A newly discovered crocodilian ancestor may have filled one of North America’s top predator roles before dinosaurs arrived on the continent. Carnufex carolinensis, or the ‘Carolina Butcher,’ was a nine-foot long, land-dwelling crocodylomorph that walked on its hind legs and likely preyed upon smaller inhabitants of North Carolina ecosystems such as armored reptiles and early mammal relatives.
Actually, this part’s more for the zoologists:
Typical predators roaming Pangea included large-bodied rauisuchids and poposauroids, fearsome cousins of ancient crocodiles that went extinct in the Triassic Period. In the Southern Hemisphere, “these animals hunted alongside the earliest theropod dinosaurs, creating a predator pile-up,” says Zanno. However, the discovery of Carnufex indicates that in the north, large-bodied crocodylomorphs, not dinosaurs, were adding to the diversity of top predator niches. “We knew that there were too many top performers on the proverbial stage in the Late Triassic,” Zanno adds. “Yet, until we deciphered the story behind Carnufex, it wasn’t clear that early crocodile ancestors were among those vying for top predator roles prior to the reign of dinosaurs in North America.”
As the Triassic drew to a close, extinction decimated this panoply of predators and only small-bodied crocodylomorphs and theropods survived. “Theropods were ready understudies for vacant top predator niches when large-bodied crocs and their relatives bowed out,” says Zanno. “Predatory dinosaurs went on to fill these roles exclusively for the next 135 million years.”
The graphics here are interesting:
Everything a kid could want in a monster: Big, bad, and dead.