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.