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Ancient Alligator Species Discovered in Thailand: All You Need to Know about Alligator munensis

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Ancient Alligator Species Discovered in Thailand All You Need to Know about Alligator munensis

(CTN News) – A recent scientific discovery in Thailand has unveiled a remarkable find—an ancient alligator species closely related to the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).

Named Alligator munensis after the Mun River near its excavation site, this prehistoric crocodilian provides valuable insights into the region’s past. In this article, we delve into the details of this extraordinary find and explore its significance in Southeast Asia’s ancient ecosystem.

The Unveiling of Alligator munensis

Alligator munensis, a newly described alligator species, came to light by examining a well-preserved fossilized skull dating back to less than 230,000 years old. The discovery, documented in a paper published in Scientific Reports, took place in Thailand’s Nakhon Ratchasima province, specifically in the Ban Si Liam locality.

 Ancient Thailand: A Changing Landscape

The period when A. munensis thrived in Thailand—approximately 200,000 years ago—coincided with significant environmental changes. Southeast Asia, including Thailand, witnessed the transformation of its dense forests into open savannah. However, within the past 100,000 years, the region regained its lush tropical rainforests.

 Prehistoric Coexistence: Alligator munensis and Megafaunal Species

When Alligator munensis roamed Thailand, the region was inhabited by several megafaunal species, some of which have since become extinct. These included Stegodon, an elephant-like creature that disappeared by the end of the Pleistocene around 12,000 years ago.

Additionally, the colossal Gigantopithecus, Earth’s largest-ever ape, weighing 200–300 kilograms and towering at three meters, vanished roughly 350,000 years ago. Other notable inhabitants were giant hyenas.

 Human Timeline and Alligator munensis

Around the era when Alligator munensis flourished, modern Homo sapiens emerged in eastern Africa. While Homo erectus, an early human ancestor, is believed to have migrated to Southeast Asia between 500,000 and one million years ago, modern humans arrived in the region much later, between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago.

 Comparisons and Unique Features of Alligator Munensis

To gain a comprehensive understanding of Alligator munensis, researchers compared it to 19 specimens, including four extinct alligator species, the modern American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), the Chinese alligator, and the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus).

Noteworthy features of A. munensis include its broad and short snout, tall skull structure, fewer teeth than other species, and nostrils positioned further from the snout’s tip.

Exploring the Common Ancestry

Alligator munensis shares certain characteristics with the Chinese alligator, leading researchers to speculate about a common ancestor. They propose that the lowlands of the Yangtze-Xi and Mekong-Chao Phraya river systems served as the shared habitat where the two species diverged due to the rise of the Tibetan Plateau approximately 23–5 million years ago.

Unique Feeding Adaptations

Large tooth sockets towards the back of Alligator munensis’ jaw suggest its ability to crush and consume large shells. The researchers suggest that A. munensis may have specialized in feeding on hard-shelled prey, such as snails, in addition to other animals.

Conclusion

The discovery of Alligator munensis provides a fascinating glimpse into the ancient history of Thailand. With its close relationship to the Chinese alligator, this newly described species highlights the ecological connections between the lowlands of the Yangtze-Xi and Mekong-Chao Phraya river systems.

By understanding the unique characteristics and adaptations of A. munensis, researchers can further unravel the complexities of Southeast Asia’s prehistoric ecosystem.

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