Ohio University researchers have uncovered the skeleton of an ancient crocodile with mammal-like teeth in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania.

“If you only looked at the teeth, you wouldn’t think this was a crocodile. You would wonder what kind of strange mammal or mammal-like reptile it is,” said study lead author Patrick O’Connor.

Its anatomy suggests a very small head, well-armoured tail and that it was a land-dwelling creature that likely feasted on insects and other small animals to survive.

Unlike regular crocs that have conical teeth to seize and tear prey, this fossil showed molar-like teeth that possessed shearing edges for processing food, similar in form to the teeth of some mammalian carnivores. The light body and gracile limbs of the creature, named Pakasuchus, (Paka is the Ki-Swahili name for cat and souchos is Greek for crocodile), suggest that the creature was quite mobile.

Pakasuchus lived alongside large, plant-eating sauropod and predatory theropod dinosaurs, other types of crocodiles, turtles and various kinds of fishes. “We are still piecing together the puzzle of what animal life was like in these places,” O’Connor said. “Perhaps we just haven’t found the mammals yet.” The find is published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.