A new study by paleontologists at the University of Birmingham has found that ancient predators that lived 230 million years ago had a much weaker bite than previously thought. The subject of the study was Saurosuchus (Saurosuchus), a reptile from the Late Triassic, which is distantly related to modern crocodiles and was considered a top predator because of its size and diet. However, analysis of Saurosuchus skulls compared to those of the later dinosaur Allosaurus showed that despite similar skull strength, Saurosuchus had bite force equivalent to modern crocodiles called gharials. The study was published in the journal The Anatomical
Dr. Jordan Bestwick, a vertebrate paleobiologist at the University of Birmingham and corresponding author of the study, said, “We found that Saurosuchus had an incredibly weak bite force for its size and therefore predated in a very different way to later evolved dinosaurs.” The bite force of Saurosaurus ranged from 1015-1885 N, significantly less than the bite force of Allosaurus (3572 N) and modern predators such as marine crocodiles (~16,000 N) and Tyrannosaurus rex (17,000-35,000 N).
The findings suggest that Saurosuchus likely fed only on the soft fleshy parts of the animals it killed, as its weak bite prevented it from biting through bones. Researchers speculate that Saurosuchus used its back teeth to carefully remove flesh from its prey. This feeding behavior is explained by the weak bite and rectangular skull shape of early reptiles, as well as the thinner nasal bones compared to allosaurus.
Dr. Stefan Lautenschlager, Associate Professor of Paleobiology at the University of Birmingham and senior author of the study, said: “Saurosuchus was certainly a formidable reptile until it sat down to eat its prey, and we can see how evolutionary details in the skulls of these massive predators accounted for significant differences in feeding behavior.” He also suggests that Saurosuchus may have left more complete carcasses behind, providing a secondary food source for animals that eat corpses.
Molly Fawcett, a co-author of the study, expressed surprise at the similarities between the skulls of top Triassic predators and well-known carnivorous dinosaurs such as T. rex. However, she noted that the bite force of these Triassic predators was much weaker than that of post-Triassic dinosaurs.
The study sheds new light on the feeding behavior of ancient predators and highlights evolutionary changes that occurred over millions of years. Further research in this area may reveal additional insights into the diet and behavior of prehistoric creatures.