Paleontologists have found evidence of an ancient type of crocodile that makes its modern-day ancestors look positively soft.
The 9ft-long (2.75m) creature roamed North Carolina on its hind legs and has been appropriately nicknamed “the Carolina Butcher”.
Living about 230 million years ago, Carnufex carolinensis – to give its official name – feasted on small mammals and armoured reptiles during the late Triassic period, before the dinosaurs had became fully established.
“These animals hunted alongside the earliest theropod dinosaurs, creating a predator pile-up. Predatory dinosaurs went on to fill these top predator roles exclusively for the next 135 million years,” said Dr Lindsay Zanno, of North Carolina State University, who worked on the study published in Scientific Reports.
As the Triassic period came to a close, the biggest crocodile-type predators such as the Carolina Butcher died out. The smaller crocodiles that were left changed their hunting style and lived alongside the dinosaurs as scavengers, said Susan Drymala, who also worked on the study.
“As theropod dinosaurs started to make it big, the ancestors of modern crocs initially took on a role similar to foxes or jackals... If you want to picture these animals, just think of a modern-day fox, but with alligator skin instead of fur.” she said.