Scientists Discover New Species of Ancient Alligator

Chinese Alligator

Pictured above is a Chinese alligator, closely related to the newly discovered Alligator munensis from Thailand. This groundbreaking research unveils unique skull characteristics and offers a deeper dive into the evolutionary lineage of Asian alligators.

A study recently published in Scientific Reports details the discovery of a previously unidentified ancient alligator species found in Thailand, which shares close evolutionary ties with the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).

The authors examined the remains and investigated the evolutionary relationships between A. munensis and other species by comparing it’s remains with those of 19 specimens from four extinct alligator species, as well as the living American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Chinese alligator and spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) species. They also reviewed previously published research on the skeletal characteristics of, and evolutionary relationships between, alligator species.

They propose that the two species are closely related and may have shared a common ancestor in the lowlands of the Yangtze-Xi and Mekong-Chao Phraya river systems. They speculate that increases in the elevation of the southeastern Tibetan Plateau between 23 and five million years ago may have led to the separation of different populations and evolution of two separate species.

The authors observed that A. munensis has large tooth sockets towards the back of its mouth, which indicates that it may have possessed large teeth that could have been capable of crushing shells. As a result of this, they suggest that A. munensis may have eaten hard-shelled prey, such as snails, in addition to other animals.

The findings provide further insight into the evolution of Asian alligators.

Reference: “An extinct deep-snouted Alligator species from the Quaternary of Thailand and comments on the evolution of crushing dentition in alligatorids” by Gustavo Darlim, Kantapon Suraprasit, Yaowalak Chaimanee, Pannipa Tian, Chotima Yamee, Mana Rugbumrung, Adulwit Kaweera and Márton Rabi, 13 July 2023, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-36559-6