A new species of large prehistoric croc that roamed south-east Queensland’swaterways millions of years ago has been documented by University ofQueensland researchers.

PhD candidate Jorgo Ristevski, from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, ledthe team that named the species Gunggamarandu maunala after analysing apartial skull unearthed in the Darling Downs in the nineteenth century.

“This is one of the largest crocs to have ever inhabited Australia,” MrRistevski said.

“At the moment it’s difficult to estimate the exact overall size ofGunggamarandu since all we have is the back of the skull – but it was big.

“We estimate the skull would have been at least 80 centimetres long, and basedon comparisons with living crocs, this indicates a total body length of aroundseven metres.

“This suggests Gunggamarandu maunala was on par with the largest Indo-Pacific crocs – a Crocodylus porosus ) – recorded.

“We also had the skull CT-scanned, and from that we were able to digitallyreconstruct the brain cavity, which helped us unravel additional details aboutits anatomy.

“The exact age of the fossil is uncertain, but it’s probably between two andfive million years old.”

Gunggamarandu belonged to a group of crocodylians called tomistomines or‘false gharials’.

“Today, there’s only one living species of tomistomine, Tomistoma schlegelii, which is restricted to the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia,” MrRistevski said.

“With the exception of Antarctica, Australia was the only other continentwithout fossil evidence of tomistomines.

“But with the discovery of Gunggamarandu we can add Australia to the ‘onceinhabited by tomistomines’ list.”

Despite its discovery, the fossil skull of Gunggamarandu maunala remained ascientific mystery for more than a century.

The specimen piqued the interest of then-young graduate student Dr SteveSalisbury in the 1990s, but a formal study was not done until Mr Ristevskibegan his examination.

“I knew it was unusual, and potentially very significant, but I didn’t havethe time to study it in any detail,” Dr Salisbury said.

“The name of the new species honours the First Nations peoples of the DarlingDowns area, incorporating words from the languages of the Barunggam and WakaWaka nations.

“The genus name, Gunggamarandu , means ‘river boss’, while the species name,maunala , means ‘hole head’.

“The latter is in reference to the large, hole-like openings located on top ofthe animal’s skull that served as a place for muscle attachment.”

The research has been published in the open access journal Nature ScientificReports (DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1296).

Image: Artistic representation of Gunggamarandu maunala. Credit: EleanorPease.

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