Scientists in Australia have discovered a new species of crocodile, CNN reported on Monday.
The new crocodile species dates back to the Cretaceous period, when most of the commonly known dinosaurs were roaming the Earth. And its last meal was reportedly a young dinosaur.
In 2010, fossilized bones were excavated from a sheep station near the Winton Formation, a geological rock bed that is nearly 95 million years old, in eastern Australia.
Some of the fossils of the crocodile were partially crushed, but researchers noticed that within the fossils were numerous small bones that belonged to another animal. Researchers at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum have identified those smaller bones as belonging to a dinosaur, in their findings published in the journal Gondwana Research on Friday.
The freshwater crocodile, named Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which means “the broken dinosaur killer,” was over eight feet long. Matt White, research associate at the museum and lead researcher, argues it would have grown much larger.
Researchers were unsure how the crocodile died.
About 35% of the animal was preserved. It was missing its tail and limbs but had a near-complete skull. Researchers then used X-ray and CT scans to find out what bones were inside the remains.
The findings showed the remains belonged to a 4-pound juvenile ornithopod, a group of plant-eating dinosaurs that included duck-billed creatures. The ornithopod’s remains also were the first of their kind found in Australia, suggesting it is a newly-discovered species.
What was left inside the crocodile’s stomach was one of the ornithopod’s femurs “sheared in half” and the other with a bite mark so hard that a tooth mark was left on it. That led researchers to believe the Confractosuchus “either directly killed the animal or scavenged it quickly after its death.”
“Extremely rare” evidence of crocodiles preying on, eating dinosaurs in Australia
“While Confractosuchus would not have specialized in eating dinosaurs, it would not have overlooked an easy meal, such as the young ornithopod remains found in its stomach,” White said in an interview with CNN.
The findings were “extremely rare” because there are so few definitive examples of dinosaurs being preyed on, and the discovery is the first evidence that crocodiles were eating dinosaurs in Australia. In August 2020, researchers discovered the fossils of “terror crocodiles” that could take down large dinosaurs with teeth “the size of bananas.”
“It is likely dinosaurs constituted an important resource in the Cretaceous ecological food web,” White said. “Given the lack of comparable global specimens, this prehistoric crocodile and its last meal will continue to provide clues to the relationships and behaviors of animals that inhabited Australia millions of years ago.”
The Confractosuchus sauroktonos is the second crocodile that has been named from the Winton Formation. The rock bed is home to numerous scientific discoveries that have been made in recent years, including a 96-million-year-old pterosaur in October of 2019.