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Crocodiles and alligators were once vegetarians, Utah researchers say

Whether they see you "after while" or "later," crocodiles and alligators were probably once vegetarians, researchers say. Photo: Getty Images

(CNN) — The crocodile tooth is its weapon, its identity, its fleet of swords. But researchers who have studied prehistoric specimens have found a surprising secret: Crocodiles and alligators, it seems, were once vegetarians.

Researchers at the University of Utah studied the teeth of prehistoric “crocodylians” — the name for alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials — and published their findings this week in the journal Current Biology.

They found a much greater disparity in the teeth of crocodylians than exists today.

“These features suggest that extinct crocodyliforms had a much wider dietary breadth than their living relatives,” the paper says. “Given this heterodont condition, interpretations of extinct crocodyliform feeding ecologies have ranged from carnivores to insectivores, omnivores, and herbivores.”

And their vegetable-only diets weren’t a unique occurrence. The research says they may have evolved three separate times in ancient crocodyliforms and was a beneficial dietary strategy.

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