Monday, April 29, 2013

Sacred Crocodile

Crocodylus suchus mummy
The Sacred Crocodile is an amazingly fascinating animal, because until very recently modern science was unaware that it was a unique species at all. Though there were some theories (based on skull shape) that date back to the early 19th century, the general thought was that all large Crocodiles in the Nile region belonged to the same species.

Well, as of 2011, we now know that there are actually two different creatures. Also surprising? They aren't closely related at all! In fact, the man who originally DNA sequenced a skin sample from a Sacred Crocodile kept running the test over and over because he thought something was wrong!

Nile Crocodiles and Sacred Crocodiles look very alike, but have different genetics, slightly different scute patterns, and very different behaviors. In fact, Ancient Egyptians knew all about the different temperaments of the Crocodiles that they lived among, and recognized that there were two different species thousands of years ago. The Sacred Crocodiles were more docile and tame, and were kept close to temples where they were considered, you guessed it, sacred. Additional evidence has even shown that Sacred Crocodiles were the ones mummified, not Nile Crocodiles at all!

The modern "discovery" of this second species could mean problematic things for the Nile Crocodiles. Their range may actually be smaller than estimated, and the Crocodiles skin trade will need to be carefully monitored and reevaluated. The exact population count of the Sacred Crocodile is unknown, but it is believed to be rather rare.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 16ft (5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Crocodylia
Family : Crocodylidae -- Genus : Crocodylus -- Species : C. suchus
Image : van Oudheden

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