Dinosaur Eater
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Petrified Lightning

Dinosaur Eater

Somewhere in New Guinea in 1944, a U.S. GI stood on a rock about 10 feet above an unusually large saltwater crocodile. He and three buddies were clearing the river of these reptiles as a service to the natives who were hiding the soldiers from the enemy. Earlier that day a native woman had been dragged into the water by a large crocodile, possibly the very one at which the soldier's rifle was aimed. The GI fired several shots at the crocodile, and it merely slid into the river. He would never know if it took to the water to soothe its bruises or if its injuries were terminal and it would never again dine on native women who washed their clothing and their children in the stream.

The saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, is the largest of all living crocodiles, reaching a length of about 25 feet. Although it lives mainly in the brackish waters of rivers and estuaries, it is not intimidated by the open sea. Individuals have been seen several hundred miles from land. This ability to swim considerable distances allows the crocodile to move from one island to another, so it has been able to colonize a large number of islands of the Sunda Strait in Indonesia and the western Pacific. It is also found on the coasts of continental Asia.

C. porosus has the reputation of being the most savage of human—eating crocodiles. It exceeds by far the record of the infamous Nile crocodile. It may, however, merely have a more advantageous position: near islands inhabited by people for whom surrounding waters are essential to their livelihood. A harrowing incident that occurred in a mangrove swamp on February 19—20, 1945, attests to the formidable savagery of C. porosus. Bruce Wright, a world—acclaimed naturalist on the island at the time, provided the most candid and reliable report.

A British combat unit had trapped about 1,000 Japanese soldiers on Ramree Island near Burma. Their only escape was through the swamp. The crocodiles, alerted by the din of warfare and the smell of blood, gathered among the mangroves, lying with their eyes above water, watchfully alert for their next meal. With the ebb of the tide, the crocodiles moved in on the dead, wounded, and uninjured men who had become mired in the mud. Their screams continued through the night, and by morning only 20 of the original thousand stumbled out of the swamp to surrender to the British. This was doubtless the most deliberate and wholesale attack on humans by large animals ever recorded.

The ferocious saltwater crocodile has the patience and ability to become almost invisible to an unsuspecting victim. Lying in or near the shores of rivers and lakes with only its eyes above the water, it looks just like a floating log. A thirsty animal who comes to the river to drink will be seized in scarcely an eyeblink. Given the uncanny strength of the reptile, the victim rarely has a chance. It is quickly pulled into the water and held beneath the surface; if the victim had a choice, it would prefer to succumb to drowning before the crocodile begins to snack on the fresh catch. Recently in Australia several people witnessed a 15—foot crocodile grab a very large horse by the hind leg and drag it into the river with very little effort.

Even if saltwater crocodiles had not killed and dined on many humans in Australia and the East Indies, they would be an object of dread because of both their menacing tooth arrangement and their enormous size. But today's saltwater crocodile is a miniature model of its dinosaur—eating ancestor that inhabited rivers 100 million years ago in what is now North America.

During the Cretaceous Period, the time of the dinosaur, the waters of many rivers were host to an ancestor of C. porosus. This ancient crocodile, Phobosuchus, lived a lifestyle similar to that of modern crocodiles. Hidden in slow—moving waters, with only its eyes exposed to view, it would wait for some thirsty dinosaur to come to the river to drink. It likely struck with the same incredible speed its modern descendant exhibits. Grabbing the dinosaur by a leg, the Cretaceous crocodile would drag it into the water with no more effort than was expended by the crocodile in Australia as it subdued a horse 100 million years later. The prey of Phobosuchus were enormous; probably even dinosaurs similar to the celebrated Tyrannosaurs rex fell victim to this denizen of the ancient rivers and lakes. After all, Phobosuchus sported a 6— to 7—foot skull and was over 50 feet long!