Scientists Identify 23ft-Long Crocodile Who Lived up to 5 Million Years Ago

Researchers have identified a huge prehistoric crocodile in Australia that is estimated to have been nearly 23ft long when it lived.

The crocodile is thought to have belonged to a group of crocodile called tomistomines, which until now were not recorded in Australia.

The crocodile was identified based on the remains of a skull that was found in southern Queensland in the 19th century.

A study on the crocodile's identification refers to the crocodile as "Australia's first tomistome crocodylian."

Scientists named the species Gunggamarandu maunala to honor the First Nations peoples of the Darling Downs area in Queensland.

The first part means "river boss" while the second means "hole head," referring to openings found on the top of the skull where muscles would have been attached.

The name incorporates words from the languages of the Barunggam and Wakka Wakka nations, according to Steve Salisbury, senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland, who was part of the research.

Salisbury said a statement that he had considered the skull specimen to be "unusual, and potentially very significant" back when he was a graduate student in the 1990s—but he didn't have time to study it in detail.

This latest study was led by Jorgo Ristevski, a PhD candidate at the university.

Ristevski said in a statement: "This is one of the largest crocs to have ever inhabited Australia.

"At the moment it's difficult to estimate the exact overall size of Gunggamarandu since all we have is the back of the skull—but it was big."

Ristevski said researchers estimated the size of the entire skull to have been around 80 centimetres long, allowing further estimations of the total body length to be made.

The estimated bodily length of around 23 feet suggests the animal "was on par with the largest Indo-Pacific crocs," Ristevski said. "The exact age of the fossil is uncertain, but it's probably between two and five million years old."

Ristevski said: "Today, there's only one living species of tomistomine, Tomistoma schlegelii, which is restricted to the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia.

"With the exception of Antarctica, Australia was the only other continent without fossil evidence of tomistomines.

"But with the discovery of Gunggamarandu we can add Australia to the 'once inhabited by tomistomines' list."

The report on the fossil finding, titled First record of a tomistomine crocodylian from Australia, was published in the journal Scientific Reports on June 9.

It comes just weeks after scientists identified what was described as a new species of shark based on a 150 million-year-old fossil.

Crocodile in water
A stock image shows a crocodile's eye poking just above the surface of a body of water. Fossil research suggests the crocodile Gunggamarandu maunala individual was around 23 feet long. Ondrej Prosicky/Getty