In a new study, paleontologists have identified one of the world’s oldest known “super predators,” meaning 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.”
Lead author Mark Young from the University of Edinburgh said that Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos is the oldest known metriorhynchid macrophage -- an animal that was adapted to feeding on large-bodied prey.
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He explained that the term “metriorhynchid” refers to a group of marine crocodiles that were superficially similar to living dolphins.
Young said that they lacked bony armour, had flipper-like forelimbs and had a tail fluke, the Discovery News reported.
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. This is 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.
The super predator made the rounds outside of what is now the U.K. too.
Tyrannoneustes is known from shallow marine deposits across Europe (England, France and Poland), Young said.
He added that 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.
These reptiles included pliosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. Giant pliosaurs were even larger than the Tyrant Swimmer, so they might have feasted on the formidable species.
As its name suggests, however, Tyrant Swimmer would have been swift in the water, so it likely could have out-swam possible predators and used the swimming prowess to capture its own prey.
The study has been published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.