A fossilized tooth dredged from the bottom of the English Channel near Dorset, England, belonged to a formidable Jurassic marine predator and is the largest known tooth of its kind found in the U.K., according to a new study.
The 2.36-inch-long tooth has a broken tip, and would have been even bigger when new, suggests the paper, published in the journal Historical Biology.
The study determined that the tooth is 152 million years old and belonged to a prehistoric relative of modern crocodiles known as Dakosaurus maximus.
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"That (Dakosaurus) had 2.36 inch (6 centimeter) or longer teeth for an animal only 4.5 meters (about 15 feet) long is remarkable," lead author Mark Young told Discovery News.
"The teeth were serrated, robust and contacted one another, making slicing much easier," added Young, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences. "This animal would have had a fearsome bite for its size."
During the marine predator's lifetime, a shallow sea covered what is now Europe, turning the landmasses into an archipelago. Archaeopteryx, believed to have been the world's first bird, lived in Europe during this time, as did some dwarf non-avian dinosaurs, such as Europasaurus. But the real predator action was found in the water.
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Young said that Dakosaurus maximus, which belonged to a family of croc predecessors known as metriorhynchids, was puny in comparison to the gigantic marine reptile Pliosaurus. The skull alone of Pliosaurus measured about 6.6 feet long, and some estimates hold that the entire body of this monster predator measured 49 feet long.
Yet another marine predator at the time was Plesiosuchus manselii, which was larger than today's great white sharks. Dakosaurus maximus, however, was particularly abundant, living in shallow lagoons, coastal environments and deep-sea regions. In the lagoonal environments, which lacked the other large animals, it seems to have been the top predator.
"The shallow seas of the late Jurassic would have been an exceptionally dangerous place to swim," Young said.