Who or What was Desmatosuchus?

Another unusual question posed today by email from the mother of a young dinosaur fan that had come across a picture of a very odd looking prehistoric animal in a children’s reference book.  We were asked what sort of animal was a Desmatosuchus?

Desmatosuchus (Desmatosuchus haploceras) was certainly not a dinosaur, although these animals did live at the time when the dinosaurs were becoming the established, dominant mega fauna of the late Triassic.  Desmatosuchus was an Aetosaur, a member of the Archosaur group from which the Order Dinosauria evolved.  The term Aetosaur means “eagle lizards”, as when first studied; it was remarked upon by some scientists how the skulls of these reptiles resembled birds.  All Aetosaurs discovered to date seem to have been plant-eaters, slow moving animals covered in varying degrees of dermal armour.

Fossils of Desmatosuchus are associated with the western United States and specimens up to 4 metres long and perhaps representing individuals weighing as much as 500 kilogrammes have been found.

An Illustration of Desmatosuchus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Like the majority of Aetosaurs, Desmatosuchus had heavy body armour consisting of four-sided plates running along its back, encasing the tail and the belly region.  It also had a pair of shoulder horns which were probably used to deter potential attackers.  The posture is typically semi-erect but the bones of the foot and teeth have puzzled scientists.  They are not sure whether Desmatosuchus was semi-aquatic, perhaps filling a niche in the eco-system as a form of Triassic Hippo.

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