Fossils of a species of crocodile that may have been about 40 feet in length arrived at the Florida Museum of Natural History, 3215 Hull Road, Gainesville, on Friday.
Nicknamed “Turtle Chomper,” the specimen is estimated to be about 60 million years old. It was found more than a year ago at the Cerrejón coalmine in Colombia.
The lower jaw, ribs and other parts of the fossil arrived to the museum in safety material to protect the fossils. It took about a year for the fossils to arrive.
The process of opening the material is slow and tedious because the museum doesn’t want to harm the fossils, said Jonathan Bloch, vertebrate paleontology curator for the museum.
The fossils are opened in a “prep lab” that is part of Titanoboa: Monster Snake, an exhibit of the discovery of Titanoboa, a 48-foot, 60-million-year-old snake.
Visitors of the exhibit can see the process of unraveling and preparing the fossils through a clear-glass window.
“Every time you come back you’ll see something new,” Bloch said.
Bloch has been working with the coalmine site for about nine years in cooperation with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He will continue working on the site as long as the coalmine continues to operate.
The fossils received may or may not be part of an earlier discovery of the skull of a specimen.
If parts of the fossil match the current fossils the team is examining, a research paper that is being written will be finished in about six weeks, and in about a year, the specimen will be given a proper scientific name, Bloch said.
If the fossils do not match, then it could be the discovery of a new, different species, Bloch said.
It’s likely that Titanoboa and Turtle Chomper lived within the same era, possibly crossed paths or even battled, Bloch said.
Plant fossils were first discovered at the coalmine and sent for examination, but other fossils were discovered soon after that led to the discovery of Titanoboa and now Turtle Chomper, said Paul Ramey, assistant director of marketing and public relations for the museum.
The exhibit includes a recreation of the excavation site, a series of educational displays about the background of the discovery and a full-scale model of the Titanoboa snake devouring another animal.
A model of Turtle Chomper is not planned. The exhibit costs $6 for adults ($5 for Florida residents) and $4.50 for children ages 3-17. It will run until August 11 at the Florida Museum of Natural History and then go on tour around the country until 2018, Bloch said.