by Staff writer
For the first time in more than 80 years, researchers have discovered and named a new crocodile species.
The newly classified aquatic reptile named Central African slender-snouted crocodile was found in a broad swathe of Africa from Cameroon to Tanzania.
The species has been scientifically named Mecistops leptorhynchus, and is bow characterized in a study published on October 24 in the journal Zootaxa.
The animal was initially considered to be the same species with the West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus), until scientists discovered the Central African slender-snouted species have softer, smoother appearance than their West African cousins, which have larger, heavier scales and rougher skin.
The newly-described crocodile species also lacks the bony crests on its skull found on its counterpart. But the main difference between the two crocodile species, scientists say, lies in their genetic makeup.
Scientist have, of course, described other new species of crocodiles in recent years.
For example, research by George Amato, at the American Museum of Natural History, showed that dwarf crocodiles are not one but three different species.
Shirley, Amato, and colleagues also discovered that there are actually two different species of Nile crocodiles.
But M. leptorhynchus is the first species since 1935 to go through the full formal descriptive and naming process, Shirley (from the National Geographic) says.
This involved sifting through scores of museum samples from around the world with assistance from colleagues at the University of Iowa and the University of Florida.
Shirley himself also did intensive field work in 14 African countries, and got malaria more than a dozen times in the course of the research, he says.