A nine-foot-long Triassic crocodile is reshaping the picture of predator diversity following the so-called “Permian mass extinction.” Named Carnufex from the Latin for “butcher,” this juvenile crocodile was found in North Carolina’s Carnian Pekin Formation, an Upper Triassic sedimentary rock layer dated at 231 million years. Reared up on its hind legs, artistic depictions of Carnufex carolinensis with its long snout, sharp teeth, and ornamented skull give the impression it was ready for battle should T. rex appear.
Carnufex is much larger than any known North American Triassic theropod. We can only guess how long it would have been as an adult. In Scientific Reports, the paleontologists who studied it write, “With an estimated immature FL [femur length] of 353–440 mm, Carnufex is the largest terrestrial predator in the Pekin Formation, vastly exceeding the body size of the earliest North American theropod dinosaurs (FL 174–265 mm).”1
This artistic reconstruction of Carnufex carolinensis reflects the paleontologists’ belief that the crocodile was nine feet long and could walk upright. They determined this even though no parts of the hips or hind legs were found. See text to learn how. Image copyright Jorge Gonzales, reproduced from ScienceDaily.
Dinosaurs are comparatively plentiful in Jurassic and Cretaceous strata, so evolutionists interpret the paucity of dinosaur fossils in Triassic strata beneath to mean dinosaurs had evolved but not yet taken over terrestrial ecosystems. Furthermore, no dinosaurs at all have been found in the Pekin Formation. Therefore, to evolutionists, this fearsome “butcher” of a crocodile demonstrates that crocodiles had evolved, diversified, and risen to rule in the northern hemisphere long before dinosaurs made their successful bid to crown the food chain of that ancient world.
An evolutionary paleontologist at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, lead author Lindsay Zanno explains the significance of Carnufex in terms of her evolutionary interpretation of the past:
Fossils from this time period are extremely important to scientists because they record the earliest appearance of crocodylomorphs and theropod dinosaurs, two groups that first evolved in the Triassic period, yet managed to survive to the present day in the form of crocodiles and birds. The discovery of Carnufex, one of the world's earliest and largest crocodylomorphs, adds new information to the push and pull of top terrestrial predators across Pangea.2
Comparing Triassic fossils from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in an attempt to understand the ecosystem of long ago Pangea,3 she says that in the Southern Hemisphere crocodile cousins like rauisuchids and poposauroids
“. . . hunted alongside the earliest theropod dinosaurs, creating a predator pile-up,” . . . However, the discovery of Carnufex indicates that in the north, large-bodied crocodylomorphs, not dinosaurs, were adding to the diversity of top predator niches. “We knew that there were too many top performers on the proverbial stage in the Late Triassic. Yet, until we deciphered the story behind Carnufex, it wasn't clear that early crocodile ancestors were among those vying for top predator roles prior to the reign of dinosaurs in North America.”4
Then, Zanno explains, the end-Triassic mass extinction wiped out most of these predators, leaving smaller crocodiles to slink around for prey in lesser niches and theropods to truly rule.
Theropods were ready understudies for vacant top predator niches when large-bodied crocs and their relatives bowed out. Predatory dinosaurs went on to fill these roles exclusively for the next 135 million years.5
Of course this entire tale depends not only on implicit faith in molecules-to-man evolution but also on the idea that the fossil layers were deposited slowly over millions of years and represent extinct ecosystems and the animals that evolved to live in them. This entire interpretation ignores the biblical record of the global Flood and rests on a stack of unverifiable worldview-based assumptions and interpretations. (You can read more about them in “Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages?”)
What They Found
This Carnufex specimen consists of several pieces of the skull, several teeth, some ribs and vertebrae, and parts of the front legs. Most of the preserved skull bones are bumpy and wrinkled, much moreso than in smaller crocodiles of similar presumed evolutionary age, so the team concludes the skull was heavily ornamented. The teeth are long, serrated, and blade-like. After filling in the many missing skull bones based on animals believed to be related to Carnufex, Zanno’s team described the snout as being particularly long and slender and, of course, quite lethal.
“The fossils of Carnufex were discovered around a decade ago and were stored unprepared in the [North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences] collections until we started working on the specimen in 2012,” says Zanno. “This is the only known specimen of this new animal.”6
Crocodiles are the largest living reptiles, and some modern species can reach about 20 feet in length. There are large crocodiles preserved in much higher strata of the fossil record, such as the 25-foot-long Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni found in Pliocene and Pleistocene sediment in East Africa. However, the deepest—and in the evolutionary view therefore the oldest and most primitive—crocodiles in the fossil record tend to be smaller. Thus a nine-foot crocodile this deep in the fossil record is quite a find.
Big, Bad, Bipedal, and Transitional?
No parts of the hind legs or hips were preserved. Therefore, while Carnufex appears to be the largest terrestrial predator in the Triassic Pekin Formation, “nine feet” is an estimate. So is the report that the animal walked bipedally on those hind legs. While Carnufex was doubtless large—and larger than other crocodile fossils found in the Triassic sediments to date—it is worth examining how the researchers “discovered” its length and mode of locomotion.
To estimate this animal’s size, Zanno’s team considered the body proportions of other crocodile fossils and fossil animals thought to be ancestral to crocodiles. But when they calculated the ratio of the reconstructed skull’s length to the length of the arm bone (humerus) and used that to estimate the length of the hind leg, tail, and the entire body, there seemed to be a mismatch in the numbers. Therefore, they concluded that either its front legs were proportionately very short, or the skull was very long, or both.7
There are large extinct reptiles bearing some similarities to crocodiles—rauisuchids—that are thought on the basis of their hip anatomy to have walked upright. Rauisuchid hip anatomy differs from that of both crocodiles and theropods. Many scientists think crocodiles share an evolutionary relationship with them, but there is not a lot of consensus on the evolutionary history of crocodiles. Now, crocodiles, rauisuchids, and similar animals have on their upper jawbone a small bony process that ascends toward the nasal opening. In Carnufex this process, the authors write, is “transitional”8 between the shorter ones in smaller crocodiles that share Carnufex’s position in the fossil record and longer ones in rauisuchids.
With the suspected disproportion between the length of front and rear legs, and the suggestion that Carnufex had a transitional element in its head from its purportedly ancestral rauisuchids, Zanno’s team concluded that Carnufex probably walked around up on its hind legs.
With blade-like, sharp, serrated teeth, a large size exceeding that of Triassic dinosaurs, and bipedal locomotion, Carnufex and other crocodile-like reptiles (rauisuchids and phytosaurs) look like great stand-ins to rule the world until the advent of theropod dinosaurs like T. rex. In fact, rauisuchid fossils from a western North American Upper Triassic formation, the Chinle Formation, preserve evidence of embedded teeth and bite marks in bone—some healed and some “fresh” (and hence suggestive of a lethal end to that battle) in these extinct crocodile-like animals.9 The evolutionary researchers surmise that Carnufex and company kept a predatory grasp on their neighbors, and crocodiles were king until supplanted by dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.
Permian Peek to a Floody Past
Let’s consider for a moment the environmental context in which Carnufex is being seen. After all, as interesting as its anatomy may have been (if the presumptions used to reconstruct it are correct), much of its headline attention has focused on its place among the predators of the post-Permian world. Like other Triassic animals, Carnufex is seen as part of the evolutionary recovery from the Permian mass extinction. The Permian rock graveyard is commonly viewed as the memorial of Earth’s greatest mass extinction in which 90% of the world’s animal species disappeared forever. Following this apparent loss, evolution acted with vigor to fill the vacant ecosystems, so the story goes.
Thus, the idea that the Carnufex proves crocodiles evolved and made a great success in a decimated world over 200 million years ago fits the evolutionary version of history. But is this correct?
When the fossil layers are understood in light of the global Flood, we see there actually was no Permian mass extinction to explain. Whenever some fossilized organisms are missing from a layer of rock above other layers in which they are found, evolutionary scientists assume a mass extinction occurred. This concept is a purely evolutionary interpretation of the fossil layers as a record of the evolution of increasingly complex organisms in the wake of countless extinctions. But the unverifiable millions of years assigned to the geologic column are unable to supply the genetic information for molecules-to-man evolution, something not seen in the study of living organisms. The fossil record is instead primarily a record of the rapid burial of organisms during and soon after the global Flood.
Thus, Carnufex and the other animals buried with it in various Upper Triassic formations like the Pekin in North Carolina are not the record of the animals that evolved to fill the post-Permian ecosystems. Carnufex and its fellow crocodile-like animals are not, despite the picture painted in the press, the victorious parade of predators that rose to the top of the food chain over millions of years only to be supplanted in a few million more by big dinosaurs. They are instead animals that either shared destroyed habitats or were sorted together by the violent hydrodynamic forces10 during the early days of the global Flood about 4,350 years ago.
Crocodiles—Bipedalism, Butchery, and the Bible
The view that Carnufex walked upright is derived from calculations based on presumed evolutionary relationships, but the animals to which the fossil was being compared were reptiles bearing substantial similarity to it, many likely even part of the same created kind. While the fossil record contains a number of crocodiles, animals that may well have been crocodiles assigned other names, and reptiles like rauisuchids that share some similarities with crocodiles, claims about transitional forms depend on the unverifiable evolutionary presupposition that these animals were part of a continuum changing over millions of years.
Furthermore, while we don’t find crocodiles walking around the world today on their hind legs like T. rex, there is a good deal of variability in the hips of crocodiles, and crocodile hip architecture enables them to move their legs either out to the side or under their body. Thus, there is no reason to believe Carnufex couldn’t have been a crocodile variety able to rear up on its hind legs. It is at least safe to say that Carnufex demonstrates that crocodiles have been around a long time and like other animals have varied within their created kinds.
Based on biblical history we know that all kinds of land animals, which would have included dinosaurs, were created along with Adam and Eve on the sixth day of the Creation Week, without evolution, about 6,000 years ago. They, like other animals, varied within their kinds as they reproduced “after their kinds” over the years. The global Flood buried billions of organisms, and the order seen within much of the fossil record is a record of the order not of their evolution but of their burial as violent water destroyed their habitats and sorted their inhabitants and buried them in layers beneath tons of sediment.
As to Carnufex’s butchery of its neighbors, while it is true that sharp teeth do not necessarily prove an animal is a carnivore, crocodiles today certainly are carnivorous. It would not be unreasonable to suspect that this crocodile buried at the time of the global Flood enjoyed a meaty diet. Certainly the Triassic fossil record in western North America reveals a record of violence among crocodile-like animals. But from the history in the Bible we know that carnivory is a symptom of the sin-cursed world in which we live. Like the global Flood and the fossil record left in its wake, such butchery reminds us that only after the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve did violence and death enter the world of animals and man. Carnufex is not the poster-predator of the Triassic world 231 million years ago but rather, stripped of evolutionary presuppositions, is likely a variety of crocodile, one that is just what we expect to see in the fossil record in light of biblical history.
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