Thursday, March 19, 2015

Croc's grandpappy found in the Carolinas

Meet the 'Carolina Butcher,' a Pre-Dino Predator
Carnufex carolinensis roamed the earth roughly 231 million years ago, researchers say.
The Carnufex carolinensis, illustrated in this artist's rendering, is believed to have measured 9 feet long.

Herbivores, meet your worst nightmare.

Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fearsome crocodilian ancestor: A 9-foot-long fanged beast that roamed prehistoric North Carolina 231 million years ago.

Stomping about on hind legs like the long-lost miracle love child of supervillains Killer Croc and the Lizard, researchers believe Carnufex carolinensis – meaning "Carolina Butcher" – feasted on armored reptiles, early mammal relatives and other small prey that made their home in the Tar Heel State, which researchers say was then just breaking apart from the supercontinent Pangea.

“The discovery of Carnufex, one of the world’s earliest and largest crocodylomorphs, adds new information to the push and pull of top terrestrial predators across Pangea,” Lindsay Zanno, an assistant research professor in the biology department at North Carolina State University, said in a statement.

The skull, spine and upper forelimb of the reptilian beast were uncovered in the Pekin geologic formation in North Carolina's Chatham County, where ancient sediment has churned up other prehistoric remains.

"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," Zanno said.

Already, scientists believed that cousins of the ancient crocodile ranked among the top predators in the Southern Hemisphere, hunting alongside theropod dinosaurs – a dynamic that created a “predator pileup” and led to the extinction of the crocodile relatives.

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