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This Weird 'Horned' Crocodile Could Represent a New Branch on The Tree of Life

An extinct 'horned' crocodile that once called Madagascar home has finally found its place on the tree of life, according to a new study of two skulls stored at the American Museum of Natural History.

Based on ancient DNA extracted from the museum specimens, researchers have posited that the horned crocodile was closely related to modern-day 'true' crocodiles which live throughout the tropics, but it sits on an adjacent branch of the crocodile family tree that split some 25 million years ago.

This rejigs scientific thinking about the horned crocodile's evolutionary relationships, which most recently had them pegged as relatives of dwarf crocodiles.

The study also suggests that the ancestor of modern crocodiles likely originated in Africa, and goes some way towards settling the long-standing controversy that has swirled about the horned crocodile's evolutionary history.

Heavy-built horned crocodiles, named for unusual bony protrusions atop their heads and known today as Voay robustus, roamed Madagascar alongside another, more slender crocodile, according to accounts from early explorers.

But while the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) still inhabits the island to this day, and is the largest and most common crocodilian in all of Africa, horned crocodiles went extinct after humans arrived on Madagascar's shores, as early as 9,000 years ago.

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