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Ancient crocodile-like beast was a "terrifying predator"

An international research team led by the University of Birmingham has recently described a crocodile-like beast that lived about 240 million years ago on the territory of what is now Tanzania. The creature has been named Mambawakale ruhuhu, which means “ancient crocodile from the Ruhuhu Basin.”

Although the fossils of Mambawakale were discovered in 1963 in the Ruhuhu Basin in Tanzania (two years before Tanzania gained its independence from the British Empire), they were taken to the Natural History Museum in London, where they awaited analysis and a formal description for decades.

According to study lead author Richard Butler, a paleobiologist at the University of Birmingham, Mambawakale would have been a very large and terrifying predator. Measuring more than 16 feet (five meters) in length and sporting powerful jaws with knife-like teeth, this extraordinary creature is one of the largest predators known from the Middle Triassic period (247 to 237 million years ago).

Professor Butler and colleagues consider M. ruhuhu as one of the largest and most fierce early archosaurs, a group that emerged after the end-Permian extinction 252 million years ago, and which includes living birds and crocodilians, as well as extinct pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs

During the Middle Triassic period, this group started to massively diversify for the first time. This is evident in the fact that M. ruhuhu is only one of nine other ancient archosaur species that were discovered at the Tanzanian excavation site. “Mambawakale adds to this picture of a rapid early diversification of archosaurs and moreover was the largest predator within its ecosystem,” Butler said.

Although it was initially informally named Pallisteria angustimentum by English palaeontologist Alan Charig after his friend, the geologist John Weaver Pallister, M. ruhuhu got its current name to honor “the substantial and previously unsung contributions of unnamed Tanzanians to the success of the 1963 expedition.” 

A detailed description of Mambawakale ruhuhu can be found in the journal Royal Society Open Science

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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