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 2.36-inch-long tooth has a broken tip, and would have been even bigger when new, suggests the paper, published in the journal Historical Biology.
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.”
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.Source: Discovery.com