Its skull was as big as a human (1.78 m, or 5 ft 10 inches). The upper jaw overlapped the lower jaw, making an overbite. The jaws were quite slim (especially in juveniles). The snout is made up of about 75% of the skull's length. The teeth were cone-shaped, built to grab and hold, like those of true crocodilians, which, most of the time, kill prey by holding them underwater until they drown.
Sarcosuchus had a strange dent at the end of its snout. Called a bulla, it has been compared to the ghara seen in gharials. Unlike the ghara, though, the bulla is seen in all Sarcosuchus skulls that have been found so far, while just the male gharial has a ghara. The use of this structure is still not clear. Sereno and others asked various reptile researchers what their thoughts on this bulla were. Views ranged from it boosting their sense of smell to being connected to a vocalization device.
Sarcosuchus is not an ancestor of modern crocodiles, nor is it a crocodilian in the phylogenetic definition of the term. A crocodilian is any member of the clade Crocodilia. Crocodilia includes all modern forms, such as crocodiles proper, alligators, etc., and their immediate prehistoric relatives. Sarcosuchus is a member of the family Pholidosauridae, more distantly related to today's crocodilians.
"Crocodile" is a term often used in a broad sense. The first "crocodile-like reptiles" — the Crocodylomorpha — which split from the bird-line of archosaurs — the group of reptiles that include dinosaurs, pterosaurs and birds — about 230 million years ago, in the Late Triassic, looked somewhat like modern crocodilians. They had long legs and long bodies covered with armour.
Until the 1980s, the pholidosaurids were classified as part of the presumed suborder Mesosuchia, within the order Crocodilia. However, Benton and Clark determined in 1988 that Mesosuchia was a parphyletic group, containing the ancestor of all modern crocodiles. A simplified evolutionary tree:
Teeth and osteoderms found in Brazil come from a close relative of Sarcosuchus: Sarcosuchus hartii (Marsh, 1869). S. hartii has a complicated taxonomic history. It was discovered in 1867 by an American naturalist, Hartt near a train station in the area of Recôncavo in the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil. Hartt send the fossils - teeth, osteoderms and a fragment of the jaw - to the American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, who later published its scientific description in the American Journal of Science, in 1869, naming based on these remains two new species: Thoracosaurus bahiensis, with small teeth strongly striated and Crocodilus hartii, with large teeth with little roughs. Subsequent findings of crocodilians in the area were attributed to a species described by Edward D. Cope, Hyposaurus derbianus of Pernambuco; in 1907 Mawson and Woodward reclassified the material as belonging to the genus Goniopholis, with the species G. bahiensis and G. hartii, the latter including additional remains found until that time.
The status of these fossils remained so until a restudy of the same made by Eric Buffetaut and Philippe Taquet in 1977. The study examined the remains compared with the genus Sarcosuchus described by Taquet in 1966. The remains showed more similarities to Sarcosuchus than Goniopholis, for example the Brazilian and North African remains had a very long mandibular symphysis, an indicator of long-snouted skull, while Goniopholis had a shorter snout, and therefore its symphysis was equally short. The jaws of both crocodilians were spatulate in form at the front, with the first and second socket of the teeth very small and the third and fourth enlarged teeth are similar in size and shape, with the same enamel ornamentation in the form of roughness winding. The attribution to Goniopholis, based on the shape of the bone scutes, it seems unlikely since it is based on the presence of a peg in them, which is common to other Mesozoic crocodilians as Steneosaurus. Other remains of Bahia attributed to Thoracosaurus bahiensis and Hyposaurus and can not be attributed to the level of genus or species, and their assignment was based on the idea that sediments in the area are Late Cretaceous, when in fact are from the Early Cretaceous. Taquet and Buffetaut therefore concluded that the species should be reassigned to Sarcosuchus, maintaining the separation of African and South American remains in two different species (S. imperator and S. hartii) given the geographical separation, but their level of similarity is so strong that they could not rule that in reality they were a single species, although this hypothesis could only be contrasted with the discovery of additional remains. The Brazilian Sarcosuchus, like S. imperator was a large animal. The skull of S. imperator is 1.8 meters long, with a body of 11 to 12 meters long; for its part, the cranial remains of S. hartii measures 43 centimeters in length, although only is the anterior part of the mandible, so it can be assumed similar in size to the African species. The similarities between this two species it is possibly evidence that land bridges between Africa and South America existed much later than was previously believed.
On the other hand, based on the structure of the snout, the closest relative of Sarcosuchus is the pholidosaurid Terminonaris, with Dyrosaurus and Pholidosaurus as slightly more distant relatives. As a group, they are narrow-snouted fish-eaters from saltwater environments, except for the broader snouted, river-dwelling Sarcosuchus.
Until recently, all that was known of it was a few fossilized teeth and armour scutes, which were discovered in the Sahara Desert in the 1940s or 1950s.
In 1997 and 2000, Paul Sereno discovered half a dozen new specimens, including one with about half the skeleton intact and most of the spine. All of the other giant crocodiles are known only from a few partial skulls, so which is actually the biggest is an open question.
It seems likely that it ate the large fish and turtles of the Cretaceous. As the overhanging jaw and stout teeth are designed for grabbing and crushing, its primary prey may have been large animals and smaller dinosaurs, which it ambushed, dragged into the water, crushed, drowned and then tore apart. The long, thin snout of Sarcosuchus was much like the thin snouts of the modern gharial, the false gharial and the slender-snouted crocodile, all of which, for the most part, just eat fish and can't take on large prey. This can be contrasted to both the modern Nile crocodile and the extinct Deinosuchus, both of which have broad, heavy skulls, that can deal with large prey. This, and the mass of large, lobed-finned fish in its environment, leads most to think that, far from being a dinosaur killer, Sarcosuchus was simply a large piscivore, a scaled-up version of the modern gharial.
110 million years ago, in the early Cretaceous, the Sahara was still a great tropical plain, dotted with lakes and crossed by rivers and streams that were lined with vegetation. Based on the number of fossils discovered, the aquatic Sarcosuchus was probably plentiful in these warm, shallow, freshwater habitats.
Unlike modern true crocodiles, which are very similar in size and shape to one another and tend to live in different areas; Sarcosuchus was just one of many Crocodyliformes, of different sizes and shapes, all living in the same area. Four other species of extinct Crocodyliformes were also discovered in the same rock formation along with the Sarcosuchus, including a dwarf crocodile with a tiny, 8 cm (3 in) long skull. They filled a diverse variety of ecological niches, instead of competing with each other for resources.
In Popular Culture
Sarcosuchus made an appearance in a Walking with Dinosaurs special, and nearly ate Nigel Marvin. It also made a debute in the popular show The Most Extreme, where it's shown how big it is compared to its closest relative, the Nile Crocodile. It's also in its own documentary, called Super Croc, where paleontologists dig up Sarcosuchus and try to figure out how it lived. It made an appearance in Planet Dinosaur, where it fought over a young Paralititan with a Carcharodontosaurus, until the theropod got a better grip on the prey, so the croc slumped back into the river. It was also in an episode of Monsters Resurrected, and is shown to have been a rival to Spinosaurus.
- "Sarcosuchus imperator". Prehistorics Illustrated. (illustrations)
- "African fossil find: 40-foot crocodile". Guy Gugliotta. Washington Post, October 26, 2001. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- SuperCroc: Sarcosuchus imperator. Gabrielle Lyon. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- "'SuperCroc' fossil found in Sahara". D. L. Parsell. National Geographic News, October 25, 2001. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- Dinosaur Expedition 2000. Paul C. Sereno. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- "SuperCroc's jaws were superstrong, study shows". John Roach. National Geographic News, April 4, 2003. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- "Sereno, team discover prehistoric giant Sarcosuchus imperator in African desert." Steve Koppes. The University of Chicago Chronicle, volume 21, number 4, November 1, 2001. Retrieved November 17, 2004.
- Making of the Sarcosuchus exhibit
- ↑ Lyon, Gabrielle. "Fact Sheet". SuperCroc. Project Exploration. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
- ↑ Sereno et al., 2001
- ↑ Dr. Greg M. Erickson, Florida State University Greg Erickson, Faculty page
- ↑ Geology News, 2001
- ↑ Sereno, 1998
- ↑ Marsh, O.C. 1869. Notice of some new reptilian remains from the Cretaceous of Brazil. American Journal of Science 47(141):390-392. The specific name hartii honors Charles Hartt.
- ↑ Cope, Edward D. 1886. A contribution to the vertebrate paleontology of Brazil. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 23(121):1-21
- ↑ Mawson, Joseph & Woodward, Arthur Smith, 1907. On the Cretaceous Formation of Bahia (Brazil), and on Vertebrate Fossils collected therein. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 63: 128-139
- ↑ Buffetaut, E., & P. Taquet. 1977. The giant crocodilian Sarcosuchus in the early Cretaceous of Brazil and Niger. Palaeontology 20(1):203-208.PDF
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 National Geographic Special on SuperCroc. National Geographic Channel, December, 2001.