Ancient Caiman Was A Champion Chomper
February 27, 2015 | by Justine Alford
Photo credit: Nobu Tamura/ Wikimedia Commons. Purussaurus brasiliensis.
When we think of the most fearsome prehistoric predators, one of the first beasts that probably springs to mind for many is the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, but that probably has something to do with the movie Jurassic Park since there were many more formidable carnivores that could have put T. rex to shame. Some ancient crocodiles, for example, could smash their jagged jaws together at a force twice as great as the T. rex, and those still in existence today have the greatest bite forces ever measured for living animals.
But it seems that crocs may have some competition on their hands for the title of chomping champ thanks to a new set of measurements obtained from an ancient reptile that thrived in South America around 8 million years ago. This Middle to Late Miocene species, Purussaurus brasiliensis, also had a bite around twice as powerful as that of a T. rex and was able to sustain bite forces of 69,000 Newtons. That means it was able to exert bite forces of up to 7 tons, or 11.5 tonnes. As BBC News points out, to put that into perspective, that’s around 20 times greater than that of a great white shark.
But that’s not the only reason that these extinct caimans would have been worth avoiding. According to newly published research, which appears in PLOS One, these mighty Miocene reptiles could reach lengths of up to 12.5 meters (41 ft), making them one of the largest known crocodilians to have existed. Weighing in at some 8.4 metric tons, these monsters would have had to devour almost 41 kilograms (90 lb) each day. Thanks to its sheer size and incredible strength, this animal would have been able to dine on a wide range of prey and thus was a top predator in its wetland habitat.
Although P. brasiliensis and T. rex never actually confronted each other, hypothetically speaking, T. rex would have likely had a hard time fending off those voracious jaws, especially since the caiman’s head had a better architecture for biting and gripping prey.
“The Purussaurus and the Tyrannosaurus lived in different ages,” study author Aline Ghilardi explains to BBC Brasil, “but there is no doubt that the Purussaurus would have won a fight between the two of them.”
In the absence of rivals, this species would have been free to have first pick of various large vertebrates for dinner and thus avoided competition. But although they didn’t have any natural predators and they were very successful for a period of time, their size may have contributed to their eventual downfall. In the face of a changing environment driven by the gradual appearance of the Andes mountains, their long-term survival may have been reduced and smaller, more resilient species would have been favored.