A new study points out that, long before it was a desert, the Sahara region was home to some of the scariest predators ever discovered.
Imagine a place where flying reptiles, crocodile-like predators and giant creatures with huge teeth live together – and compete with each other. No, it is not a movie set: according to paleontologists, this was a part of the Sahara 100 million years ago.
A study published in the scientific journal ZooKeys analyzed the diverse vertebrate fossils found in the last 100 years in the Kem Kem geological formation, south of Morocco. Today a desert, the region was supplied by a large river system during the Cretaceous period.
Among the fossils found in this territory are some of the largest predatory dinosaurs that paleontology has ever studied, such as Carcharodontosaurus and Deltadromeus, both 8 meters long. While the first had sharp teeth of up to 20 centimeters, the second had long, slender hind limbs, which suggests surprising agility. Scientists have also found pterosaurs and other predatory reptiles in the region.
“This was arguably the most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth, a place where a human time-traveller would not last very long,” said Nizar Ibrahim, author of the study and an assistant professor of biology at the University of Detroit Mercy. To gather the databases and images of fossils, the specialist visited exhibitions with prehistoric items from Kem Kem in different countries.
Since the Kem Kem region had so many rivers 100 million years ago, the large predators that inhabited it could feed on various types of fish, such as lungfish and giant coelacanths, which were four or five times larger than the coelacanths of today. “There is an enormous freshwater saw shark called Onchopristis with the most fearsome of rostral teeth, they are like barbed daggers, but beautifully shiny,” said study co-author David Martill of the University of Portsmouth.
For Martill, research on the Kem Kem region in the Cretaceous period is of great relevance. “This is the most comprehensive piece of work on fossil vertebrates from the Sahara in almost a century, since the famous German palaeontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach published his last major work in 1936,” he points out.