Lower Miocene alligatoroids (Crocodylia) from the Castillo Formation, northwest of Venezuela

  • Andrés SolórzanoEmail author
  • Ascanio D. Rincón
  • Giovanne M. Cidade
  • Mónica Núñez-Flores
  • Leonardo Sánchez
Original Paper


Crocodyliform diversity was particularly high during the middle and late Miocene of South America, with up to 12 species recovered from a single geological unit. Nonetheless, the early Miocene fossil record of low-latitude vertebrates is scarce; hence, crocodylians remain poorly known in the region. The Castillo Formation, located in the northwest of Venezuela, preserves an interesting vertebrate fauna with a well-constrained late early Miocene age. Previous work dealing with crocodylians of this formation only recorded three taxa: the gavialoid Siquisiquesuchus venezuelensis and Gryposuchus sp. and indeterminate alligatoroid remains. New cranial and mandibular material recently recovered from the Castillo Formation allows us to document four previously unrecognised alligatoroid forms: Purussaurus sp., Caiman sp., an indeterminate caimanine and an indeterminate alligatoroid. With six taxa, the crocodylian assemblage reveals a previously undocumented relatively high taxonomic diversity in the early Miocene. The Castillo crocodylians show a broad range of morphological disparity and body sizes ranging from small (2.5 m–62 kg) to large (7.5 m–1600 kg) taxa. Thus, crocodylian niche partition, as well as the abundance and variety of resources and environmental heterogeneity of aquatic ecosystems in South America, were already established by at least the early Miocene. The presence of Caiman in ~ 18 Ma strata represents the unequivocally earliest record of the taxon in South America and allows us to propose that the origin of the jacareans is more likely to have occurred during or before the early Miocene, challenging previous molecular hypotheses.


Caimaninae Alligatoroids South America Castillo formation Early Miocene 



Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Caracas, Caracas, Venezuela


Colección de Paleontología del Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas, Caracas, Venezuela



This paper represents partial results of the Master’s Thesis of the first author (AS) at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC, Venezuela). We wish to thank the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural (IPC), Venezuela, for fossil collection permission. The authors gratefully acknowledge Franco Urbani, Damian Ruiz-Ramoni, Carlos Cáceres, Maria Mendoza, Marcia Lopez and Eduy Urbina for their invaluable collaboration during the field trips at Sierra de La Baragua (Lara State, Venezuela). We are also grateful to Peter Koenigshof (Editor-in-Chief), Sinje Weber, Christopher Brochu and an anonymous reviewer for comments and suggestions that greatly enhanced the paper. AS wish to thank to Max Langer (USP, Brazil), Paulo Passos (Museo Nacional de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Hyram Moreno (Museo de Ciencias de Caracas, Venezuela), and Gina Ojeda (CIAPP, Venezuela) for their collaboration and support in their respective fossil and modern crocodylian collections; and Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, who kindly provided pictures for some Peruvian crocodylians. This work was supported by TOTAL Venezuela and the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC) under the project 822 and 1096 to ADR, and by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) Doctorate scholarship 140808/2016–7 to GMC.

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Conflict of interest:

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio de Paleontología, Centro de EcologíaInstituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC)CaracasVenezuela
  2. 2.Programa de Doctorado en Ciencias Geológicas, Facultad de Ciencias QuímicasUniversidad de ConcepciónConcepciónChile
  3. 3.Departamento de Biologia, FFCLRPUniversidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  4. 4.Programa Doctorado de Sistemática y Biodiversidad, Departamento de Zoología, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y OceanográficasUniversidad de Concepción, Barrio Universitario s/nConcepciónChile

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