Newly-discovered bipedal crocodile ancestor terrorized pre-dinosaur world

Before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the region we now know as North Carolina was ruled by a fearsome, bipedal, 9-foot-long crocodile ancestor known as Carnufex carolinensis, or the “Carolina Butcher.”

Paleontologists from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences discovered a partial skull, spine and arm bone of the ancient reptile, part of the crocodylomorpha family which includes modern crocodiles while digging in the Pekin Formation in Chatham County, North Carolina. The researchers dubbed the creature Carnufex, or “butcher,” due to its long, knife-shaped skull and blade-like teeth, which it used to hunt armored reptiles and early mammals.

“‘Butcher’ seemed a very appropriate way to get that into the minds of people,” Lindsay Zanno, lead author of the study published in Scientific Reports on Thursday, told Live Science.

The researchers believe that Carnufex ruled at the top of the food chain around 230 million years ago, when North America was a part of the supercontinent Pangaea and the North Carolina region hovered near the equator. Their reign came to an end during a mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period, paving the way for dinosaurs to dominate for the next 135 million years.

“Fossils from this time period are extremely important to scientists because they record the earliest appearance of crocodylomorphs and theropod dinosaurs, two groups that first evolved in the Triassic period, yet managed to survive to the present day in the form of crocodiles and birds,” Zanno said. “The discovery of Carnufex, one of the world’s earliest and largest crocodylomorphs, adds new information to the push and pull of top terrestrial predators across Pangea.”