A new study published in the journal Vertebrate Paleontology has uncovered a group of ancient “terror crocodiles” that were around 10 meters (33 feet) long and had teeth “the size of bananas”. While perhaps not the most threatening of fruits, teeth of this enormous size allowed these ancient crocodiles to take down even the largest of dinosaurs as the biggest predator in its ecosystem, and perhaps even the largest crocodilian genera ever to have existed.
The genera in question is Deinosuchus, and the study describes two species: Deinosuchus hatcheri and Deinosuchus riograndensis. These prehistoric monsters lived in the west of America, ranging from Montana to northern Mexico, and at 10 meters in length likely outweighed the largest predatory dinosaurs living alongside them when they roamed the Earth 75 to 82 million years ago.
Previous research had hinted at the idea that Deinosuchus fed on dinosaurs based on their skull morphology and how it matched up against tell-tale bite marks on dinosaur fossils. This new study, led by Dr Adam Cossette from the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, Arkansas State University, and co-author Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee, reveals that Deinosuchus did indeed have the skull-crushing capabilities of a dino-diner.
Looking at new specimens, their research showed that Deinosuchus was an opportunistic predator whose enormous size likely meant that pretty much anything in its eyesight was on the menu. The fossil evidence uncovered bite marks from D. riograndensis on everything from turtle shells to dinosaur bones. The study also describes the species Deinosuchus schwimmeri, which was alive during the same period but was instead found along the Atlantic coastal plain from New Jersey to Mississippi.
While its genus name translates to “terror crocodile,” Deinosuchus was actually more closely related to alligators. Its skull morphology is a little confusing here as it doesn’t much look like either animal, with a long, broad snout with a bulbous tip. The reason for this unusual shape isn’t known and there are no extant crocodilian species with a similar snoot to compare it to.
"Deinosuchus was a giant that must have terrorized dinosaurs that came to the water's edge to drink," said Dr Cossette in a statement. "Until now, the complete animal was unknown. These new specimens we've examined reveal a bizarre, monstrous predator with teeth the size of bananas.
"It had two large holes present at the tip of the snout in front of the nose… These holes are unique to Deinosuchus and we do not know what they were for, further research down the line will hopefully help us unpick this mystery and we can learn further about this incredible creature."