New research by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland reveals that prehistoric crocodiles--long thought to be practically unchanged from today's crocodilians--actually ate like killer whales.

The university's Dr. Mark T. Young and his team's examination of Dakosaurus maximus' fossilized jawbones reveal that this 15-foot "super-croc" had a bite far more fearsome than the crocodiles of today. While modern-day crocodilians bear small conical teeth that allow them to capture small prey, the now-extinct Dakosaurus bore huge, slicing teeth that were good for "dismembering large-bodied prey" and breaking through bones.

The researchers also showed that Dakosaurus may have been the world's first "suction predator," with mechanisms for creating a pressure differential inside its enormous jaw that would have literally sucked prey in whole. This combination of features led Young to dub the ancient Dakosaurus a combination "killer whale" and "Tyrannosaurus."

Just what did this amazing animal eat? Sharks. At least sharks made up a large part of Dakosaurus' diet, the scientists concluded. But believe it or not, Dakosaurus may not have been the prehistoric sea's scariest predator.

The paleontologists also studied the jawbones of Plesiosuchus, a massive sea crocodile averaging in at about 20 feet--the size of a legendary crocodile captured in the Philippines. According to Young, the Plesiosuchus' tooth structure suggests that it killed prey with a bite, then gulped it whole.

Young's team believes this variety of feeding mechanisms explains how so many apex predators were able to survive in the same prehistoric open seas without overcompeting rapidly into extinction.

"The skull and tooth morphology show that they all ate different prey, and fed in different ways," said Dr. Lorna Steel, a member of Young's team. The study was published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Leviathan

    A 36-foot-long Pliosaurus attacks the plesiosaur Cryptoclidus, a marine reptile from the Late Jurassic Period. Also shown: the fish Pachycormus, a shoal of the belemnite Belemnoteuthis, and the ammonite Pectinatites. Acrylic Painting, 2008.

  • Rugops Primus Environmental Scene

    The scavenger Rugops, a dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous that lived in what is now Africa, driving a trio of the pterosaur Tupuxuara from the corpse of the sail-backed iguanadontid Ouranosaurus. The crocodylomorphs, relatives of the modern crocodile, are the 'boar-croc' Kaprosuchus.

  • Double Death

    Working together, a pair of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs, steal away a juvenile Paralititan stromeri from its family herd. Paralititans were swamp-dwellers that grew to be one of the largest creatures to ever roam the Earth. Mixed media, 2011.

  • Ammonite Graveyard

    Ammonites, so called after the Egyptian god Ammon, were carnivorous squidlike animals that could be over 3 feet in diameter. Here, several ammonites decay on the sea floor. Material: Gouache, 2011. Based on a prepared slab in Ulster Museum. Courtesy of A. Cowap.

  • Reaper In Paradise

    The giant crocodile, Deinosuchus riograndensis, attacks an Albertosaurs, a smaller relative of the Tyrannosaurus, in Late Cretaceous North America, 75 million years ago. Acrylic painting, 2003.

  • Mammoths And Saber-Toothed Cats

    A pride of Smilodon fatalis, often called a saber-toothed cat, attacks a calf belonging to a herd of mammoths while the mother moves to protect her offspring. Digital painting

  • Aucasaurus Attacking Titanosaur Nests

    During the Late Cretaceous (85 million years ago) Aucasaurus, a pack-hunting dinosaur, attacks a group of startled titanosaurs in Argentina. Pushing past the adults guarding their nests, the Aucasauruses snap up the babies as they hatch. From National Geographic, March 2003, 'Dinosaurs - Flesh & Bone'

  • Gallimimus Bullatus & Tarbosaurus Bataarm

    Tarbosaurus, a predatory reptile that lived 70 million years ago in parts of Asia, chases two Gallimimuses, ostrich-like dinosaurs that could grow nearly 30 feet long. Digital Art, 2010.

  • One Split Second: Triceratops Vs. Tyrannosaurus Rex

    The T-Rex probably preyed on Triceratops, because their territories overlapped 65 million years ago. While the T-Rex had its famous bite to use for a weapon, triceratops' powerful horns were a formidable defense. Digital Painting/photographic composite. 2011. From the Golden Book of Dinosaurs, by Robert Baker/Rey.

  • Ambush In The Late Miocene Of Florida

    This scene shows a prehistoric rhino struggling to escape the sharp claws of two saber-toothed cats. From left to right: Aelurodon, Teleoceras (rhino), Barbourofelis (saber-tooth), Neohipparion (horse), Aepycamelus (giraffe-like camels), Synthetoceras.

  • Smilodon & Paramylodon

    A Smilodon, or saber-toothed cat, dispatches a ground sloth trapped in tar during the Ice Age in North America. Digital painting.

  • Beelzebufo Ampinga

    A huge toad from the late Cretaceous of Madagascar that may have grown to over 16 inches long and could have weighed up to 9 pounds. It was certainly big enough to eat baby dinosaurs. Acrylics on illustration board, 2007.

  • Cretaceous Rodeo (Aka T-Rex Family Life)

    The Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the most formidable predators of all the dinosaurs. The 40-foot-long carnivore had teeth up to twelve inches long. However, there is a debate among paleontologists over whether the T-Rex was an apex predator or a scavenger. Acrylics & ink on cardboard, 2004.

  • Devourer Of Giants

    Five million years ago, several Anacus - a straight-tusked member of the elephant family - have been caught in a flash flood and drowned. Washed out to sea, they attract two adult and a juvenile mega-shark named Carcharodon megalodon - at around 60 feet, probably the largest shark known. Acrylic painting, 2000.

  • Pristichampsus Attacking Early Horses

    Pristichampsus is an extinct crocodile relative that could grow up to 10 feet long. The armored reptile lived mostly on land, and fed on land mammals like these early horses. Detail from composite scene for the TV show Animal Planet. Gouache

  • Megantereon Attacking Bushbuck

    Megantereon, an early saber-toothed cat, may have eaten young rhinos, elephants, and horses. The felines probably bit their prey on the neck to kill them, and then let them bleed to death, like the bushbuck pictured here. Kromdraai A, Early Pleistocene of South Africa. Colored pencils, from Evolving Eden (Columbia University Press)

  • Photos courtesy Titan Books