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Meet the Carolina Butcher: a nine-foot-tall, crocodile-like monster

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This giant walked on its hind legs 230 million years ago

Jorge Gonzales

Gigantic, walking reptilian alert! Carnufex carolinensis — a name that translates to "Carolina Butcher" — was a nine-foot-tall predator that walked on its hind legs about 230 million years ago, according to a study published today in Scientific Reports.

The Carolina Butcher is one of the oldest and biggest crocodile relatives discovered to date

The Carolina Butcher is one of the oldest and biggest crocodile relatives discovered to date. It would have towered over other animals at the time of its reign, before dinosaurs came along. "It was clearly a top predator," Lindsay Zanno, paleontologist at North Carolina State University and a co-author of the study, tells The Washington Post. Other crocodile relatives at the time were fox-like in size, the researchers say — laughable compared with this reptilian ripper.

The Carolina Butcher's bones were found in a quarry in North Carolina a decade ago, but researchers failed to examine them until recently. "When we got the bones out and prepared them, we found out that it was actually a really cool species," says Zanno. At the time, the researchers thought the bones looked Frankenstein-like. "The skull of Carnufex is highly ornamented with bumps and grooves, unlike anything we had seen before," Zanno told Smithsonian. But a 3D reconstruction Carnufex's skull helped them figure out that they were looking at a crocodile relative.

Credit: Lindsay Zanno

Despite the animal's top-dog status, Carnufex eventually disappeared. It was likely wiped out during a large extinction event — an event that let dinosaurs take over. Crocodiles and their relatives are often thought of as "living fossils" because researchers think they haven't changed since dinosaurs walked the earth, Zanno told SmisthonianCarnufex changes that dramatically. Just imagine it towering over you in a warm, fertile, wet environment, in a region that eventually became the American South. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to decide if the experience would be awesome, or completely terrifying.

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