New prehistoric reptile species related to crocodiles found in southwest Poland

A new species of aetosaur (a prehistoric reptile resembling today's crocodiles) has been discovered in southwest Poland by a team of scientists from the Institute of Paleobiology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and the Faculty of Biology of the University of Warsaw (UW).

The specimen was found among fossils of vertebrates from about 210 million years ago, including lungfish and turtles, excavated at the archeological site in the village of Kocury (southwest Poland). The scientists managed to find the jawbone and fragments of the carapace of the new aetosaur, which was named Kocurypelta silvestris.

"The (jaw) bone is characteristic, because our aetosaur had very few teeth, and the ones it had were shifted towards the front of the skull. We do not recognise this feature in other aetosaurs, most of them have a jaw full of teeth,” Łukasz Czepiński from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Warsaw said.

The new species “looked like a cross between a crocodile, an armadillo and a wild boar... they were about three metres long. Most of them were omnivorous, they ate plants, small invertebrates, but also plant rhizomes," Mr Czepiński added.

The first excavations at the site were conducted at the turn of the 20th century when Kocury was still a part of the German Empire. The first bone found at the site was sent to Hamburg for further testing, it belonged to a carnivorous dinosaur named “Velocipes guerichi” in honor of Georg Gürich the German paleontologist who discovered the fossil.

“With the specimen kept in Hamburg, there was also detailed information about the place where it was found. In 2012, after consulting the local forestry department and the State Forests, we took an excavator for a test run. It turned out that at a relatively small depth there were 210 million-year-old rocks. In these rocks, quite difficult for scientific processing, we found several dozen new fossils,” the scientist said.

At the late Triassic site, researchers also found fragments of the shell of one of the oldest turtles in the world. According to Czepiński, they resemble fragments found in Poręba (also in Poland). This is potentially the same species of prehistoric turtle. They also discovered the dental plate of a lungfish. This large prehistoric form of fish had characteristic teeth, probably for crushing mussels. All these animals are likely to have lived during the same period.

“It would also be great to find bones of a new dinosaur, because we already know that dinosaurs certainly lived there,” Mr Czepliński concluded.

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