Museum opens wide for giant crocodile tooth

30 May 2014

The huge tooth of a ferocious Jurassic marine reptile has made its way into the Museum’s collection.

The tooth, the largest of its kind ever found in the UK, measures more than five centimetres long. It belonged to a distant relative of the crocodile that swam in a shallow sea that covered much of northern Europe 152 million years ago.

The specimen was dredged up by someone fishing for scallop off Chesil Beach, Dorset, and bought on an online auction site by a fossil collector.  It was then identified by a team of curators and researchers from the Natural History Museum and the University of Edinburgh. It is now safely housed in the Museum’s fossil collection.

Bite-size chunks

The owner of the tooth, Dakosaurus maximus, which means ‘greatest biter lizard’, could grow up to four and a half metres long. Museum fossil curator Dr Lorna Steel said that the reptile’s length was relatively small compared to the size of its teeth.

Dakosaurus maximus

Artist's impression of Dakosaurus maximus © Dmitry Bogdanov.

Studies on this and similar teeth found around the UK and northern Europe suggest D. maximus fed like modern killer whales, capable of swallowing smaller creatures whole but using its fearsome teeth to bite larger animals, even those bigger than itself.

It would get hold of its prey, possibly another large reptile, and tear lumps out of them,’ said Dr Steel.

However, D. maximus wasn’t the most fearsome predator around. ‘It wasn't the top marine predator of its time, and would have swum alongside other larger marine reptiles, making the shallow seas of the Late Jurassic exceptionally dangerous,’ said Dr Mark Young of the University of Edinburgh.

Wear and tear

The new find is well preserved, revealing a lot of wear to the surface. ‘The teeth of the lower and upper jaw would meet, causing lots of wear and broken crowns,’ said Dr Steel.

There are several large teeth from D. maximus in the Museum’s collections, including those of a similar size from Germany.

Although this tooth can’t tell us how old the creature was when it died, Dr Steel predicts from creatures with similar lifestyles that this one ‘had been around for several decades’. Modern crocodiles can live up to 100 years, although the average age is about 70.

  • by Hayley Dunning
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