Monday, 21 March 2016

Snappy End to Creationism!

A computer generated reconstruction of the crocodile ancestor Carnufex carolinensis which lived on land and walked on two legs and may have been a top predator before dinosaurs took over the world, scientists believe.

Photograph: Jorge Gonzales/PA
Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs : Scientific Reports

I don't suppose the discovery of a 320 million year-old fossil of a giant crocodile is going to change many creationists' minds about Earth being around 6,000 years old but then nothing ever seems to. Evidence is such a difficult thing when it doesn't tell you what you want to believe - unless you're honest, like normal people.

This particular new example of how creationists need to go to quite idiotic lengths to retain their childish superstition was found by paleontologists from North Carolina University led by Lindsay Zanno, and practically on their doorstep in the Triassic Carnian Pekin Formation. The authors have named this long-legged, bipedal crocodile, the Carolina butcher (Carnufex carolinensis). With its long snout, large mouth, long legs and probable speed, it would have been a menacing beast. C. carolinensis would have been about 9 feet (3 metres) long and about 5 feet (1.6 metres) tall with blade-like teeth.

It lived not in water but in the warm subtropical region of Pangea that was later to become North Carolina. It was probably a top predator on other forms of the diversifying crocodylomorphs, as well as other Middle Triassic fauna.

Their finding is published today as open access in Nature Scientific Reports:

Triassic predatory guild evolution reflects a period of ecological flux spurred by the catastrophic end-Permian mass extinction and terminating with the global ecological dominance of dinosaurs in the early Jurassic. In responding to this dynamic ecospace, terrestrial predator diversity attained new levels, prompting unique trophic webs with a seeming overabundance of carnivorous taxa and the evolution of entirely new predatory clades. Key among these was Crocodylomorpha, the largest living reptiles and only one of two archosaurian lineages that survive to the present day. In contrast to their existing role as top, semi-aquatic predators, the earliest crocodylomorphs were generally small-bodied, terrestrial faunivores, occupying subsidiary (meso) predator roles. Here we describe Carnufex carolinensis a new, unexpectedly large-bodied taxon with a slender and ornamented skull from the Carnian Pekin Formation (~231 Ma), representing one of the oldest and earliest diverging crocodylomorphs described to date. Carnufex bridges a problematic gap in the early evolution of pseudosuchians by spanning key transitions in bauplan evolution and body mass near the origin of Crocodylomorpha. With a skull length of >50 cm, the new taxon documents a rare instance of crocodylomorphs ascending to top-tier predator guilds in the equatorial regions of Pangea prior to the dominance of dinosaurs.

© 2016 The Authors/Macmillan Publishers Limited.
Reprinted under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. (CC BY 4.0)

This newly-described species is close to the stem Crocodylomorphs but had already evolved a bipedal gait similar to the later theropod dinosaurs. Their evolution came towards the end of the Triassic Period. The early Triassic was a period of recovery following an earlier mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period. This was a time when various vertebrate clades appear to have evolved such as frogs, lizards, mammals, turtles, and dinosaurs. By the Middle Triassic large apical predators such as this early crocodile came to dominate the ecosystem only to be replaced by large dinosaurs such as T. rex towards the end of it. Maybe we have reason to be grateful that the large dinosaurs might well have exterminated this predatory clade before becoming extinct themselves at the end of the Triassic.

Interestingly, from the point of view of refuting creationism, the evolution and extinction of this species are entirely consistent with what we know about plate tectonics, the evolution of other species, why the Triassic was conducive to these evolutionary 'experiments' and why they became extinct. I'd be interested to hear an explanation of why we should ignore such a coherent and consistent body of evidence in favour of a superstition for which there is not a single shred of evidence.

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