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Crocodylus moreletii, Morelet's Crocodile skull

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This specimen, a female adult crocodile, was obtained from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas on 1 December 1979. It was made available to The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility for scanning courtesy of the Texas Memorial Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory. Funding for scanning was provided by a National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative grant to Dr. Timothy Rowe of The University of Texas at Austin.

Crocodylus moreletii is one of four currently recognized species of New World Crocodylus, the genus that includes nearly half of the worlds’ extant species of crocodylians. This species is commonly known as the Belize crocodile, Morelet’s crocodile, the Central American crocodile, cocodrilo de pantano, or, confusingly, 'alligator' (Brazaitis, 1973; Ross, 1998).

Morelet’s crocodile is relatively small, growing to only 2.5 to 3 meters (approximately 7 to 9 feet) in length (Brazaitis, 1973). Since half of this length is tail, and only about one-sixth is head, these animals are not as intimidating as the larger, longer-snouted American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), or the more familiar Nile crocodile (C. niloticus) or Indo-Pacific saltwater crocodile (C. porosus).

First described in 1851 (Duméril and Duméril, 1851), Morelet’s crocodile was not accepted as a distinct species by many workers (Neill, 1971). This was complicated by the suggestion (Barbour and Ramsden, 1919) that the original specimens had actually been collected from Cuba and belonged to the Cuban species Crocodylus rhombifer. Crocodylus moreletii was restored to scientific acceptance by Karl Schmidt (1924), who demonstrated that these animals are indeed found in Belize (then British Honduras), and are distinct from the American crocodile, also found in that country. Despite formal recognition, little was known of the natural history of this animal for most of the twentieth century. Hunting for the leather industry severely depleted many populations to the point that Neill (1971) predicted that C. moreletii would be extinct before any detailed information could be gathered.

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