SAN DIEGO, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The Nile crocodile, a species identified by ancient Egyptians, is in fact two distinct species that have been going by the same name, U.S. researchers say.
That's the verdict of genetic analysis using samples taken from species throughout the animal's range, and including DNA from mummified crocodile remains, researchers said.
"This paper provides a remarkable surprise: the Nile crocodile is not a single species, as previously thought, but instead demonstrates two species -- living side-by side -- constitute what has been called the Nile croc," Marlys Houck, a geneticist with the San Diego Zoo Global's Institute of Conservation Research, said.
"Even more remarkably, they are not each other's closest relatives; one is more closely related to New World crocodilians," Houck said in a release from the Zoological Society of San Diego Monday.
That species, Crocodylus suchus, is declining or has disappeared throughout much of its distribution, researchers say, and without proper recognition of this species current sustainable use-based management policies for the Nile crocodile may do more harm than good.
"The cryptic Crocodylus suchus is a unique entity worthy of a conservation strategy separate from the Nile crocodile populations of East and southern Africa," Houck said.