Which was the Largest Crocodile of All Time?

Sarcosuchus, Purussaurus, Deinosuchus or Any Other Candidate?

With a Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) at an animal park in Queensland (Australia), being recognised as the largest crocodile kept in captivity, team members at Everything Dinosaur started a debate amongst themselves as to which was the largest crocodilian known from the fossil record.

Crocodiles are certainly an ancient group of reptiles, with their origins predating the dinosaurs.  However, which of these animals would be classified as the largest – this might be difficult to say.

A few days ago, we reported that Cassius, an eighteen foot long “Salty” had been declared the largest crocodile in captivity by the Guinness Book of Records.

To read more about Cassius: Record Breaking Monster Crocodile

However, a number of extinct types of crocodile are known to be much larger.  Indeed, having checked with the Guinness Book of Records, the largest prehistoric crocodile (according to them), is Sarcosuchus (Sarcosuchus imperator), a member of the Eusuchia, fossils of this crocodile are known from Cretaceous strata from Niger (Africa).  Although, there is a lack of fossil material, estimates of length provide a consensus that this reptile may have been ten to twelve metres long.  It has been suggested that this fearsome predator may have weighed eight tonnes.  This would make Sarcosuchus (flesh crocodile) a contender for the largest type of crocodile known.

A Reconstructed Skull of Sarcosuchus (Sarcosuchus imperator)

Picture Credit: Patrina Malone

Then there is the much more recent, South American, giant Purussaurus (Purussaurus brasiliensis).  This prehistoric Caiman is known from a number of fossil locations in South America (Brazil, Peru and Venezuela).  An expedition to the Peruvian Amazon back in 2005 discovered more fossils and from one particular skull, which measures over fifty-five inches in length, it has been estimated that this Caiman from the Miocene may have reached lengths of between ten and thirteen metres.  We think this member of the crocodile family is also known as Mourasuchus amazoniensis, but this is regarded as a junior synonym.

There is also Deinosuchus (Terrible Crocodile) to consider.  Deinosuchus (D. hatcheri) lived during the Late Cretaceous.  Its fossils have been found in the United States.  Once again size estimates are difficult to affirm.  When looking at extant species today, the head length can be assessed as being approximately one eighth the size of the entire animal measured from the tip of its snout to its tail.  This is a useful guide when trying to work out the size of a crocodile or alligator when it it swimming and only a portion of the head is above the water.  Using measurements taken from a huge, nearly complete skull, found in the Big Bend River formation, Texas, and described by the scientists Colbert and Bird back in the 1950s, Deinosuchus was estimated to be over fifteen metres long and to weigh in excess of eight Tonnes.  Since then further analysis of fossil fragments, bones and dermal armour (scutes) has been undertaken and palaeontologists now estimate Deinosuchus to be a little smaller, but it is still a contender for the largest croc of all time.  The jaws are more robust than those of Sarcosuchus, suggesting that Deinosuchus predated upon large animals, perhaps attacking dinosaurs as they came close to water to get a drink.

Which was the Largest Crocodile?

One for the Guinness Book of Records to Contemplate

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have had a go at producing art materials and drawings to illustrate the likely candidates for the title of largest crocodile known to science.

Recently, a group of scientists published a paper detailing their study of suspected Deinosuchus coprolites (fossilised dung), thus providing a potential insight into this reptile’s diet:

To read more about Deinosuchus and a follow up article: Ancient Crocodile Poop Provides Information on the Diet of Deinosuchus

Update on Deinosuchus: Update on the Diet of Cretaceous Crocodiles

The crocodiles are indeed an ancient group of reptiles, they evolved into a myriad of forms, some of these were gigantic but as to which genus was the biggest – it looks like we will be debating this for some time.

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11 Responses to “Which was the Largest Crocodile of All Time?”

  1. Dr. Save says:

    Purussaurus is the biggest and heaviest.And by the way,I am a paleontologist so I am right.

    • Mike says:

      Thank you for your comment, Purussaurus brasiliensis named back in the 19th Century is certainly a large crocodilian, but it is difficult to categorically state that based on the fossil evidence (Caiman neivensis, Mourasuchus amazoniensis et al), that this is the biggest and heaviest. However, you sound adamant and you probably have more knowledge in this area than we have.

    • Harris says:

      Dr. Save – While I will not debate you for being right, you do not sound professional. Being a paleontologist does not necessarily make you right. A true “Doctor” or “Paleontologist” knows to space between sentences after the period. Mike provided several well thought out responses to each of your posts, while you reply with stubborn, snappy posts. You sound very stupid.

      Anyway, Sarcosuchus is probably the largest in my opinion. This is an animal that daily clashed with the infamous Spinosaurus. I can assure you that Purussaurus did not get to 18 tons. This animal lived in thick forest, and large carnivores could not grow and adapt there. Therefore, Purussaurus did not NEED to grow that big. However, Sarcosuchus has been calculated at over 10 tons and had to worry about massive African predators.

      Being a stubborn little brat does not take the place of critical information and a good solid point.

      • Jerry says:

        Harris, you are right. Not only did Sarcosuchus combat Spinosaurus, it also came across Carcharodontosaurus, an Allosaurid even longer than T. Rex. It lived in an age of giants and I doubt any of the younger crocodilians could grow any larger – the leaner oxygen content of the air and fewer, smaller food sources would have limited their sizes. In my opinion, Deinosuchus, and maybe Purussaurus, are all equal contenders, with size depending on the individual and its dominance of the local food source.

  2. Dr.save says:

    Sarcosuchus is 10 tons.dienosuchus is 10 tons too.But purrusaurus is 18 tons!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your input, it is always a little difficult to estimate the size of Crocodilians when working with largely fragmentary remains, for certain all three genera were certainly very big and there may be more extinct crocodile remains waiting to be discovered that could alter scientific thinking again. One puzzle for palaeontologists is why no giant marine crocodile fossils found to date? Did the Mesozoic Pliosaurs fill the apex predator niche entirely?

  3. Dr.save says:

    Nope,pliosaurs aren’t the apex predators.Sometimes mosasaurs prey on cretaceous pliosaurs.

  4. Dr. Plaudible says:

    Dr. Save, you sound like an adamant idiot. Mike, thank you for your intriguing posts. The thought of these giant crocodilian ancestors once walking the Earth is exhilarating. Seeing a live specimen of the modern relatives is intimidating enough. I just hope more considerations to their preservation is taken by governing bodies. Thank you once again!

  5. Kirk Docot says:

    No Dr.Save Sarcosuchus Is The Biggest Crocodile It Is On the 7th Place Of Top 10 Largest Animal Ever!!!!!!

  6. Kirk Docot says:

    Sar.us the biggest croc its called *SuperCroc*

  7. Christian Hannah says:

    How about we all say that all 3 are roughly the same size & it’s just a matter of debate on who is bigger?

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