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The ancient croc that preyed on dinosaurs
Carnivora profile: Isisfordia spp.

The ancient croc that preyed on dinosaurs

by University of New England

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Photos of the partial braincase (top view) and jawbone of the new crocodile species, Isisfordia molnari, from Lightning Ridge, NSW. (Not to scale). Credit: Lachlan Hart.

A new species of crocodile has been described from opalised fossils found at Lightning Ridge in NSW, Australia, from a fossil unearthed more than a century ago, and a second one found more than 70 years later.
Dating back 100 million years, the new species, Isisfordia molnari, is one of the oldest known direct ancestors of today's living crocodiles. The species was named after Ralph Molnar, a palaeontologist whose many valuable contributions to Australian science include research on fossil crocodiles. This is the second species of Isisfordia discovered, with Isisfordia duncani named in 2006 from fossils found near the Queensland outback town of Isisford.
Isisfordia molnari grew to between 1.5 and 2 metres in length, and is thought to have been a semi-aquatic ambush predator, like modern crocodiles. Its prey probably included small dinosaurs such as Weewarrasaurus.
Lead researcher Lachlan Hart, a Master of Science student at the University of New England in Armidale, explained how the new species was discovered.

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Artist’s reconstruction of Isisfordia molnari. Credit: Josè Vitor Silva.

"The first crocodile fossil from Lightning Ridge, a partial jaw bone with teeth, was discovered in 1917, at a time when little was known about fossil crocodiles from the Australia's age of dinosaurs. It found its way to the Australian Museum and was given a name that turned out to be incorrect. Then, in the early 2000s, opal buyers Peter and Lisa Carroll found a piece of fossil crocodile braincase (the rear section of the skull) from Lightning Ridge, and sold it to the Australian Museum; but still, there were so few Australian crocodile fossils known of this age that scientists also found this new piece difficult to interpret.
"After Isisfordia duncani was discovered in Queensland in 2006, it allowed us to make more sense of the earlier Lightning Ridge discoveries. Although they were similar, we found several differences that set the Lightning Ridge species apart."

[Image: 2-theancientcr.jpg]
Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from above, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. Credit: University of New England

Like other fossils from Lightning Ridge, the Isisfordia molnari fossils are opalised, meaning that the original bone and tooth material has been replaced by opal. Other famous opalised fossils from Lightning Ridge include those of the recently announced herbivorous dinosaurs Fostoria dhimbangunmal and Weewarrasaurus pobeni, fossils of which are at the Australian Opal Centre, a public museum that earlier in 2019 secured $20 million to construct a new building at Lightning Ridge for its world-leading collections and programs.
"Lightning Ridge is one of the most important fossil sites in Australia," said Australian Opal Centre palaeontologist and Special Projects Officer Jenni Brammall. "This new research is adding to a complex and intriguing picture not only of the dinosaurs of the time, but the animals and plants they lived with and the ecosystems they were part of."

[Image: 3-theancientcr.jpg]
Diagram of a crocodile skull, shown from underneath, highlighting the location of the fossils known for Isisfordia molnari. Based on the skull of Isisfordia duncani. Credit: University of New England

The new crocodile species was published this week in the journal PeerJ, by scientists from the University of New England, Australian Opal Centre and University of Queensland.

Journal Reference:
Lachlan J. Hart et al. Isisfordia molnari sp. nov., a new basal eusuchian from the mid-Cretaceous of Lightning Ridge, Australia, PeerJ (2019). DOI: 10.7717/peerj.7166

The Australian Mesozoic crocodyliform record is sparse in comparison to other Gondwanan localities. A single formally-named taxon is known from this interval; Isisfordia duncani (Winton Formation, Albian–Turonian, Queensland). We present a previously undescribed crocodyliform braincase from the Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian), New South Wales, which we assign to Isisfordia molnari sp. nov. Assignment to the genus is based on the possession of a newly-defined autapomorphy of Isisfordia: a broadly exposed prootic within the supratemporal foramen. A second autapomorphy of I. duncani (maximum diameter of the caudal aperture of the cranioquadrate siphonium approximately one-third the mediolateral width of the foramen magnum, with the lateral wall of the caudal aperture formed exclusively by the quadrate) may also be present in I. molnari; however, definitive recognition of this feature is marred by incomplete preservation. The new taxon is differentiated from I. duncani based on the absence of a median ridge on the parietal, and the lack of characteristic ridges on the parietal that form the medial margin of the supratemporal foramina. Reanalysis of a second specimen (the former holotype of the nomen dubium,‘Crocodylus (Bottosaurus) selaslophensis’) allows for its referral to the genus Isisfordia. Crucial to this reappraisal is the reinterpretation of the specimen as a partial maxilla, not the dentary as previously thought. This maxillary fragment possesses specific characteristics shared only with I. duncani; namely an alveolar groove. However, several key features differentiate the maxillary fragment from I. duncani, specifically the presence of continuous alveolar septa, the thickening of the medial alveolar rim, and the alveolar and crown base morphology. These findings constitute the first evidence of Isisfordia outside of the type locality and indicate its widespread occurrence on the freshwater floodplains along the eastern margin of the epeiric Eromanga Sea during the Albian–Cenomanian.
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