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Triassic Reptile Fossil Gallery

Animalia, Chordata, Vertebrata, Sauropsida (Reptilia)

(Kingdom, Phylum, Subphylum, Class)

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Phytosauria, Phytosauridae

(Order, Family)

Phytosaur sp. - reconstruction

Period: Late Triassic

Location: ? Texas

Collection: Joe Taylor

Size: ? mm long


Phytosaurs are neither dinosaurs nor crocodiles.  The three groups do share a common ancestor in the Archosaurs.  Their name, meaning “plant lizard”, is a misnomer as they were all carnivores.  Like crocodiles, Phytosaurs lived in fresh water and could run quickly on land for short distances.  They both have a similar ankle arrangement and heavy skin armor.  Unlike crocodiles Phytosaurs walked semi-erect without dragging their tails.  Though most range between 10 and 26 feet long, a few species reached more than 35 feet long, making them the largest land predators of the Triassic. The extinction of the Phytosaurs at the end of the Triassic opened up an ecological niche for true crocodiles.

The most striking difference between phytosaurs and crocodiles is the placement of the nose.  Phytosaur’s nostrils are near the eyes not at the end of the snout.  On many Phytosaurs, the end of the snout curves upward with a set of tusk like teeth.  Speculative theories for their use range from combat to catching small slippery fish.

There are three basic skulls based on the width of the snout: narrow, medium, and extra wide.  Some had uniform conical teeth suited for catching fish only.  Some had blade-like fangs for seizing large tetrapods.  Still others had a combination of scull shapes, teeth, and head crests.


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