Prehistoric Crocodile Declared New Species

A well-preserved historic crocodile skull, which was discovered in Swanage in 2009, has been declared a new species.

The 130-million-year-old specimen has been named Goniopholis kiplini after Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, in recognition for his enthusiasm for natural sciences.

Dating back to the early Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, the animal will have lived with other crocodiles as well as turtles and fish in the shallow lagoon that covered much of Purbeck.

In 2009, Richard Edmonds, earth science manager in the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site team. based at Dorset County Council, discovered the skull in the course of regular site monitoring.

After gaining the necessary permissions from Natural England and Swanage Town Council, it was excavated by Richard with local collectors Steve Etches and Chris Moore and then carefully prepared by Chris and his son Alex in their workshop in Charmouth with funding from the Jurassic Coast Trust.

It soon became apparent that this something of considerable scientific interest and, as a result, it was loaned to Bristol University where to be studied and scanned.

As a result of that work, the new identification has been accepted and published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Richard Edmonds said:

"Despite more than 200 years of collecting, specimens new to science continue to be found on this eroding coastline.

"The fossil record is far from complete although the chance of a creature such as this being fossilised is very slim.

"People will still be making new discoveries 200 years from now."

Professor Mike Benton from Bristol University said:

"This stunning specimen shows that there's plenty of life in the Dorset Jurassic - these must be some of the most heavily collected rocks in the world, and yet it's wonderful to see a new species coming out.

"On a damp, wintry day in Swanage, we have to imagine a world of lush tropical trees, balmy hot lagoons, and crocodiles of all sizes swimming and snapping lazily at dinosaurs on the sea shore."

The specimen has been donated to the Dorset County Museum by the landowner, Swanage Town Council and Dorset County Council. It is now on display alongside the very much larger Pliosaur skull. A cast forms part of the interpretation in the newly-refurbished Durlston Castle at Swanage.