TWO fragments of a tiny crocodile skull, found three months apart by different collectors near Sandown, not only fit together perfectly to make a complete skull — they have also revealed a new species of ancient crocodile.
The species, dating from 126 million years ago, has been named koumpiodontosuchus aprosdokiti, which means the 'unexpected button-toothed crocodile’ by Island-based University of Portsmouth palaeontologist Dr Steve Sweetman.
The back half of the tiny skull was found by Diane Trevarthen, while on a fossil hunting holiday with her family. She took her discovery straight to Dinosaur Isle to show it to staff, thinking it might be part of a skull belonging to a baby of one of the Island’s well-known large cretaceous crocodiles.
Three months later, Austin and Finley Nathan, also fossil-hunting while holidaying on the Island, found another tiny fragment of skull, this time a snout.
They also took their find to Dinosaur Isle, where staff remembered they had seen the back part of a similar skull a few months earlier.
Both collectors have donated their pieces of skull to the museum.
Dr Sweetman said: "Both parts of this wonderful little skull are in good condition, which is most unusual when you consider that crashing waves usually batter and blunt the edges of fossils like this within days, or even hours, of them being washed on to the beach."
Dinosaur Isle’s Gary Blackwell prepared the lower part of the skull to free it of mineral encrustations. His work revealed the bones of the palate and the inner opening of the airway from the nose.
Dr Sweetman added: "The location of the hole in the mouth, where the airway from the nose opens, was surrounded by bones at the very back of the palate.
"This tells us the discovery is not only a new species but also a new genus of ancient croc, closely related to, but subtly different to those alive today."