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English Scientists Name Prehistoric Crocodile After Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister

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It was already a given that Lemmy Kilmister was going to live on in the hearts of metal fans forever, but now his name will live on in a field outside of music as the legendary Motörhead frontman has had a prehistoric crocodile named after him in his home country of England. And judging by the creature’s description, it sounds like it’s a bit of a namesake.

“With a meter-long skull and a total length of 5.8 meters, it would have been one of the biggest coastal predators of its time,” says University of Edinburgh paleontologist Michela Johnson in a statement issued by the National History Museum. Johnson helped to untangle the identity of the Lemmysuchus [Lemmy’s crocodile] obtusidens [blunt toothed], which lived around 164 million years ago during the Middle Jurassic Period and was a member of an extinct group of marine crocodile relatives called teleosaurs.

According to the museum, where the specimen is housed, it was dug up by collectors in the early 20th Century from a clay pit quarry near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. However, it was incorrectly categorized with the remains of other sea crocodiles found in the same location.

The exact relationship between Lemmysuchus and its close relatives had been misunderstood as scientists had previously wrongly assigned some other fossil finds to the same species. The scientists say that while a few of the other finds were indeed from the same species as Lemmysuchus, most were from its relatives. This cleared up the confusion, and a new name could be given to the species.

In a study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, an international team of scientists took a fresh look at the fossil skeleton and gave it a new classification and scientific name. The abstract reads:

Teleosaurids were a clade of crocodylomorphs that attained near-global distribution during the Jurassic Period. Within Teleosauridae, one particular sub-clade of durophagous/macrophagous taxa achieved large body sizes and were apex predators in shallow marine environments during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous in Europe and around the coast of the Tethys Seaway. Unfortunately, the origins of this clade are still poorly understood. ‘Steneosaurus’ obtusidens is a little-studied macrophagous species from the Oxford Clay Formation (Callovian, Middle Jurassic) of the UK and near Migné-les-Lourdines (Middle Callovian) in France. Despite being considered a sister taxon of the Late Jurassic taxon Machimosaurus, the taxonomy of ‘S.’ obtusidens remains unclear. Although three different synonymies have been proposed (variously a subjective synonym of other taxa), these taxonomic hypotheses have not been based on detailed anatomical comparisons and thus have not been tested. Here, we re-describe the holotype of ‘S.’ obtusidens, demonstrate that it is indeed a valid taxon, restrict the referred specimens to a fragmentary skeleton, nearly complete skull, and partial rostrum, and establish a new monotypic genus, Lemmysuchus. Our re-description reveals five autapomorphies for Lemmysuchus obtusidens and nine apomorphic characters that support the tribe Machimosaurini (Lemmysuchus + Machimosaurus).

Lemmysuchus lived in shallow sea waters around the coast of land that would become modern-day Europe according to the museum. The creature’s broad snout and large blunt teeth evolved for crushing shelled prey such as turtles – in contrast to its close relatives that had longer snouts and thinner teeth for catching fish.

“Although Lemmy passed away at the end of 2015,” says National History Museum curator Lorna Steel in a statement. She worked on the study and suggested the crocodile should be named after her late musical hero. “We’d like to think that he would have raised a glass to Lemmysuchus, one of the nastiest sea creatures to have ever inhabited the Earth.”

Below is a reconstruction of Lemmysuchus  obtusidens. The reconstruction contains details relating to Motörhead, with the pattern on the head based on the band’s logo.

Mark Witton/Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London
Mark Witton/Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

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