Crocodiles are some of the most terrifying predators on the planet. It's tough to imagine one of them munching on a nice salad, rather than anything from waterfowl to small elephants. But new research suggests that at one point, that's exactly what they did.
According to analysis of fossilized teeth from the age of the dinosaurs, some ancient crocodiles had much more varied diets than the strictly-meat-eating versions we know today, Vicereports. The researched, published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, found evidence of some extinct species related to modern-day crocs that were omnivorous, and some that were even strict herbivores.
Scientists examined 146 teeth from 16 extinct "crocodyliforms" — a category that encompasses alligators, crocodiles, and other similar reptiles. Remarkably, crocodyliforms evolved into vegetarians "at least three times, and possibly as many as six," Viceexplained.
But when mass extinction wiped out the dinosaurs, it seems to have done the same to herbivorous crocs; only their meat-eating relatives survived, evolving into the crocodiles we know and today. If their places were switched, maybe crocs would be a fixture at petting zoos instead of a feared predator.
Scientists have found a creature so strange that "perplexing" is literally part of its name.
The new species Callichimaera perplexa, literally translated to "perplexing beautiful chimaera," is a pretty good description of what this new find is. The aquatic creature is an ancient crab, thought to have lived about 95 million years ago, but its unusual bodily makeup reminded the researchers who discovered it of a chimaera, the Greek mythological creature known for being a mash-up of various different animals.
A team of scientists, led by palaeontologist Javier Luque, made their discovery in Colombia by finding new fossils that have revealed a whole new branch on the evolutionary tree. Callichimaera perplexa has been described as "the strangest crab that has ever lived," but the importance of these findings goes beyond the creature's bizarre looks, the Independentexplained.
The fossils were so well-preserved that the scientists were able to see an incredible level of detail, including "paddle-like legs and large eyes." This hints that these ancient crabs lived their lives swimming instead of crawling, and likely developed the ability to hunt for prey at night. Overall, the discovery is making everyone reconsider "what makes a crab a crab," said Luque.
The research, published on Wednesday in Science Advances, offers a look at the fossil specimens that were found, as well as a 3-D model that scientists were able to reconstruct from what they gathered. Learn more at the Independent. Shivani Ishwar