Scientists discover a nine-foot-long ancestor to the crocodile

Carnufex carolinensis, otherwise known as the 'Carolina Butcher'. Credit: Jorge Gonzales/PA Wire

A newly-discovered ancestor of the crocodile that lived on land and walked on two legs may have been a top predator before dinosaurs took over the world, scientists believe.

Carnufex carolinensis, which means "Carolina Butcher", was nine feet long (2.7 metres) and thought to have preyed on other reptiles and early mammals.

The crocodilian ancestor lived in North Carolina 231 million years ago at the start of the Late Triassic period, when the region had a wet equatorial climate and was starting to break away from the ancient supercontinent Pangea.

A graphic of the beast's reconstructed skull. Credit: North Carolina State University

Dr Lindsay Zanno from North Carolina State University, lead author of a paper describing the find in the journal Scientific Reports, said:

Scientists recovered parts of the creature's skull, spine and an upper forelimb and used scanning technology to create a 3D model of its reconstructed skull.

Typical predators roaming Pangea included large-bodied rauisuchids and poposauroids, fearsome cousins of ancient crocodiles that went extinct in the Triassic period.