Monday, March 23, 2015

Carnufex: Prehisroric Animal of the Week

This week we shall be checking out a newly published species of prehistoric crocodile that once called the American South home.  Check out Carnufex carolinensis!

As I said before, Carnufex was not a dinosaur, but a kind of reptile that belongs to the same main group as modern crocodilians.  It lived in what is now North Carolina, USA, during the Triassic Period, 231 million years ago.  Despite the fact that this creature is only known from an incomplete skeleton, paleontologists estimate it measured between nine and ten feet long from snout to tail and it's teeth indicate it was probably a meat eater.  The genus, Carnufex, translates to "Butcher", and the species, carolinensis, is in reference to the part of the United States where it was found.

Carnufex carolinensis feeding on a dicinodont near a river bed by Christopher DiPiazza.

If you were to see a living Carnufex, you might not guess it was related to modern crocodilians at first.  Judging by he length of its forelimb, the paleontologists who discovered and studied it estimate it may have walked around on its hind legs at least some of the time.  In fact, Carnufex could be mistaken for a theropod dinosaur at first if not examined carefully enough!  Here's the thing to remember, though.  The Triassic was a time when dinosaurs had not fully started flourishing yet.  Sure, there were some around, but there were also a lot of other large reptiles coexisting with them that were doing just as well.  Many of these other reptiles, like Carnufex, were from a group called pseudosuchia.  Pseudosuchians include crocodillians like alligators and crocodiles, as well as their relatives like the poposauroids, rauisuchians, and the aetosaurs to name a few.  Many pseudosuchians flourished during the Triassic alongside the very first dinosaurs.  These reptiles filled many niches which would later be taken over by dinosaurs after the end of the Triassic and most of the pseudosuchians had gone extinct for reasons that are still somewhat of a mystery.

Known bones of Carnufex carolinensis.
During the time Carnufex was alive, the environment it was in was a series of rivers and marshes amongst warm, moist land with lush plants.  Carnufex likely would not have been spending much time in the water, however.  That's right, crocodiles weren't always swimmers, which you wouldn't have seen until after the Triassic, actually.  Carnufex and its close relatives were adept land-dwellers.  Carnufex would have been the largest, and most formidable predator of its environment, hunting the wealth of other reptiles and early mammals of its home.

That is all for this week!  Special thanks to paleontologist, Susan Drymala, who worked with and the remains of this this amazing reptile, and approved my reconstruction at the top of this article.  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!


Zanno, L.E.; Drymala, S.; Nesbitt, S.J.; Scheider, V.P. (2015). "Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs". Scientific Reports 5: 9276. doi:10.1038/srep09276

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