Italy finds footprints of giant prehistoric reptile

Milan: Scientists in Italy have found fossiled footprints of what they believe is a new prehistoric species, similar to a crocodile, which roamed the Italian Alps around 250 million years ago.

The discovery was made at Altopiano della Gardetta in the province of Cuneo, at an altitude of 2,200 metres.

Researchers say the fossilised traces of front and rear claws, about 30 cm long, date from a few million years after the greatest mass extinction of dinosaurs in history, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

The scientists say the footprints prove that the area was not completely inhospitable to life even after the Permian-Triassic extinction event some 252 million years ago.

The find was made by a team from the Trento Science Museum (MUSE), Zurich University’s Palaeontology Museum, and the universities of Turin, Rome Sapienza and Genoa, which published its findings in the medical and environmental sciences journal PeerJ.

MUSE fossil expert Fabio Massimo Petti told ANSA that the distance between the “exceptionally well-preserved” fossilised footsteps allowed scientists to reconstruct what they believe was a “crocodile-like” creature, “at least four metres long,” that had been crawling along an ancient coastline near a river delta.

“The footprints could be a small part of what is still to be discovered, or at least we think it is possible,” Massimo Delfino of the department of earth sciences at the University of Turin told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Delfino said that the scientists wish to continue their studies and to create a visitor centre devoted to the giant reptile which has been christened as Isochirotherium gardettensis.