Sarcosuchus – A Giant Crocodile from the Age of Reptiles

Scientists continue to debate which of the crocodilians known from the fossil record was the largest.  This is not an easy puzzle to solve, the lack of articulated specimens and skull material in particular makes drawing conclusions difficult.  There are a number of contenders, the broad snouted Eosuchian Deinosuchus (Terrible Crocodile) of late Cretaceous America, the fierce Purussaurus (Purus River Lizard) from Brazil dated to the Miocene or Sarcosuchus (Flesh Crocodile) from Cretaceous Africa to name but a few.

Sarcosuchus was an enormous, heavily armoured crocodile and is regarded by many scientists as the largest species of crocodile known from the fossil record, or at least certainly a contender.  Estimates of body size and mass vary but scientists generally state that fully grown animals would have been in excess of 12 metres in length and weighed as much as 8,000 kilogrammes.  The largest species of crocodile around today is the Estuarine or Salt Water crocodile.  Adults can grow up to 6 metres long and weigh more than a tonne.

To view a model of Sarcosuchus and other prehistoric animals: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

A Scale drawing of Sarcosuchus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The first fossils of this huge animal were found by a French scientific expedition to Niger and the south, central part of the Sahara desert.  Some isolated plates of dermal armour (scutes) and teeth were excavated and removed for study in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  In 1964, a team of geologists discovered an almost complete skull and this was shipped to Paris and studied by the famous French palaeontologists Philippe Taquet and France de Broin.  In 1966, the French team formally named and described the species, before returning the fossil material to Niger.  Professor Paul Sereno, led further expeditions to the Niger in 1997 and 2000 and uncovered a number of new specimens including one with almost half the skeleton intact including most of the backbone.

Reconstructed Skull of Sarcosuchus

Picture Credit: Patrina Malone

An exhibition was opened in Australia, to celebrate the birth of the famous naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin.  It features a number of crocodile exhibits including Sarcosuchus.  Don’t be fooled by the enormous size of the skull in comparison to the gentleman standing in the picture.  This layout is typical of the shots seen in many magazines and newspapers to promote a museum exhibition.  The man is standing behind the Sarcosuchus skull, and although the skull is large it is not quite as big as the picture would have us believe – a sort of crocodilian optical illusion.

To read more about this exhibition: Crocodile Exhibit Opens in Australia

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