Spectember 2023 #06: Some Big Reptiles

An anonymous request asked for a “large ankylosaur-like herbivorous notosuchian“:

A shaded sketch of a speculative ankylosaur-like animal related to modern crocodilians. It has a chunky body covered in interlocking armor plates, with a row of spikes down each side of its body and a longer pair of upward-pointing spikes on the bulbous tip of its tail. It has four squat legs, also armored, with hoof-like claws, and a short wide snout with large forward-facing nostrils.

Mitafosuchus pachysomatus is descended from Simosuchus-like notosuchians in Madagascar that survived through the K-T extinction.

Highly convergent with the now-extinct ankylosaurs, it’s a 5m long (~16’4″) squat tank-like herbivore with hoof-like claws, and a wide short snout used for grazing on low vegetation. Heavy interlocking osteoderm amor covers most of its body, protecting it against the big carnivorous crocodyliformes that also still survive in this version of Cenozoic Madagascar.

Another anon wanted to see a “giant warm blooded lizard”:

A shaded sketch of a speculative giant lizard descended from tegu. It has a small head with a slender snout, a crest on its head and a small pair of horns behind its eyes. Its neck is long and thick with a hanging fleshy dewlap, a chunky body with a sloping back, four legs in a semi-upright stance, and a long thick tail.

Atopohippus zestamenus is a descendant of invasive Argentine giant tegu lizards that became established on an island archipelago. At 2m tall (~6’6″) and around 6m long (~20′) it’s an example of island gigantism, and occupies a high-browsing-herbivore ecological niche similar to giant tortoises and prosauropods.

Its ancestors’ seasonal endothermy has become full endothermy in this species, partly due to young individuals having a very rapid growth rate and metabolism – their main defense against the predators on their island home (primarily carnivorous tegu-descendants and large birds of prey) is to simply get to a big body size as fast as they possibly can.


“Horns” seem to have convergently evolved multiple times in crocodiles over the last few million years, including in a couple of living species. These triangular crests are formed from the squamosal bone, just above their ears, and tend to be a sexually dimorphic feature used in territorial displays between males, serving to make them look bigger when they arch their necks.

But there’s another horned crocodilian known from much earlier in the Cenozoic – and this one was an alligator!

Ceratosuchus burdoshi lived in Colorado and Wyoming in the western United States during the late Paleocene and early Eocene, about 57-56 million years ago. It was a fairly small alligator, around 1.7m long (5’6″), with a broad snout featuring sharp teeth at the front and blunter teeth further back – an arrangement that suggests it was a generalist predator eating a variety of small prey, using those teeth to first grab and then crush whatever it managed to catch.

It also had large blade-like osteoderm armor on the back of its neck, which may have been arranged in line with its “horns” to make its visual displays look even spikier.

Weird Heads Month #22: Flat Headed Crocs

The heads of modern crocodilians are already pretty amazing, with their high-set eyes and nostrils, moveable ear flaps, numerous dermal pressure receptors, and a distinctive chaotic “scaly” surface texture that’s actually formed from cracks in thick stiff skin.

And back during the Late Cretaceous of West Africa, about 95 million years ago, there was a huge variety of odd-looking crocdyliformes all sharing a river delta environment and specializing in different ecological niches from terrestrial to aquatic. There were species with nicknames like “duck croc“, “boar croc“, and “pancake croc” – but one of the most intriguing of them all was Aegisuchus witmeri, the “shieldcroc”.

Known only from the back end of its skull, Aegisuchus seems to have had a very wide and flat head, possibly similar in shape to those of the “pancake crocs” which it may have been closely related to. From the sheer size of the known remains it must have been rather big, with a skull at least 2m long (6’6″) and a total length of around 10m (32’10”).

But its weirdest feature was a raised circular bony boss in the middle of its forehead. Unlike any other known croc, the bone around this area shows evidence of deep blood vessel channels, suggesting it was anchoring a more extensive keratinous “shield”. Much like the “horns” seen on some crocodilian species this was probably used for territorial and mating displays, but its extensive blood supply may have also allowed it to play a role in body temperature regulation.

Aegisuchus would have had a fairly weak bite, and may have fed more like a pelican than a modern croc, snapping up fish and other small animals with its gaping mouth. Its jaw mechanics also resembled those of the Triassic amphibian Gerrothorax’s “toilet seat head”, so it could have had a similar hunting strategy, laying motionless on riverbeds with its mouth wide open, waiting for prey to swim close enough to catch.


While modern crocodilians are all semi-aquatic, their Mesozoic ancestors (known as neosuchians) started off fully terrestrial, only really moving into their familiar water-based ecological niches around the mid-Jurassic when the dinosaurs were dominating on land.

But on multiple occasions members of the neosuchian croc lineage independently went back to fully terrestrial habits, and Tarsomordeo winkleri here is one of the most recently discovered examples.

Living about 113 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous of central Texas, USA, Tarsomordeo was surprisingly small, only about 60cm long (2′) – the size of an average cat. Its tiny size even ended up inspiring its name, which translates to “ankle biter”.

It had long slender limbs held in an upright posture, suggesting it was a swift and agile runner capable of chasing after fast-moving prey. Since it lived in a semi-arid environment that seems to have been a major nesting site for the herbivorous Convolosaurus, their hatchlings probably also made up a large part of its diet during the breeding season.


Boverisuchus magnifrons*, a crocodilian from the early Eocene of Germany (~50-40 mya). Reaching about 3m long (9′10″) it was much more heavily armored than its modern cousins, with an interlocking “exoskeleton” of bony osteoderms covering its body and limbs – leading to it being given the nickname “panzer croc”.

It was adapted for walking and running on land, with relatively long legs and surprisingly hoof-like claws. It may even have carried its weight directly on these hooves similar to mammalian ungulates.

And if that’s not unusual enough, its hind leg musculature suggests it also might have been capable of short bursts of bipedal sprinting.

[ * Originally known as Pristichampsus rollinatii before being reassigned in 2013.]