species of crocodile from Australia’s Northern Territory, provides insights into the formidable nature of ancient crocodilians. Dating back approximately 8 million years, this extinct species, known for its “cleaver-headed” morphology, was identified through a superbly preserved skull found at the Alcoota fossil bed in 2009. Biologists at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory recently examined the specimen, confirming it as the third new species in the extinct genus of Baru crocodiles.
The Baru crocodiles were the original crocodilian species in Australia, evolving around 25 million years ago in a lush and wet environment. In contrast to today’s saltwater crocodiles, which are fast ambush predators preying on small fish and terrestrial animals, Baru crocs exhibited unique adaptations. They developed robust skeletal structures, broader mouths, and denser skulls, suggesting a different prey strategy.
With dorsally oriented nostrils and eyes, limited head movement, and fossils found in riverine conditions, Baru crocs were likely semi-aquatic ambush predators that primarily hunted megafauna. Dr. Adam Yates, the earth science curator at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, highlighted the distinctive features of Baru iylwenpeny, including larger back teeth, which contributed to a more powerful bite.
As Australia’s climate changed, leading to arid conditions and shrinking riverine environments, Baru iylwenpeny, along with its predecessors, became extinct during the middle of the Miocene Epoch, approximately 25 to 5 million years ago. The discovery sheds light on the diverse evolutionary adaptations of crocodilians in ancient Australia.