“Carolina Butcher” Prowled Triassic North America

Researchers find the oldest and largest crocodile relative yet discovered.

Mar 20, 2015
Bob Grant

An artist's reconstruction of Carnufex carolinensisCOPYRIGHT JORGE GONZALESA nine-foot-long monster stalked the Carolinas more than 230 million years ago. Carnufex carolinensis, which translates to “Carolina butcher,” walked on its hind legs and had a fearsome jaw packed with teeth, according to researchers who described fossils pulled from a North Carolina quarry in a Scientific Reports paper published yesterday (March 19). The late-Triassic bones were unearthed a decade ago and sat at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History ever since. “When we got the bones out and prepared them, we found out that it was actually a really cool species,” Lindsay Zanno, North Carolina State University researcher and lead author of the paper, told The Washington Post. “It was one of the oldest and largest members of crocodylomorph—the same group that crocodiles belong to—that we've ever seen. And that size was really surprising.”

The find rewrites the history of animals that are ancestral to modern crocodiles. “It pushes back the date of crocodylomorphs in the fossil record,” Daniel Mulcahy, a researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, told Smithsonian. “And because of its size, presumed diet, and body shape, [Carnufex] changes our thinking on what these early crocodiles looked like and what they did.”

Along with a host of other predators, C. carolinensis likely went extinct at the end of the Triassic, about 200 million years ago.