Experts think cave crocodiles discovered in the country of Gabon are a new species.
Researchers found the mysterious breed of crocodiles in 2008. They live in remote caves and feed on bats and crickets. They are about 5 feet long and some of them have orange-reddish skin. Researchers thought they were related to the African dwarf crocodile, but now think they have genetically branched out, according to the Daily Mail.
“We could say that we have a mutating species, because [the cave crocodile] already has a different [genetic] haplotype,” Richard Oslisly, who first discovered the cave crocs, told the Guardian. “Its diet is different and it is a species that has adapted to the underground world.”
Researcher still have many questions about how the cave crocs are able to survive in conditions very different from the more common dwarf crocodile, and how they are able to breed, as adults become too big to leave the caves. Current research suggests the cave crocodiles split off thousands of years ago, according to the Guardian.
“The [crocodiles in the] caves of Abanda stand out as an isolated genetic group,” added Oslisly.
The cave crocodiles were first discovered when Oslisly was searching for the remains of early human civilizations. Instead, he found crocodiles living in caves. He didn’t realize some of them were orange until he brought a group of scientists with him on his second trip, and they took the crocodiles outside into the light, according to the Guardian.
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Researchers said the crocodile’s orange color could be from dwelling in a mix of water and bat droppings.
Video footage shows the group going deep into bat-infested caves and walking through waste-high sludge to reach the crocodiles. The Guardian notes how this small group of 30 crocodiles exhibit behavior never before seen in crocodiles.
Oslisly is trying to turn the area into a wildlife sanctuary to protect these animals.
The more dwarf croc, more common in the area, faces a shrinking population because of trade in its meat. It is also docile and easy to catch compared to other crocodiles, according to the Guardian.