Koolasuchus Recent Fossil Finds Give Hints About Extinct Animal

Koolasuchus May Have Looked Like ThisKoolasuchus is a really cool name for a very cool animal.  Koolasuchus was only discovered as recently as 1990, although fossil fragments, later identified as belonging to Koolasuchus, were found in the late 70s and 80s. These first fossils were found in Victoria, Australia by paleontologist Leslie Kool and geologist Mike Cleeland, and the species was names after Kool in 1997, meaning “Kool’s Crocodile”. The full name is Koolasuchus cleelandi, named for both of the scientists who discovered them. They lived about 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. Although there were not actually crocodiles, they were about the size and weight of one, and most likely led a similar lifestyle. With one major exception: the area of Southern Australia that they lived in have been much closer to the South Pole and quite colder than the climates of modern-day crocodiles and alligators. Scientists think that they could have hibernated during the coldest parts of the year to survive.

Koolasuchus to Human SizeIt is likely that Koolasuchus would have hunted like an alligator, moving into freshwater rivers and streams to find fish and shellfish. In the water, Koolasuchus would have been fast and agile, but on land, they would have been quite slow and lumbering and would have posed no threat to others living in the area, even though they were 15 feet long and weighed as much as 1,000 pounds. Partial skull fragments have revealed that Koolasuchus’ head was large and rather flat, with a wide mouth. This distinctly separates them from crocodiles and alligators, because they lacked that long, pointed snout.  As far as I can tell, no complete skeleton of Koolasuchus has been discovered.  Partial skull fragments and ribs as well as vertebrae give us hints as to what this animal looked like and how it lived.

When the climate began to warm, however, Koolasuchus found it difficult to survive, not directly because of the changing temperatures but because of competition. At this time, crocodiles began to move into the area and they were more equipped to hunt, out-competing Koolasuchus. Crocodilians were common throughout the world at that point, but none had lived as far South as modern-day Southern Australia, probably because of the cooler temperatures. Although crocodiles would eventually triumph once and for all in the warmer climates, in areas which would drift further South and become colder, crocodiles couldn’t survive but the hibernating Koolasuchus could.  This theory that the Koolasuchus hibernated would explain why they lived for little longer and how they survived in those colder areas until they finally went extinct.

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It is interesting to note something that we talk about in this blog on occassion and that is the value of using fossils and our present knowledge of living animals to understand extinct species.  We can’t know for sure whether or not Koolasuchus hibernated, what they looked like, and what they ate.  Scientists can make educated guesses that get adjusted and changed with new fossil finds.  That is one of the things that make fossil discoveries so interesting.  It adds to our understanding or at times completely changes our understanding of long-gone animals.

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