Thursday, March 19, 2015

Triassic Thursday III: Carnufex

Fresh off the presses of the Internet, and just in time for a new Triassic Thursday, comes a brand-new crocodylomorph predator from the Late Triassic of North Carolina. On the heels of the armored-necked aetosaur Gorgetosuchus, which hails from the same area, we are graced with Carnufex carolinensis. It was one of the first crocodylomorphs to reach the status of apex predator in this Triassic ecosystem.

The skull of Carnufex. With a long, pointed head, it was very different
from most large predators of the Triassic. From Zanno et al., 2015.

One look at the skull of Carnufex, and you realize that this was not typical of Late Triassic ecosystems: its skull was slender and long, and looks for all the world like the skull of a theropod. It was likely a gracile and slender animal, rather unlike what we see in the majority of crocodylomorphs. Its lightweight frame and long limbs gave it an advantage of agility and speed during a time when most reptiles, barring crocodylomorphs and dinosaurs, were amblers or lumberers.

While I have previously written about the success of pseudosuchians and other crocodile-line archosaurs during the Triassic, Carnufex was truly something exceptional: it is currently the oldest-known crocodylomorph, more closely related to true crocodiles than to rauisuchians and their ilk. As such, it was something novel on the landscape of the Triassic: it was likely more slender and adaptable than other large reptiles of the time. It was the forebear of an age which was as much dominated by crocodylomorphs as it was by dinosaurs.

I highly recommend checking out Zanno et. al's paper (which can be found here). The discovery of Carnufex is a significant one for understanding the evolution of crocodylomorphs, and how they were able to diversify rapidly at the end of the Triassic following the extinction of other lines of pseudosuchians. 

No comments:

Post a Comment