February 1, 2013
Ancient Monster Ocean Dweller Remains Identified As Crocodile Relative
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It's always exciting to see scientific topics running rampant in the viral circles of the Internet, and the latest hit on the Web concerns the new discovery of a prehistoric ocean predator.
Scientists found a partial skeleton, including a jawbone and teeth, that belongs to an ancient group of ocean-dwelling beasts called Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos that was almost a cross between a dolphin and a crocodile.
The remains of the distant relative to the modern-day crocodile were discovered more than a century ago, by amateur paleontologist Alfred Leeds.
Since their discovery in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 1900s, the specimen's remains have been held by the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.
"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," Dr Mark Young, of the School of GeoSciences, said in a statement.
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 an abstract in the 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.
The team studied the size and shape of the jawbone and teeth in order to reach their determination of a Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos, which means "blood-biting tyrant swimmer."
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.