National Geographic : 2009 Nov
In the years since, conservation measures have led to a rebound in Florida crocs, which may now number some 2,000. "Crocodile management isn t rocket science," says Steve Klett, manager of Florida s Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. "If you protect their habitat and pro- tect them from being killed, they will respond. e big issue now is the restricted range: Once they ve occupied all the available habitat, where will they go?" In Donna s case, to an urban area where he shouldn t have been living---except that there was probably no better alternative. TODAY'S CROCODILIANS are o en said to be sur- vivors from the age of dinosaurs. That s true as far as it goes: Modern crocs have been around for some 80 million years. But they re only a small sampling of the crocodilian relatives that once roamed the planet---and, in fact, once ruled it. Crurotarsans (a term paleontologists use to include all croc relatives) appeared about 240 million years ago, generally at the same time as dinosaurs. During the Triassic period, crocodile ancestors radiated into a wide array of terrestrial forms, from slender, long-legged animals some- thing like wolves to huge, fearsome predators at the top of the food chain. Some, like the ani- mal called E gia, walked at least part of the time on two legs and were probably herbivores. So dominant were crurotarsans on land that PHOTO: IRA BLOCK; 16 FOOT REPLICA SKELETON PHOTOGRAPHED AT PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK An early croc forerunner, Desmatosuchus inhabited low-lying flood- plains in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the late Triassic. Its bony plates, or osteoderms, are also found in living crocodilians.