Long before dinosaurs terrorized the Earth, a 9-foot long crocodile ancestor with blade-like teeth ruled the planet. The enormous croc walked on its hind legs and preyed on early mammals and armored reptiles about 231 million years ago. Scientists have discovered fossils of Carnufex carolinensis or Carolina Butcher, which had huge snapping jaws.
Carolina Butcher was at the top of the food chain
Remains of the fierce predator were recovered from the Pekin Formation in Chatham County, North Carolina. Carolina Butcher reveals that crocodile ancestors, called crocodylomorphs, were at the very top of the food chain in the Late Triassic period, when our planet had just one huge continent, Pangea. Paleontologists from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina State University had recovered parts of the Carolina Butcher’s spine, skull, and upper forelimb.
Dr Lindsay Zanno, the lead author of the study, said that the discovery of one of the world’s earliest and largest crocodylomorphs provides new insights about the top terrestrial predators across Pangea. When the Carolina Butcher was alive, this area was a warm and wet equatorial region.
Crocodylomorphs managed to survive to modern day
Fossils from this time period were very important because they show the earliest appearance of crocodylomorphs and theropod dinosaurs. These two groups evolved in the Triassic period, but still managed to survive to the modern day in the forms of crocodiles and birds. Findings of the study were published in the latest issue of the journal Scientific Reports.
Since the skull of the Carolina Butcher was recovered in pieces, it was pretty hard to visualize what the complete skull would have looked like. To create the complete picture, scientists used high-resolution surface scanner to scan the individual bones. Then they created a detailed 3D model of the reconstructed skull. To fill in the missing pieces, researchers used the more complete skulls of its close relatives.