'Crocopussy' put the cat amongst the prehistoric pigeons
Published 05/08/2010 | 05:00
Long before cats there was "crocopussy", the feline crocodile. Scientists have unearthed 100 million-year-old fossil remains of an African creature that resembled a cross between a crocodile and a cat.
Pakasuchus kapilimai had the scaly armoured body of a crocodile but also cat-like features including canine teeth, slender limbs and a flexible backbone that would have helped it move with agility.
Unlike modern crocodiles, it probably hunted on land at a time when the world was dominated by the dinosaurs.
Experts believe it occupied an ecological niche in the southern hemisphere that was chiefly filled by small mammals in the mid-Cretaceous period.
The house cat-sized fossil skull and skeleton of Pakasuchus was discovered encased in sandstone on a river bank in Tanzania. Paka is Swahili for cat, while suchus is derived from the Greek word for crocodile.
The creature's most distinctive feature was its jaw and teeth, said scientists writing in the journal 'Nature'.
Modern crocodiles have simple, pointed, conical teeth adapted for seizing prey and for tearing off large chunks of flesh that are swallowed whole.
In contrast, Pakasuchus had teeth like those of a predatory mammal, including fangs and slicing molars with shearing edges.