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Predator that terrorised Jurassic Europe

PTI
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SUPER CROCA model of a giant crocodile, weighing eight tonnes, at a Sydney museum. The Tyrant Swimmer could have been an ancestor.Photo: AFP
SUPER CROCA model of a giant crocodile, weighing eight tonnes, at a Sydney museum. The Tyrant Swimmer could have been an ancestor.Photo: AFP

Scientists have discovered that a marine crocodile was one of the world’s oldest known super predators – carnivores that can feed on prey that’s as large, or larger, than themselves.

The toothy beast was a marine crocodile that looked part shark and part sinister dolphin. Its scientific name is Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos or “Tyrant Swimmer”.

Feeding on large prey

“Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos is the oldest known metriorhynchid macrophage – an animal that was adapted to feeding on large-bodied prey,” researcher Mark Young of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences said. He explained that the term “metriorhynchid” refers to a group of marine crocodiles that were superficially similar to living dolphins.

“They lacked bony armour, had flipper-like forelimbs and had a tail fluke,” he said.

This animal evolved from related species that were opportunistic predators of small, fast moving prey.

These marine hunters had narrow snouts and multiple teeth, but the teeth weren’t serrated like those of Tyrant Swimmer, which also could open its mouth very wide.

Young and his colleagues studied the remains of Tyrant Swimmer, found in the Oxford Clay Formation, a Jurassic marine sedimentary rock formation underlying much of southeast England.

The remains have been in storage for some time at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

“Tyrannoneustes is known from shallow marine deposits across Europe (England, France and Poland),” Young said.

Lived in shallow sea

“During the Middle Callovian 165 million years ago, much of Europe was covered by a shallow sea, creating a chain of large to small islands. Tyrannoneustes lived in this shallow sea, along with numerous other marine reptiles,” Young added.

As its name suggests, Tyrant Swimmer would have been swift in the water, so it likely could have out-swam possible predators and to capture its own prey.

As of now, no stomach contents for the Tyrant Swimmer have been located, so what it ate remains a mystery.PTI

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