In every classic video game, there’s always a boss level with a giant armored monster you’ll have to shoot several times to defeat. There’s a big chance the Scutosaurus inspired the design of at least one of these villainous boss creatures. Ancient earth had some of the most interesting-looking creatures, and this gigantic armored dinosaur was undoubtedly one of the most impressive.
The genus name translates as “shield lizard,” which gives you an idea of how much this massive beast resembled a video game boss. It had impregnable armor with large armor plates scattered all over its body. Only this was not a virtual game character. It was a real reptile that lived in an area that is now present-day Russia back in the Permian (about 264 million years ago).
What Scutosaurus Looked Like
As earlier mentioned, Scutosaurus was an armored reptile about eight to 10 feet long. It weighed close to 2,560 pounds, putting it in the same weight category as the present-day black rhinoceros.
Scutosaurus belonged to a special class of reptiles known as the parareptiles. Although they’re commonly referred to as dinosaurs, the Scutosaurus was not a dinosaur. They belong to an entirely different group of reptiles and are distant ancestors of modern-day turtles. Unlike most reptiles, the Scutosaurus‘ legs were positioned underneath its body and were strong enough to support its massive weight.
The Scutosaurus didn’t have a single continuous shell like turtles, though. Instead, it had separate hard bony plates (osteoderms) covering its entire body. This would have served as a defense and made them less vulnerable to predator threats. Although they appear to be separated, these osteoderms were also closely sutured around the pelvis and shoulder areas.
What Did This Gigantic Armored Dinosaur Feed On?
With such a fear-inducing appearance, one would expect the Scutosaurus to be a flesh-eating monster. Interestingly, this was not the case. This parareptile was a herbivore. In fact, it was one of the first large herbivorous reptiles that ever lived. They had large, flat teeth, which they used to grind young branches and leaves before they digest them in their large guts. They also swallowed gastrolith, which helped them digest plants.
Scutosaurus fed on plants, which were quite scarce at the time because they lived in deserts and semi-arid areas. They were forced to wander long distances in search of food, and their range covered a wide expanse of land. Experts think the animal would have made its home near floodplains and riverbanks where edible plants were more abundant, especially during periods of drought when food was more difficult to find.
This animal also had a constant need to eat, which is expected considering its massive size. This may have caused them to live alone or in small herds to avoid sharing their food with others. Although we do not know for sure what it ate, some plants in the same formation as the Scutosaurus include mosses, ferns, peltaspermaceaens, and lepidophytes. This herbivore may have fed on these plants while it was alive.
Threats and Predators
The Scutosaurus was a very large reptile with quite a number of defensive mechanisms. The beast had several spikes surrounding its skull, and the rest of its body was visibly covered with bony armor. Still, these defenses did not make the reptile entirely invincible.
This gigantic armored dinosaur lived alongside carnivorous monsters like the gorgonopsids. The largest members of this group of saber-toothed monsters, such as Inostrancevia, may have been capable of hunting and killing the Scutosaurus. Gorgonopsids were active hunters with elongated canines, which they used instrumentally to bring down prey. They also had rotatable jaw bones that allowed them to open their mouths to more than 90 degrees without unhinging their jaw. These formidable mechanisms would have made them pretty effective predators, even for the armored Scutosaurus.
What’s more, Inostrancevia would have found it relatively easy to take down the Scutosaurus too. It was incredibly heavy and had relatively short legs. Catching this gigantic dinosaur would have been relatively unchallenging for a fast-moving predator. Every video game boss has its weakness, and despite the Scutosaurus‘ many defenses, it would have fallen prey to some of the biggest predators of its day.
Habitat — Where Did This Gigantic Armored Dinosaur Live?
Unraveling the Scutosaurus‘ habitat has been a bit challenging for a wide range of reasons. Generally, pareiasaurs are considered terrestrial animals. However, no conclusive evidence exists to confirm if this particular one was entirely terrestrial. One of the ways scientists determine the paleoenvironment of an animal is to examine the way it moves. But for the Scutosaurus, a comparison like this is a little difficult because of the lack of modern anatomical analogs to compare it to.
Scientists also consider anatomical evidence to characterize an animal’s possible habitat. This has yielded confusing results too. For instance, while the presence of thick cartilage on the limb joints and low-lying pectoral girdle with short limbs suggests that this was probably an aquatic animal, other evidence, such as stable isotope analysis, suggests a more terrestrial behavior.
Comparisons with another animal, the caseids, have yielded a different result too. Both caseids and the Scutosaurus had porous, thin long bones, which is a feature of most modern diving creatures. However, these animals’ overall heavy torsos would make this type of lifestyle unlikely.
A more recent theory by zoologist Markus Lambertz in 2016 combines all of these possibilities. His hypothesis is based on the length of the neck of the caseids. The animal’s neck was too short to reach low-lying plants, which would have made an entirely terrestrial habitat unlikely. Rather, he proposed that this gigantic creature lived and fed in the water but could also come ashore.
Where Was This Gigantic Armored Dinosaur Found?
Scutosaurus is the most well-known and most-studied member of the pareiasaur family. Scientists have recovered at least six fossils of this animal, most of which were found in fairly good condition.
A Russian paleontologist, Vladimir Prokhorovich Amalitskii, found the first fossil of the Scutosaurus in 1899. The bones, which included one nearly complete individual and three partial skulls, were found in a fossil-rich formation around the Northern Dvina River in Russia. The genus was described for the first time in 1917 despite being discovered more than two decades earlier.
More Sctosaurus remains have been found at this same site in Russia. Many other fossils of different animal species were recovered from the same formation. Scientists think the abundant fossil was because of a catastrophic flood that took place during the Permian. Another herbivore, the Vivaxosaurus, was found in the same formation. Carnivores were also quite common. They include two species of the Inostrancevia genus, Pravoslavlevia, and Sauroctonus. Amphibians such as Kotlassia and Dvinosaurus were present as well.
When Was Scutosaurus Alive?
This gigantic armored dinosaur lived between 264 and 252 million years ago during the Permian Period. It went extinct towards the end of the Permian Period about 252 million years ago. Experts believe this parareptile went extinct along with any other animal species that disappeared as part of the Permian extinction event.
The extinction event eliminated up to 90 percent of life on earth at the time. This included 95 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land animals. Scutosaurus has no direct living relative. However, they’re more closely related to turtles than any other living animal.
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scutosaurus
- Fandom Fossil Wiki, Available here: https://fossil.fandom.com/wiki/Scutosaurus
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareiasaur