Before dinosaurs ruled what is now North America, the Carolina Butcher topped the predator charts.
A reconstruction of this newly identified species suggests that Carnufex carolinensis was 3 meters long and looked a lot like living crocodiles — except it walked on two legs, not four. Researchers led by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences paleontologist Lindsay Zanno found its fossilized skull, spine and arm bones in 231-million-year-old rock deposits in central North Carolina.
C. carolinensis is one of the oldest and largest crocodile ancestors identified to date. Its size and stature also suggest that for a time, it was one of the top predators in the part of the supercontinent Pangaea that became North America, Zanno and colleagues write March 19 in Scientific Reports.
Past fossil finds show that cousins of ancient crocodiles were vying with the earliest bipedal dinosaurs, called theropods, for the title of top predator in the southern regions of Pangaea.
C. carolinensis and others like it may have dominated the northern regions of Pangaea without competition from early dinosaurs, the researchers write.
The researchers note that its reign probably ended 201 million years ago. That’s when a mass extinction event wiped out most large, land-based predators, clearing the way for dinosaurs to fully dominate during the Jurassic period.