Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dino-Eating Crocs Part 1: Introduction to a Croc-Filled World

The notosuchid Baurusuchus, a ten-foot crocodilian which evolved a canine-like body, mammal-like teeth, and was completely terrestrial. Oh, and it was out-competing theropods in their ecological role of top predator in Cretaceous ecosystems.
 No big deal, right?
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to purchase myself the new paleontological book The Complete Dinosaur Second Edition, which I must say, has to be one of the best books about dinosaurs I've read in a long time, and I recommend it to any dinosaur enthusiast like myself. The book is made up of numerous sections and chapters on different dinosaur topics and debates, and leading experts from around the world have sent their research and findings to be presented in the book. Thomas Holtz, one of the world's leading experts on theropods, writes the entire theropod section of the book. Jack Horner, who was the first person to find dinosaur eggs in the Western Hemisphere, helps to write the section on dinosaur eggs and nests. And Darren Naish, who is an expert on fossil vertebrates (specifically birds), writes the section on both living and extinct groups of birds. I was actually very pleased with the bird section, since it's about time we got some living dinosaurs in a dinosaur book.

Ann Darrow and the fictional crocodile Foetodon from Peter Jackson's King Kong
Amazingly, there was a fossil crocodilian that resembles the latter in size and form.
Anyway, I've been spending the last few months reading this very in-depth book, reading through sections by Kristina Curry Rogers, Peter Makovicy, and Gregory S. Paul just to name a few. Finally I came across a section titled Non-Dinosaurian Vertebrates written by Nicholas C. Fraser, whom you might know from his recent book In the Shadow of the Dinosaurs (which I have yet to read). The section reviewed the many fossil vertebrates that lived alongside the dinosaurs, such as plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, mammals, and numerous other fossil groups from the Mesozoic. The section was strangely short, only about 26 pages long compared to the 40 pages some of the other paleontologists wrote (not including references). Still, I was pleased with the chapter, and it taught me many things that I didn't know about non-archosaurian reptiles from the age. So why am I bringing this up exactly? Simple, I was extremely disappointed at the crocodile section of the chapter.

The recently described Kaprosuchus (or Boar Croc) from North Africa, one of
Paul Sereno's newly discovered fossil crocs from the region. 
The section had very little content on the fossil crocodilians during the Mesozoic; less than three paragraphs are dedicated to the entire evolution of the group. And what is covered in the section is largely already known by most dino-nerds like myself, such as the already well-known super crocs of the age and the sea-going metriorhynchids. It's somewhat ironic because Fraser even states at the beginning that crocodiles were as diverse as dinosaurs and pterosaurs, yet he devotes three whole pages on the evolution and diversification of the pterosauria.

This is not meant by any means to be an attack on Fraser, as I said I absolutely loved the section. I'm just disappointed that he devoted such little space to the crocodilians when there is so much to cover, especially since fossil crocs are finally getting some much-deserved media attention for their quirkiness.

Notosuchus was a terrestrial crocodile that lived in South America during the Late Cretaceous.
You might call it the Mesozoic equivalent of a pig, with its hog-like snout and fleshy lips.
The crocodilian group as a whole, by which I mean the Metasuchia, was actually so diverse that I can't do the group justice in a single post, so this will be played out in two separate posts I'm working on. The first will be on the now-extinct, but extremely diverse group called the Notosuchids, which includes many mammal-like members that resemble everything from armadillos to house cats. In fact, they were so successful that they took over all kinds of dinosaur habitat and ruled whole regions where theropods and ornithopods once roamed. The second will be on the still living Neosuchia, which includes living crocodilians, the super-crocs of the Mesozoic, and some rather bizarre members, including some that seem almost Cetacean-like in anatomy and ecological role. They primarily avoided competition with dinosaurs and land animals, preferring an aquatic existence. However, there were certainly many exceptions to this rule.

So the next few topics will likely be on these crocodilians. In fact, I've basically got the next few months of blogs planned out unless I get more requests. Along with crocodiles, I'm hoping to write about spinosaurid skulls, extinct giant birds, dinosaur footprints, and hopefully raptors. Also, since I happened to bring up The Complete Dinosaur Second Edition, I may do a review of it in the future. If a review would be of interest, let me know in the comments.  Until next time, stay sharp!

1 comment:

  1. That's really interesting, I haven't paid enough attention to extinct crocodyliforms, apparently :D Totally looking forward to see part 2 ^_^