Hupehsuchians were small marine reptiles closely related to ichthyosaurs, known only from the Early Triassic of southwestern China about 249-247 million years ago. They had toothless snouts, streamlined bodies, paddle-like limbs, and long flattened tails, along with a unique pattern of armor along their backs made up of overlapping layers of bony osteoderms.

Hupehsuchus nanchangensis was a mid-sized member of the group, about 1m long (3’3″). Newly-discovered fossils of its skull show that its long flattened snout had a distinctive gap between the bones (similar to the platypus-like snout seen in its relative Eretmorhipis) with an overall shape surprisingly convergent with that of modern baleen whales – suggesting that this hupehsuchian may have been a similar sort of filter-feeder.

A diagram comparing Hupehsuchus' skull to that of a modern baleen whale.
Hupehsuchus skull compared to a modern minke whale
From fig 2 & fig 3 of Fang et al (2023). First filter feeding in the Early Triassic: cranial morphological convergence between Hupehsuchus and baleen whales. BMC Ecol Evo 23, 36.

Grooves in the bones along the outer edges of its upper jaws may be evidence of filtering structures similar to baleen, although with no soft-tissue preservation we don’t know exactly what this would have looked like. Its slender flexible lower jaws probably also supported a large expandable throat pouch, allowing it to filter plankton out of larger volumes of water.


Eretmorhipis carrolldongi, a hupehsuchian marine reptile from the Early Triassic of China (~247 mya).

This species was originally named back in 2015, but at the time the only known specimens were missing their heads. It was assumed that its skull would have looked similar to those of other hupehsuchians… but now new fossils have been found, and it seems to have actually been much much weirder!

Eretmorhipis’ head was surprisingly tiny in proportion to its body – sort of like a marine version of Cotylorhynchus – and its shape convergently resembled the modern platypus, with a wide “duck bill” and very small eyes. It may have hunted for food along the seafloor in a similar manner to the platypus, using either a highly sensitive sense of touch or possibly even electroreception to locate small invertebrates like worms and shrimp.

It also had much larger bony osteoderms than its other known hupehsuchian relatives, forming a distinctive protruding spiky ridge down its back. At about 85cm in length (2′9″) it was one of the largest marine animals around at the time, so this structure probably wasn’t needed for defense – but as with other hupehsuchians its actual function is still unknown.