Welcome to another edition of “Things Could Be Worse!” Today’s subject: crocodiles. These leftovers from the age of dinosaurs are already feared across Africa and India, in northern Australia, parts of the southern U.S. and other swampy areas. With saltwater crocodiles reaching lengths over 23 feet and well known for attacking and killing humans – sometimes in teams — they’ve earned their fearsome reputation. But, as the title suggests, things could be worse.
“We can see all the digits, all the ridges in the skin – just as if you were looking at your hands. They put one foot in front of another; they could pass a sobriety test walking on a straight line. And there are no front footprints.”
Martin Lockley, an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, was interviewed by BBC News about his new study (with photos and illustrations), published in Scientific Reports, on prehistoric crocodylomorph footprints discovered in southeast South Korea. Crocodylomorphs are the extinct ancestors of modern crocs and were much more numerous and diverse than their descendants. And yet, the South Korean fossil tracks from the Early Cretaceous, 110-120 million years ago, were something archeologists had never seen before.
“Our trackways are very narrow-looking – more like a crocodile balancing on a tight-rope,” he remarked. When combined with the lack of any tail-drag marks, it became clear that these creatures were moving bipedally.”
Bipedal crocodiles! Professor Kyung Soo Kim from South Korea’s Chinju National University of Education, team leader and co-author, says the most telling point was that the prints were deep, indicating all of the creature’s weight was pressing down on them. Add that to no front footprints and you have a new species of crocodylomorph that is now named Batrachopus grandis. A bipedal crocodile – imagine that. And then … it gets worse.
“They were giants. Nobody expected such large bipedal crocs. But, like a carnivorous dinosaur, they could also have hunted in shallow water. They likely ate whatever was available.”
Fortunately, humans weren’t available at the time because crocodylomorphs grew up to 12 meters (39 feet) in length. The ability to run on two legs may have given them more speed and range, and this new information has caused other researchers to question other tracks that were assumed to be from bird-like raptors. Now they must consider croc-like raptors – a much scarier movie premise. Being good scientists, Lockley and the team admit that this is a lot to assume based on just tracks and that more could be learned – or disproven – with bones and other remains.
Thirty-nine foot bipedal crocodiles. Working at home or wearing a mask doesn’t seem to bad now, does it?