Purussaurus: Mightier than the T.rex
By Shani Asokan
Life on our planet did not begin with dawn of humankind. While we are still learning of the creatures that came before us, one thing is clear – they existed, and were more magnificent than anything in our wildest imagination. Often when we speak of the beasts that walked the earth long before the humans, we hear the same wellknown names – the ones who grace TV and cinema screens, perhaps in Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time. We are familiar with the Tyrannosaurus, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and the Pterodactyl and we even know a little of each of them. We know the Tyrannosaurus Rex or the T.rex.as the largest carnivore in its environment, and likely an apex predator.
However, today we are going to learn about another apex predator, one that may have been even mightier than the T.rex. This giant caiman known as Purussaurus (Purussaurus brasiliensis) was the apex predator of the Miocene epoch. It is known to have lived in the wetlands of South America. This prehistoric crocodile was longer than an ordinary bus, and is said to have had the strongest bite of any creature to ever live. This mammoth crocodilian species could reach up to 41 feet in adulthood and weigh as much as 18,100 pounds.
That is larger than the largest of male elephants! On average, the Purussaurus regularly consumed 88 pounds of flesh. Much like crocodiles we are familiar with today, this creature prowled the Amazonian wetlands, keeping to the waters until it spotted prey. Then, it would pounce, its enormous jaw clamping down with a bit force of 5.3 metric tons. For some context, the largest of the great white sharks we know today only have a bite force of 1.8 metric tonnes! It is remarkable that we know so much of this great creature today.
Were it not for fossils discovered in 1892, we would have never known it existed. The first fossilised purussaurus remains were found by researcher Joao Barbosa Rodrigues. Since then, a lot of work was done to name, record and enter it into historical record. However, much like many other creatures of its time, any other data on the purussaurus still remained a mystery. Researchers’ first big break came with the discovery of purussaurus skulls in Peru, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela. These proved that the purussaurus was the largest crocodilian species to that ever lived. Until recently it was thought that the purussaurus came into existence eight million years ago.
However, a 2020 study on large bite marks on a 13 million year old sloth however, concluded that they could only have been made by the purussaurus, making the creature older than once thought. Studies also suggest that the enormous size of this creature may have been an evolutionary response. That is, the purussarus grew in competition to other predators in its environment, eventually making it the king among predators. Thus, researchers believe that due to the sheer force of its bite alone, even the T.rex wouldn’t have survived an attack by the purussaurus. In fact, though the purussaurus and the T.rex lived in different ages, researchers have almost no doubt that that the purussaurus would have won in a fight between them!