Ancient Crocodiles Were Able To Run Like Dogs And Walk On Two Feet To Evade Dinosaurs, Say Researchers

By Josh Lieberman on September 11, 2013 3:20 PM EDT

crocodile
Crocodiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era were able to run like dogs in order to capture prey and evade dinosaurs, say researchers from the University of Bristol. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Crocodiles are to be pretty terrifying creatures, but imagine how scary they'd be if they could run like dogs. At one time they could do just that, according to researchers at University of Bristol in England. The researchers say that crocodile relatives, which co-existed with dinosaurs, were able to run around to evade capture, as well as stalk prey on land and in water.

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A number of ancient crocodiles were far different from the crocodile we know today. Baurusuchus ran around on dog-like legs in South America during the Mesozoic Era, the period at the end of the age of dinosaurs. Erpetosuchus, a foot-long crocodile from earlier in the Mesozoic Era, may have walked on two legs. Steneosaurus lived underwater and used its toothy snout to kill prey.

The University of Bristol researchers looked at the morphology (the shape) and biomechanics (the function) of the lower jaws of more than 100 ancient crocodiles from as far back as 250 million years ago. The lower jaw is the food-processing bone, so it was thought to offer significant insight. The researchers indeed found the lower jaw to be the key, and they were able to show that ancient crocodiles took to the Jurassic seas, evolving jaws that gave the crocs greater efficiency for hunting fish.

"The ancestors of today's crocodiles have a fascinating history that is relatively unknown compared to their dinosaur counterparts," said lead researcher Tom Stubbs. "They were very different creatures to the ones we are familiar with today, much more diverse and, as this research shows, their ability to adapt was quite remarkable....They evolved lifestyles and feeding ecologies unlike anything seen today."

The University of Bristol report, titled "Morphological and biomechanical disparity of crocodile-line archosaurs following the end-Triassic extinction," appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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