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Late Quaternary fossils representing a locally extinct population of the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) are reported from two underwater caves in the Dominican Republic. A large fossil sample of C.rhombifer, from Oleg's Bat Cave near Bavaro in the southeastern Dominican Republic, consists of four nearly complete skulls, numerous isolated cranial elements and mandibles, and more than 100 postcranial bones representing most of the skeleton. These fossils were collected from a completely submerged portion of the cave at a depth of 11 m and about 100 m from the nearest entrance. A skull, mandibles, and two vertebrae of a Cuban crocodile were also found in a second cave called Ni-Rahu, northeast of Santo Domingo.
We identify the fossil crocodile skulls from the Dominican Republic as Crocodylus rhombifer because they share the following characters with modern skulls of C.rhombifer from Cuba (as well as fossil skulls from Cuba, the Bahamas, and Cayman Islands): short, broad, and deep rostrum; large orbits; convex nasals along the midline (midrostral boss); prominent swelling on the lacrimals anterior and medial to the orbits; low but obvious ridges extending anteriorly from the lacrimals to the nasals and posteriorly from the lacrimals to the prefrontals and frontals, outlining a distinct diamond- or rhomboid-shaped structure; strongly concave interorbital region and cranial roof; high, narrow ridges on the internal margins of the orbits, extending from the prefrontals to the frontals and posteriorly to the postorbitals; prominent ridges along the lateral margins of the cranial roof on the postorbitals and squamosals, terminating as noticeable protuberances on the posterolateral corners of the squamosals; premaxillary/maxillary suture on the palate essentially horizontal or transverse to the long axis of the skull at the level of the first maxillary tooth; 13 teeth in the maxilla.
Certain aspects of the ecology and anatomy of living Crocodylus rhombifer in Cuba, and carbon isotope data from fossil crocodile bones from both the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, indicate that the Cuban crocodile is a terrestrially adapted predator. The fossil deposits in Oleg's Bat Cave and other underwater caves in the Dominican Republic lack freshwater vertebrates, such as fish and turtles, but contain abundant samples of hystricognath rodents, small ground sloths, and other terrestrial vertebrates, including large land tortoises, that apparently were the primary prey of the crocodiles. Bats are abundant in the fossil deposits in Oleg's Bat Cave, and may have been an additional food source. Bone collagen from a tibia of C.rhombifer from Oleg's Bat Cave yielded an AMS radiocarbon date of 6460 ±30 ryrBP (equivalent to 7320 to 7430 cal yrBP). The chronology for the local extinction of C.rhombifer in Hispaniola is currently unknown, except to document the presence of this species in the eastern Dominican Republic in the early Holocene. Radiocarbon dates and historical records confirm that Cuban crocodiles survived into the period of European colonization (post-1492) in the Bahamas and on Grand Cayman. The only species of crocodile currently found in Hispaniola, the American crocodile (C. acutus), occurs in coastal marine habitats and in two inland brackishwater lakes: Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic and the nearby Etang Saumâtre in Haiti. C.acutus has no fossil record in Hispaniola or elsewhere in the West Indies, suggesting that this species may be a very recent (late Holocene) immigrant in the Antillean region. Crocodylusrhombifer has one of the most limited geographic ranges of any living crocodylian species, known only from freshwater swamps in south-central Cuba and the Isla de Juventud (Isla de Pinos) off the southwestern coast of Cuba. Locally extinct