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New Species of Cretaceous Crocodile had a Dinosaur for its Last Meal

A newly described species of crocodile from Queensland, Australia, devoured a juvenile dinosaur just prior to its death. The crocodile has been named Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which literally means “broken dinosaur killer”. The genus name comes from the fact the croc's remains were partially crushed during excavation, and the species name reflects the dinosaur bones found in its gut.

Originally found in 2010 during excavation of sauropod material, Confractosuchus' discovery was announced on February 11, 2022 by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and was published in the scientific journal Gondwana Research. It was discovered in the Winton Formation and lived during the Late Cretaceous period around 95 million years ago. It is the second crocodyliform discovered in the Winton Formation, the other being Isisfordia. The specimen measured over 8 feet, but likely was not fully grown when it died. It was missing its tail, hind limbs, and most of its pelvis, but most of the rest of the skeleton was intact, including a well-preserved skull.

What has made the discovery of Confractosuchus so remarkable is the remains of a juvenile Ornithopod dinosaur inside its stomach (Ornithopods were a group of herbivorous dinosaurs which includes the hadrosaurs, or “duck-billed” dinosaurs). This is the first definitive evidence that prehistoric crocs dined on dinosaurs. Based on the preservation of the stomach contents it appears that this dinosaur killer died shortly after ingesting the meal. It is impossible to determine whether or not Confractosuchus' gut was as acidic as those of modern crocodiles, but if it was it would have quickly digested this precious evidence away had it not met its demise soon after chowing down. Analysis of the crocodile's skull suggests it was capable of taking on prey larger than itself, but most likely it ate other kinds of Cretaceous critters, not just dinos. Although it's possible it might have simply scavenged the dinosaur's carcass, it did do some good damage. “There is, however, clear evidence of oral processing, carcass reduction (dismemberment) and bone fragmentation of the ornithopod carcass, which are diagnostic hallmarks of modern crocodylian feeding behavior” (from the paper published in Gondwana Research, titled "Abdominal Contents Reveal Cretaceous Crocodyliforms ate Dinosaurs").

Apart from Confractosuchus sauroktonos being an entirely new genus and species, the Ornithopod it had for supper may also represent a previously unknown species. The juvenile dinosaur weighed around 4 pounds. “It is likely dinosaurs constituted an important resource in the Cretaceous ecological food web,” said lead researcher Matt White. “Given the lack of comparable global specimens, 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.”

Confractosuchus sauroktonos, the "broken dinosaur killer", offers the first definitive evidence that prehistoric crocodilians ate dinosaurs, and also helps to broaden our understanding of Australia during the Mesozoic Era.

Here is the link to the scientific paper published in Gondwana Research describing Confractosuchus sauroktonos:

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