‘It’s just extraordinary’: Ancient crocodile’s last meal may have been a dinosaur

2022-02-12

Australian scientists say they’ve discovered a new species of crocodile, and its last meal may have been a dinosaur.

The crocodile, called a Broken Dinosaur Killer, was recovered on a sheep station in outback Queensland, and is believed to be more than 95 million years old.

Researchers say while piecing together the fossilised croc, they made a startling discovery — the partial remains of a young ornithopod dinosaur inside its stomach.

“It’s just extraordinary,” researcher Matt White from The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum said.

“This is the first time that a crocodile has been discovered with dinosaur remains in its stomach,” Dr White said.

“It’s a world first.”

Last meal a clue to prehistoric diets

The fossil was first discovered near Winton in 2010 by palaeontologists, and took more than six years to piece together.

It’s the first skeletal remains of an ornithopod reported in the region and the first evidence that crocodiles ate dinosaurs in Australia.

“This prehistoric crocodile and its last meal will continue to provide clues to the relationships and behaviours of animals that inhabited Australia millions of years ago,” Dr White said.

The discovery also suggests dinosaurs were an important part of the Cretaceous food web.

“Dinosaurs weren’t exactly top of the food chain but were part of an intricate web of mammals, pterosaurs, birds and crocodiles,” he said.

“What we’ve been able to demonstrate is the direct evidence of [crocodiles’] food source and that they were able to eat anything that came close enough.”

There is evidence that ornithopods, which were small plant eaters with beaks and cheeks full of teeth, roamed Earth more than 100 million years ago.

“Ornithopods were very cute little dinosaurs, probably a little bit bigger than a chicken at about 1.2 kilograms,” Dr White said.

“It would have looked something like Ducky from The Land Before Time.

“So you can imagine poor little Ducky crawling up onto the side of the bank and then a crocodile coming up and chomping it.”

New technology used in discovery

Dr White said the bones were too fragile to be removed from the ground by conventional methods, so researchers used new technology to piece together an X-ray image of the fossil.

The scanned data files were then used by Dr White to digitally prepare the specimen, a process that can take months of processing, so that a 3D reconstruction of the bones could be made.

“The technology that we’re using is drawing new life into what we can see within these fossils,” Dr White said.

“We may have other fossils out there around the world that actually have remains in their stomach and this new technology may help us discover that.

“It’s going to change how things are done.”

abc.net.au, 12 February 2022
; https://abc.net.au/