Scientists in the US have discovered a terrifying land-living crocodile, which lived in what is now North Carolina 230 million years ago.
The crocodile, called Carnufex carolinensis, which literally means the Carolina butcher, was a very early member of the crocodile family, but unlike its modern ancestors it was not aquatic, nor a quadruped but prowled around on two legs.
It was about 3 meters long and about 1.5 meter tall and had blade-like teeth and a long skull.
Carnufex lived in the warm equatorial region in what is now North Carolina alongside such animals as aetosaurs – armor plated plant eating reptiles – as well as early mammals and four-legged phytosaurs, which lived in water and had long snouts and looked a bit like today’s crocodiles.
Carnufex were the large predators of their time and lived just before the appearance of the first dinosaurs in the Triassic period.
“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, Carnufex predates the group that living crocodiles belong to,” said Lindsay Zanno, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, who led the research into the beast.
The absence of predatory dinosaurs at the time may have allowed Carnufex to grow to its giant size.
Zanno and her colleagues discovered parts of the skull, spine and arm of the crocodile while digging in the Pekin Formation in Chatham County, North Carolina and published their findings in the journal Scientific Research.
But Carnufex’s role as top dog of the food chain did not last, the extinction at the end of the Triassic period killed it off although the smaller crocodylomorphs and theropods were left untouched.
Crocodylomorphs, the ancestors of modern crocs, evolved to fill the role that foxes and jackals have today.
“As theropod dinosaurs started to make it big, the ancestors of modern crocs initially took on a role similar to foxes or jackals, with small, sleek bodies and long limbs. If you want to picture these animals, just think of a modern-day fox, but with alligator skin instead of fur,” Susan Drymala co-author of the study and graduate student at North Caroline State University, said in the statement.
A 17-million-year-old beaked whale fossil is helping researchers solve a puzzle about the likely birthplace of humanity in East Africa, a new study finds.
The whale (Ziphiidae) lived when the East African plateau was substantially lower and covered by dense forests, the researchers said. Scientists have long tried to figure out when the uplift occurred, because when it did, the moisture from the Indian Ocean could no longer reach the trees and vegetation, and the area turned into a savannah, research suggests.
Extinct ancestors to modern humans may have lived in trees in East Africa, but after the area turned into grassland, these early humans gradually began walking on two feet, researchers suggest.
“It’s more or less the story about the bipedalism,” said study researcher Henry Wichura, a postdoctoral candidate in geoscience at University of Potsdam in Germany.
A whale of a tale
The story of the whale skull is one of rediscovery. Researchers originally found the fossil in 1964, but didn’t publish a study on it until 1975. Then, they misplaced the skull until 2011.
The skull is the oldest known fossil of a beaked whale, and it confounded researchers at first. Beaked whales are deep divers that live in the ocean, but the fossil was found 460 miles (740 kilometers) inland from the present-day East African coast, and at an elevation of 2,100 feet (640 meters).
Perhaps the 23-foot-long (7 m) whale used to live in the Indian Ocean, but mistakenly strayed into a river that led it into modern-day Kenya, the study researchers said.
But the fossil sat unstudied for nearly 40 years, until researchers rediscovered it at Harvard University. (Interestingly, a curator found the fossil in the former office of renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. At the time, the university was using Gould’s office for temporary storage during a remodel, according to the study.)
Once recovered, the skull helped Wichura and his colleagues date the East African plateau’s uplift. They wondered how low the East African plateau was before the region’s topography changed, so they searched for other instances of whales getting lost in rivers. For instance, one whale became stranded in the Thames River in 2006, and killer whales have swum into the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
The scientists took the grade of the steepest river from case reports, and applied it to the prehistoric river used by the whale. So, if the ancient river rose at 2.5 inches a mile (4 centimeters per km) from the coast, the East African plateau was between 79 feet and 121 feet high (24 m and 37 m) at the time the whale lost its way and died. (The difference in height takes into account the different routes the whale may have taken to swim inland from the Indian Ocean.)
Considering that the plateau is now about 2,034 feet (620 m) tall, the northern part of the Eastern African plateau must have been uplifted by about 1,925 feet (590 m) over the past 17 million years, the researchers determined.
Furthermore, Wichura found that at 13.5 million years ago, part of the Eastern African plateau uplift had already begun, putting a bookend on when the uplift started. (He noted that the uplift happened because of mantle plumes, hot material that rises through the Earth’s mantle and pushes up against the crust.)
Without the rediscovered skull, it would have been difficult to help date the uplift, he said.
“With the whale, everything started,” Wichura told Live Science.
The study reminds both professional and amateur paleontologists to study the location and age of each fossil they find, said Frank Brown, a professorof geology at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the study.
“Even single specimens of organisms tell us a great deal about the history of the Earth, and they sometimes appear in surprising cases,” Brown said. “This is one such case.”
A fossilized tooth dredged from the bottom of the English Channel near Dorset, England, belonged to a formidable Jurassic marine predator and is the largest known tooth of its kind found in the U.K., according to a new study.
The study determined that the tooth is 152 million years old and belonged to a prehistoric relative of modern crocodiles known as Dakosaurus maximus.
“That (Dakosaurus) had 2.36 inch (6 centimeter) or longer teeth for an animal only 4.5 meters (about 15 feet) long is remarkable,” lead author Mark Young told Discovery News.
“The teeth were serrated, robust and contacted one another, making slicing much easier,” added Young, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences. “This animal would have had a fearsome bite for its size.”
Artistic rendition of Dakosaurus maximus.
During the marine predator’s lifetime, a shallow sea covered what is now Europe, turning the landmasses into an archipelago. Archaeopteryx, believed to have been the world’s first bird, lived in Europe during this time, as did some dwarf non-avian dinosaurs, such as Europasaurus. But the real predator action was found in the water.
Young said that Dakosaurus maximus, which belonged to a family of croc predecessors known as metriorhynchids, was puny in comparison to the gigantic marine reptile Pliosaurus. The skull alone of Pliosaurus measured about 6.6 feet long, and some estimates hold that the entire body of this monster predator measured 49 feet long.
Yet another marine predator at the time was Plesiosuchus manselii, which was larger than today’s great white sharks. Dakosaurus maximus, however, was particularly abundant, living in shallow lagoons, coastal environments and deep-sea regions. In the lagoonal environments, which lacked the other large animals, it seems to have been the top predator.
“The shallow seas of the late Jurassic would have been an exceptionally dangerous place to swim,” Young said.
Fast forward 152 million years, and the D. maximus tooth was found in a collection of material that was dredged from the sea floor near Chesil Beach, Dorset. That’s unusual, because most fossilized teeth from prehistoric marine predators are discovered during excavations, or are found on the shore by experts or lucky individuals with a good eye.
The tooth wound up at an online auction, where a savvy fossil collector purchased it. Lorna Steel, a curator at the Natural History Museum in London, then received a nice surprise.
“I was sent a photo of the tooth by the UK fossil collector,” Steel told Discovery News, “asking what did I think this tooth was, so I said, ‘Dakosaurus,’ and forwarded it to Mark for his opinion. Some of what he said is unrepeatable here, but the collector then offered to sell it to the museum for the price he paid online. We are very grateful to him for his generosity.”
Dakosaurus was unlike anything alive today, and what is now Europe was certainly a very different place during the marine creature’s lifetime.
“At a time when Archaeopteryx was flying around Germany and Diplodocus (a huge dinosaur) walked the plains of America, Earth’s seas were busy with the giant pliosaurs dominating the food chains,” Steel said.
As for Dakosaurus and its kin, she said, “With front limbs modified into flippers and a shark-like tail fin, metriorhynchids were so weird and different from living crocodiles today, it is hard to properly compare them.”
Dakosaurus, which sported a bullet-shaped snout, has been nicknamed “Sucker Croc.”
The researchers explained that it could suck in large fish and swallow them whole, in addition to biting off chunks of flesh from larger prey with its impressively big teeth.
All we have left of dinosaurs are their bones, but with much study, they have revealed a lot about their lives during prehistoric times. From Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils to Velociraptor fossils and many more, see how these remnants of the past have revealed the life of prehistoric times.
“It was a giant raptor, but with a chicken-like head and presumably feathers,” co-author Emma Schachner of the University of Utah, said in a press release. “The animal stood about 10 feet tall, so it would be scary as well as absurd to encounter.”
Lead author Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History added, “We jokingly call this thing the ‘chicken from hell,’ and I think that’s pretty appropriate.”
The dinosaur’s remains were excavated from the uppermost level of the Hell Creek rock formation in North and South Dakota. The dino really did come from Hell (so to speak)!
Its scientific name refers to Anzu, a bird-like demon in Mesopotamian mythology, and wyliei, after a boy named Wylie, who is the dinosaur-loving grandson of a Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh trustee.
The dino is one of the earliest oviraptorosaurs, so it lived close to the dinosaur extinction event, when an asteroid struck Earth 65 million years ago, Schachner said.
She and her colleagues believe the clawed dino was an omnivore that ate vegetation, small animals and perhaps eggs while living on a wet floodplain.
The dinosaur apparently got into some scrapes (or was clumsy?), given intriguing clues revealed in its fossils.
“Two of the specimens display evidence of pathology,” Schachner explained. “One appears to have a broken and healed rib, and the other has evidence of some sort of trauma to a toe.”
“I am really excited about this discovery because Anzu is the largest oviraptorosaur found in North America,” she continued. “Oviraptorosaurs are a group of dinosaurs that are closely related to birds and often have strange, cassowary-like crests on their heads.”
The cassowary is a flightless bird in New Guinea and Australia related to emus and ostriches.
This dinosaur then looks like a mixed-up collage of chicken, cassowary and non-avian dinosaur — all rolled into one species. Its full cast is on display now at the Carnegie Museum.
Photo: Mark Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Source: Jennifer Vegas