Cryptic New Species of Crocodile Identified in Africa

An international team of researchers has identified a cryptic new species of slender-snouted crocodile living in Central Africa.

The Central African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops leptorhynchus). Image credit: Shirley et al, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4504.2.1.

The Central African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops leptorhynchus). Image credit: Shirley et al, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4504.2.1.

“The African slender-snouted, or sharp-nosed, crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is medium-sized, lives in freshwater habitats, and, as its name suggests, has a long and slender snout,” said team leader Dr. Matthew Shirley of Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute and colleagues.

“When we analyzed the DNA and physical characteristics of crocodiles in the wild and in captivity in six African countries, we found two distinct species of slender-snouted crocodiles: one unique to West Africa and one unique to Central Africa.”

Named the Central African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops leptorhynchus), the newfound species is the first new living crocodile species to be described in nearly 85 years.

“At first glance, the West African and Central African slender-snouted crocodiles appear quite similar,” the scientists said.

“In addition to the differences in their DNA, we found differences in the skull shape and scales that strongly support the existence of two species.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed slender-snouted crocodiles as ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2014.

They are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and overfishing — which diminishes their food supply and leads them to drown in nets.

“Recognizing the slender-snouted crocodile as actually comprised of two different species is cause for great conservation concern,” Dr. Shirley said.

“We estimate only 10% of slender-snouted crocodiles occur in West Africa, effectively diminishing its population by 90%.”

“This makes the West African slender-snouted crocodile one of the most critically endangered crocodile species in the world.”

The newly identified species is described in a paper published in the October 24, 2018 issue of the journal Zootaxa.

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Matthew H. Shirley et al. 2018. Systematic revision of the living African slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops Gray, 1844). Zootaxa 4504 (2); doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4504.2.1

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