Name: Carnufex carolinensis
Meaning: Inspired by the creature’s teeth and the place where it was found, Carnufex carolinensis means “Carolina butcher”.
Age: About 231 million years old.
Where in the world?: The Pekin Formation of North Carolina.
What sort of critter?: Not a dinosaur, a crocodylomorph – the ancient group that contains alligators, crocodiles, and their close relatives.
Size: About 10 feet long, but possibly larger as the first individual known was still growing when it died.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: A partial skull, pieces of vertebrae, ribs, and a left upper arm bone.
Claim to fame: Even though the Triassic is often called the “dawn of the dinosaurs”, early relatives of crocodiles ruled the landscape. Carnufex – described by Lindsay Zanno, Susan Drymala and colleagues – was one of these crocodile cousins, and it was among the largest predators of its time. It was only after a mass extinction hit the protocrocs hard that dinosaurs began their rise to global dominance.
Zanno, L., Drymala, S., Nesbitt, S., Schneider, V. 2015. Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/srep09276