Ancient Angola crocodile feasted on fish as oil fields formed

SMU Paleontologist Louis Jacobs talks about the discovery of a new type of crocodile in Angola.

By Colin McClelland and Manuel Soque

Scientists have found a new type of crocodile that trundled across Angola millions of years ago while the crude oil that it now pumps as Africa’s second-largest producer was forming.

PaleoAngola, a team of fossil-hunters from the U.S., Portugal, Angola and the Netherlands, found the reptile’s 30 million-year-old remains this year on a beach within sight of oil rigs drilling into the same rocks offshore Cabinda province north of the Congo River.

“The croc is certainly new to the age in which it was found,” Louis Jacobs, geology and paleontology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said in an e-mailed response to queries yesterday. “It would have been the size of a large modern croc, but two-thirds of the head would have been a narrow snout adapted for fish eating.”

Some of the 1.78 million barrels-a-day Angola pumped in July was formed around the same time as the crocodile fossil, after Africa and South America broke apart through plate tectonics. Oil explorers such as ConocoPhillips (COP:US) and BP Plc (BP/) are betting on the industry’s Atlantic mirror theory which says there may be huge deposits of oil deep beneath the sea off West Africa, similar to those across the ocean in Brazil.

The crocodile, which is yet to be named, may be related to a fossil found in the province almost 100 years ago and a more recent find in Kenya, Jacobs said. The beast was probably coastal and isn’t directly related to modern African crocodiles, he said. It resembled a gharial, but wasn’t one, he said. Gharials are a type of crocodile found in Asia.

The team also found a well-preserved skull of a 70 million-year-old mosasaur, sometimes called a marine monster, north of Luanda, the capital, and another in southern Namibe province with three smaller ones in its stomach. . .

Jacobs will report the finds to the Geological Society of America in October. Rock records in Angola, which is about twice the size of Texas, show how the continents formed, he said. Namibia to the south lacks such evidence while countries to the north are covered in vegetation.

Read the full story.