Blood-biting tyrant swimmer
Prehistoric remains have been identified by Edinburgh scientists as a new species of marine super-predator.
Researchers say the animal, whose remains were discovered more than a century ago, is distantly related to modern-day crocodiles.
Scientists have confirmed that the partial skeleton – including a jawbone and teeth – belongs to a group of crocodiles that were similar to dolphins.
The animal’s pointed, serrated teeth and large gaping jaw meant it would have been suited to feeding on large-bodied prey.
The species, which is the oldest-known member of this group of animals, helps scientists better understand how marine reptiles were evolving about 165 million years ago.
The creature represents a missing link between marine crocodiles that fed on small prey, and others that were similar to modern-day killer whales, which fed on larger prey.
Scientists were able to reach their conclusions by studying the size and shape of the jawbone and teeth, which showed that the animal had a wide gape and shearing bite.
They have named the animal Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos, meaning “blood-biting tyrant swimmer”.
An amateur palaeontologist found the specimen in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 1900s, and it has since been held by The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. Dr Mark Young: “It is satisfying to be able to classify a specimen that has been unexamined for more than 100 years, and doubly so to find that this discovery improves our understanding of the evolution of marine reptiles”
According to the researchers, this super-predator would have been equipped with serrated teeth and a large gaping jaw so it was able to take on large-bodied prey. In other words, this monstrous ancient reptile did not just eat krill.
“It is the first described crocodylomorph with microscopic denticles that are not contiguous along the carinae (forming short series of up to 10 denticles) and do not noticeably alter the height of the keel,” the authors wrote in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. “Additionally, the dorsally expanded and curved posterior region of the mandible ventrally displaced the dentary tooth row relative to the jaw joint facilitating the enlargement of the dentition and increasing optimum gape.”
“Therefore, Tyrannoneustes would have been a large-bodied marine predator that was well-suited to feed on larger prey than other contemporaneous metriorhynchids,” the authors concluded.
The team also mentions in the journal that a second species of metriorhynchid super-predator may also have lived in the Oxford Clay Sea. In the journal, the scientists went on to provide a guide for helping to identify the new ancient crocodile species.
The new classification helps scientists better understand how marine reptiles were evolving 165 million years ago. It helps link between marine crocodiles that fed on small prey, and others that were similar to modern-day killer whales, according to the researchers.
Hunterian paleontology curator Neil Clark said that this new species helps increase scientists’ understanding of how life evolved, and the variety of life forms that existed during its time, when Britain was surrounded with Jurassic seas.