Australian scientists have announced the discovery not only of a new species of crocodile, but also that its last meal may have been a dinosaur.
Fossilized remains of the crocodile, named Confractosuchus sauroktonos – the shattered dinosaur killer – were recovered from a Queensland sheep station and are believed to be over 95 million years old.
In reconstructing the crocodile, researchers found the skeletal remains of a small, juvenile ornithopod dinosaur inside its stomach.
They say this is the first evidence of crocodiles eating dinosaurs in Australia.
“The discovery of a small juvenile ornithopod in the gut contents of a Cretaceous crocodile is extremely rare, as only a few examples of dinosaur predation are known anywhere in the world,” the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum said.
Dinosaur discovery comes 12 years after its original discovery
The fossil was first discovered and excavated by museum staff and volunteers in 2010.
As the bones were too fragile and densely packed in a piece of rock to remove, Dr. Joseph Bevitt, a scientist with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO), used micro-CT ray scanning technologies X neutron and synchrotron to identify where the bones were located.
He then sent the scanned data to Dr Matt White, a research associate at the museum, who digitally prepared the specimen – a project that involved 10 months of computer processing to construct a 3D reconstruction of the bones.
Dr White said the number of bones present was staggering, with 35% of the crocodile preserved.
The skeleton includes an almost complete skull, although its tail and hind legs are missing.
“At the time of its death, this freshwater crocodile was around 2.5m long and still growing,” said Dr White. “While Confractosuchus wouldn’t have specialized in eating dinosaurs, it wouldn’t have overlooked an easy meal, like the young ornithopod remains found in its stomach.”
Clues left by the crocodile’s last meal
It was not possible to identify the ornithopod because it had been partially digested, although at the time of its death it was a juvenile and weighed up to 1.7 kg.
Because the bones were found together, it suggests that the crocodile killed the animal directly or scavenged it soon after death.
One of the ornithopod’s femurs was cut in half and the other femur was bitten off so hard that a tooth mark was left on the surface of the bone.
“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,” said Dr White. .