Prehistoric Crocodiles Preferred Plants Over Prey
By Jason Daley Smithsonian.com
Gagged-toothed, flesh-shreading crocodiles of the modern world had to beat out a lot of other tough species to survive a whopping 200 million years. They munched their way through history while Tyrannosaurus Rex, the megalodon and other toothy predators died out. But the crocodile family tree wasn’t all cookie-cutter, zig-zagging pearly whites.
The dental tapestry of prehistoric crocodylians was much more diverse than it is today, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology. For millions of years, many species of vegetarian and omnivorous crocs roamed the earth, but why pro-plant crocs died out while their carnivore cousins stood the test of time remains a mystery.
Researchers analyzed 146 fossil teeth belonging to 16 extinct crocodile species, using techniques previously developed to assess the function of mammal teeth, reports Tim Vernimmen at National Geographic. Keegan Melstrom and Randall Irmis, both researchers at the University of Utah, used computer modeling to quantify the complexity of each tooth, which provides clues to what type of materials it was designed to chew.