Bones reveal prehistoric ocean predator

Prehistoric remains have been identified by Edinburgh scientists as a new species of marine super-predator.

Researchers say the animal, whose remains were discovered more than a century ago, is distantly related to modern-day crocodiles.

Scientists have confirmed that the partial skeleton - including a jawbone and teeth - belongs to a group of crocodiles that were similar to dolphins.

Large prey

The animal’s pointed, serrated teeth and large gaping jaw meant it would have been suited to feeding on large-bodied prey.

The species, which is the oldest-known member of this group of animals, helps scientists better understand how marine reptiles were evolving about 165 million years ago.

The creature represents a missing link between marine crocodiles that fed on small prey, and others that were similar to modern-day killer whales, which fed on larger prey.

Gaping bite

Scientists were able to reach their conclusions by studying the size and shape of the jawbone and teeth, which showed that the animal had a wide gape and shearing bite.

They have named the animal Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos, meaning “blood-biting tyrant swimmer”.

An amateur palaeontologist found the specimen in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 1900s, and it has since been held by The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.

The study was published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

It is satisfying to be able to classify a specimen that has been unexamined for more than 100 years, and doubly so to find that this discovery improves our understanding of the evolution of marine reptiles.

Dr Mark Young

School of GeoSciences

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