According to a new study, a crocodile which was large enough to swallow humans, once dwelled in East Africa.
"It's the largest known true crocodile," said Christopher Brochu, associate professor of geoscience, University of Iowa.
"It may have exceeded 27 feet in length. By comparison, the largest recorded Nile crocodile was less than 21 feet, and most are much smaller."
The new species lived between 2 and 4 million years ago in Kenya. It resembled its living cousin, the Nile crocodile, but was more massive.
He recognized the new species from fossils that he examined three years ago at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. Some were found at sites known for important human fossil discoveries.
"It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them," Brochu said.
He explained that although the fossils contain no evidence of human/reptile encounters, crocodiles generally eat whatever they can swallow, and humans of that time period would have stood no more than four feet tall.
"We don't actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today's crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn't much biting involved," Brochu said.
He asserted that there likely would have been ample opportunity for humans to encounter crocs. That's because early man, along with other animals, would have had to seek water at rivers and lakes where crocodiles lie in wait.
Regarding the name he gave to the new species, Brochu said there was never a doubt.
The crocodile Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni is named after John Thorbjarnarson, famed crocodile expert and Brochu's colleague who died of malaria while in the field several years ago.
"He was a giant in the field, so it only made sense to name a giant after him," Brochu added.
The paper has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.