Alligators and crocodiles are some of the world’s most feared predators, known for being responsible for at least 1,000 human deaths a year. But for today’s meat-eaters, it was a different story 200 million years ago.
A new study published in Current Biology found that ancient groups of crocodiles from the Mesozoic Era were not carnivores but largely depended on plant-based foods at least three times. The new evidence suggests the modern reptiles, which descend from crocodyliforms, once were, indeed, vegan.
“The most interesting thing we discovered was how frequently it seems extinct crocodyliforms ate plants,” researcher Keegan Melstrom said in a press release. “Complex teeth, which we infer to indicate herbivory, appear in the extinct relatives of crocodiles at least three times and maybe as many as six in our dataset alone.”
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To find what extinct crocodyliforms most likely ate, researchers compared teeth from extinct and living animals where they looked at 146 fossil teeth across 16 different exist specifics. Researchers were able to map out the diets of ancient crocodyliforms using 3D scans.
“We see all these tooth shapes in the history of reptile evolution, and some of them are fairly straightforward, but others just have no comparison,” said Natural History Museum of Utah chief curator Randal Irmis.
Irmis added: “Some of the crocs that people thought were strict herbivores are more likely to be insectivores and omnivores.”
Researchers were able to unearth a few shock findings including a crocodile called Notosuchus, found in Argentina, that was previously thought of as a herbivore, but their research found it was a carnivore.