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Jurassic crocodile fossil reassessed after decades of mistaken identity

The long-snouted fossil skull was first discovered in the 1770s.

This illustration shows what Mystriosaurus might have looked like.

Julia Beier

An eye-catching fossil with a lengthy snout probably kicked up quite a bit of fuss when it was discovered in Bavaria in the 1770s. 

Modern-day scientists recently took a fresh look at the skull and realized it had been misidentified for the past 60 years. Their work finally puts it in its rightful place among Jurassic crocodiles.

Researchers, including scientists from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, determined the skull belongs to the species Mystriosaurus laurillardi. For the last 60 years, scientists had it pegged as a similar species called Steneosaurus bollensis. 

crocfossil

This Mystriosaurus skull has now taken its rightful place in the Jurassic crocodile family tree.

Sven Sachs and Michela Johnson

An analysis comparing the skull with other fossils from Germany and the UK helped the team reach this new conclusion. A study of the croc led by the Naturkunde-Museum Bielefeld in Germany appears in the current issue of the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.   

"Unraveling the complex history and anatomy of fossils like Mystriosaurus is necessary if we are to understand the diversification of crocodiles during the Jurassic," University of Edinburgh paleontologist Mark Young said Thursday in a statement.

Mystriosaurus laurillardi sported pointy teeth, was about 13 feet (4 meters) long and munched on fish. An artist's illustration of the croc shows a critter you would want to keep your hands far from -- if it weren't extinct.

You don't always have to dig in the dirt to further the science of paleontology. A report earlier this year highlighted the discovery of a prehistoric lion long tucked away in a museum drawer