A study into the varying teeth of different species of ancient crocodiles has discovered that the reptiles have not always been predatory carnivores.
Trying to imagine what the Earth was like before we arrived is both fascinating and incredibly hard to do. Sometimes hearing that giant reptiles once roamed the planet we call home can be so difficult to fathom that it sounds almost fictional. What's even harder to get our heads around is that relatives of some of those reptiles still walk among us today.
Well, perhaps not among us since they aren't exactly that friendly. While there are a number of animals that exist today which descended from dinosaurs, for the purposes of this article we are focusing in on alligators and crocodiles. Fierce predators that hunt prey and eat a diet made up solely of meat.
However, new research has discovered that crocs weren't always meat eaters, at least not all of them. Despite descending from creatures that lived among the dinosaurs, today's crocodiles look a lot different to the ones that existed millions of years ago. There were a litany of different species ranging from small herbivores that would forage for plants, to giant crocs capable of taking down a T-Rex, according to ABC.
The key to knowing what these ancient animals ate is the teeth. Lead author of the research Keegan Mellstrom explains that the more complicated the tooth, the more complex the diet. Today's crocodiles have "simple peg-like teeth" designed for eating meat. However, as you can see from the diagram above, extinct herbivores required much more complex teeth to handle their diet.
Prior to this research, it was assumed that crocodiles, as they are today, were somewhere near the very top of the food chain. It turns out that is only half true. Yes, some giant, T-Rex-chasing crocodiles were indeed at the top of the food chain. However, there were also other species at the bottom. Crocs that lived side by side with mammals in harmony and didn't try to eat them. What a nice image to end on.