A giant land-dwelling crocodile, which lived nearly 231 million years ago, was the top predator in prehistoric North America even before the first dinosaurs arrived there, according to a new study. Based on fossils discovered in North Carolina, the scientists said that the big croc used to walk on its hind legs and preyed upon armored reptiles and early mammals.
Dubbed Carnufex carolinensis, or the “Carolina Butcher,” the animal was believed to measure about 9 feet long and 5 feet tall. According to scientists from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, parts of Carnufex’s skull, spine and upper forelimb were recovered from the Pekin Formation in Chatham County, North Carolina. Because the skull was preserved in pieces, scientists scanned the individual bones and used complete skulls of Carnufex’s close relatives to create a three-dimensional model of the reconstructed skull.
“Fossils from this time period are extremely important to scientists because they record the earliest appearance of crocodylomorphs and theropod dinosaurs, two groups that first evolved in the Triassic period, yet managed to survive to the present day in the form of crocodiles and birds,” Lindsay Zanno, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
Carnufex, which dates back to the Triassic Period, was unlike modern-day crocodiles as it was neither aquatic nor a quadruped. Instead, it prowled around on two legs in the warm equatorial region that was prehistoric North Carolina, the scientists said in the study, recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“As one of the earliest and oldest crocodylomorphs, Carnufex was a far cry from living crocodiles. It was an agile, terrestrial predator that hunted on land,” Reuters quoted Zanno as saying. “Carnufex predates the group that living crocodiles belong to.”
According to scientists, before the dinosaurs became established as the largest terrestrial predators in North America, animals like Carnufex filled the role of large predators at the top of the food chain.