Saturday, 5 April 2014

X-Rays Reveal Rare Croc's Insides

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | April 03, 2014 02:43pm ET

For the past 15 years, anatomist Larry Witmer has been going through the back door of the O'Bleness Hospital in Athens, Ohio, pushing coolers stuffed with dead animals into the CT scanning room. He has brought in ostriches, slain rhinoceroses and rare kiwis. Last week, Witmer arrived with an 8.5-foot-long (2.6 meters) Siamese crocodile.

Witmer has dozens, sometimes hundreds, of animals in his freezer at Ohio University at any given time. He chose his car (a Ford Edge) based on its capacity to fit his unusual cargo. ("My wife is very forgiving," he says.) He primarily studies the evolution of organs in the skulls of dinosaurs, but unfortunately the fossil record doesn't give him much to work with — just the bones and teeth, not muscles, nerves, brain tissue or skin.

"As a biologist, I want to understand how they worked as living, breathing creatures," Witmer told Live Science. The closest approximation of preserved dinosaur soft tissue comes from dinosaurs' closest extant cousins: birds and crocodilians. That's why Witmer recently jumped on the chance to study a rare Siamese crocodile, thought to be in its 30s, that died of natural causes last year at a park called Alligator Adventure in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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