FOR more than 200 years, it's mysterious Jurassic roots have stumped researchers across the world.
But now, a team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh believe they have identified a prehistoric crocodile first uncovered in the 18th century.
'Mystriosaurus laurillardi' - a distant relative of the modern-day saltwater variety - is thought to have lived in balmy tropical waters more than 180 million years ago.
Skull fragments from the massive marine predator, which is thought to have grown to more than four metres in length, were first discovered in a Bavarian town in the 1770s.
For the past 60 years, it was thought the animal was part of a similar species, known as 'Steneosaurus bollensis,' which existed around the same time.
However, palaeontologists now say another skull, discovered in Yorkshire in the 1800s, belongs to a different species in a promising breakthrough allowing experts to understand the biodiversity of the period.
Dr Mark Young, of the University of Edinburgh’s school of geosciences said: “Unravelling the complex history and anatomy of fossils like Mystriosaurus is necessary if we are to understand the diversification of crocodiles during the Jurassic."
"Their rapid increase in biodiversity between 200 and 180 million years ago is still poorly understood.”
Images of the skull show the crocodile had a long snout and pointed teeth and lived in warm seas and preyed on fish alongside other large marine reptiles, known as ichthyosaurs.
The discovery of fossils in present-day Germany and the UK shows that the species could easily swim between islands, much like modern saltwater crocodiles, researchers say.
Palaeontologists identified the animal by analysing several fossils unearthed in the UK and Germany.
Sven Sachs, from Naturkunde-Museum Bielefeld , who led the research, said: “Mystriosaurus looked like a gharial - a fish eating crocodile - but it had a shorter snout with its nasal opening facing forwards, whereas in nearly all other fossil and living crocodiles the nasal opening is placed on top of the snout.”
The study is due to be published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.