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Supercroc Spruce-up

By: Michael Hugill, Tina Mansson, Category: At The Museum, Date: 04 Jun 2013

We had to give our Supercroc a makeover before we could send him out on tour.

Super Croc Spruce-up #3

Tina Mansson © Australian Museum

I spoke with Tina Mansson, Exhibition Project Officer and crocodile stylist, to find out more.

Who is Supercroc?

The worlds biggest ever crocodile, or Supercroc, is the nickname for Sarchosaurus Imperator, an ancient reptile who was unearthed from the fossil-rich beds of the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. According to the resident Tuareg people, the fossil beds are SO rich that camels "fear to tread there"... camels must have long memories.

Paul Sereno, a world renowned super spunky palaeontologist, dug up more than 50% of this enormous skeleton in 2001, including several other SuperCroc skulls, vertebrae, scutes, limb bones and other assorted bits. It was enough to commission a life-size model which was gifted to the Australian Museum by National Geographic in 2003.

Sereno went on to dig up more than 70 tonnes of dinosaur skeletons in Africa, one of which, Jobaria, a super-tall, plant-eating dino, now graces the entrance to the Australian Museum dinosaur gallery.

Why was he in need of a makeover?

We wanted to make our Croc smile again. Public displays of affection can take their toll on a travelling superstar. Broken claws, abraded and faded paintwork, chipped scutes and dirty teeth were all victims in this case.

The sheer size and realism of Supercroc captures our imaginations as he enables us an up close and personal experience with what was an otherwise formidable 10-tonne-12-metre-flesh-eating predator whose diet potentially extended beyond fish into tastier larger meals such as Jobarias.

He's going to be hosted by Albury Library so he needs to look his best. Jules Boag, the coordinator, has cleverly incorporated a live crocodilian display by a local herpetologist to highlight the power of such an ancestor, whilst also pointing to the importance of modern day crocodile conservation.

What did you have to do to restore him?

The perils of such popularity meant we had to upgrade his paintwork to a level that it couldn't be compromised by further affectations. But first he needed a warm bath to remove hundreds of fingerprints, school shoe scuff marks, and general wear and tear.

Then his paintwork could be properly assessed. How Supercroc actually looked on the surface is conjectural, but using National Geographics interpretation as a guide, I attempted to draw the viewers eye to the detail in his armour with some added colour.

Some of his claws were requiring reattachment and the colour of his mouth needed livening. His teeth also needed cleaning, flossing and glossing . Several layers of a toughening archival varnish were also applied.

Finally, as a treat, a herbal wrap was administered and a hot stone treatment applied to his chakras with the Gregorian Chant on in the background and a nice cup of hot tea on the porch to round things off.

What other projects are you working on?

Another ancient large beast. The largest known marsupial to have roamed Australia was a giant wombat called the Diprotodon (meaning two forward teeth), .Educators at the Australian museum often use replicas of found fossils to pass around the classroom so I am about to replicate the very large skull, lower jaw and molars for them.

I will also reproduce fossilised dinosaur footprints ,some t-rex teeth and claws for discussion and fun activities in the classroom.

Both jobs and any jobs like it, will require the on hand professional expertise of the Museum's own resident Palaeontologist and Research Scientist Yong Yi Zhen. Without his advice, the croc might have ended up purple with green spots or million-year-old skulls might end up with fictional protuberances. He is on hand for every moulding and casting job pertaining to fossilised dinosaur bits and even runs tours through China looking at important fossil sites.