Scientists have in mind the “most adorable” crocodile Trilophosuchus rackhami

Weighing up to 2 kilograms and measuring between 70 and 90 centimeters, Trilophosuchus rackhami would have been the “most adorable reptile” roaming north-west Queensland around 13.5 million years ago, scientists say.

For the first time, researchers have used CT scanning technology to reveal previously unknown details about the creature’s anatomy and its connections to species in other parts of the world.

The ‘cutest’ croc

In 1993, Trilophosuchus rackhami was described and named in honor of the well-known manager of the Riversleigh Fossil Centre, Alan Rackham.

The term Trilophosuchus translates to “three-crested” while said rackham represents the last name of Mr. Rackham.

The prehistoric miniature crocodile was most likely a land-based reptile that lived in the forests that once covered much of the region.

Trilophosuchus rackhami was a small mecosuchine crocodile from the early Miocene of northern Australia.(Supplied: Australian Museum)

University of Queensland Faculty of Science PhD candidate Jorgo Ristevski leads research that examined the skull of Trilophosuchus rackhami.

“By micro-CT scanning the beautifully preserved skull, we were able to digitally separate each bone,” said Mr. Ristevski.

“It would have been the most adorable looking animal. I think we’re missing out because it’s gone.

“He would have been the cutest little reptile.”

A young man, wearing a blue shirt, holds a fossilized prehistoric crocodile skull.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Jorgo Ristevski led the research that examined the skull of Trilophosuchus rackhami.(Supplied: University of Queensland)

Mr. Ristevski was able to create connections between Trilophosuchus rackhami and other species from around the world.

Small croc skull
The skull was well preserved.(Provided by: Jorgo Ristevski)

“For one of the studies, I digitally reconstructed the brain cavity of Trilophosuchus rackhami and found that it resembles that of some distantly extinct and potentially terrestrial crocodilians from Africa and South America that existed 50 to 100 million years ago,” he said.

“We were quite surprised to find this because, evolutionarily speaking, Trilophosuchus rackhami is more closely related to today’s crocs.

“This may indicate that Trilophosuchus rackhami spent more time on land than most living animals.”

Important for future research

Mr Ristevski said the findings would be useful in interpreting the evolutionary relationships between the extinct crocs in future research.

“Such research helps us better understand the evolutionary relationships of Trilophosuchus and other extinct crocodiles,” he said.

“We can see how crocodiles have evolved over millions of years, not just in Australia, but in a more global context.”

small croc silhouette
Trilophosuchus rackhami was a land animal unlike its semi-aquatic relatives.(Provided by: Jorgo Ristevski)

Changing technology also played a crucial role in learning more about the evolution of species, said Mr. Ristevski.

“We were only able to conduct this research because of the availability of CT technology,” he said.

“It’s exciting to think what technology will advance in the next 30, 40, 50 years to help further research.

digital croc
CT scanning technology allowed for a detailed analysis of the creature’s skull.(Provided by: Jorgo Ristevski)

“In science, you can’t answer every question with one study. For every question you potentially answer, there are 10 more that arise from it.

“And that’s exciting — science is like a never-ending search for answers.”

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