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Jurassic 'monster' fossil rewrites crocodile history

The long-extinct Melksham Monster has scientists reevaluating the timeline for prehistoric relatives of current-day crocodiles.

This artist's impression shows what the Melksham Monster might have looked like.

Fabio Manucci

University of Edinburgh doctoral student Davide Foffa describes the Melksham Monster as "not the prettiest fossil in the world." 

The evocative nickname belongs to an unusual specimen of prehistoric crocodile. The fossil has been in London's Natural History Museum archives since 1875, but researchers just announced it actually represents a new species with the formal name Ieldraan melkshamensis.

The croc's moniker comes from its original discovery in the town of Melksham in England. First, the researchers had to carefully separate the fossil from surrounding rock, a process that took weeks. What they found was a skull, lower jaw and teeth that set it apart from previously known species of ancient reptiles.

The researchers date the fossil to the Middle Jurassic period at about 163 million years ago. This rewrites the history of the monster's sub-family, called Geosaurini. It was originally believed Geosaurini dated to the Late Jurassic period, but this discovery puts them at millions of years earlier.

If Hollywood ever decides to make "Jurassic Park: Ocean Edition," then the Melksham Monster would be a great candidate for a supporting role.  

"The Melksham Monster would have been one of the top predators in the oceans of Jurassic Britain, at the same time that dinosaurs were thundering across the land," said University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte

The croc would have been an impressive predator, measuring in at 10 feet (3 meters) in length and snacking on other sea creatures, including squid.

The researchers published a paper on the findings this week in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology with the title "A new metriorhynchid crocodylomorph from the Oxford Clay Formation (Middle Jurassic) of England, with implications for the origin and diversification of Geosaurini."

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