Meet the Ancient Crocodile Twice the Size of a Car, and with 100 Razor Teeth

Written by Lex Basu
Published: October 5, 2022
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Key Points

  • Sarcosuchus is an extinct species of crocodile that lived in the area that is now Africa and South America.
  • They are believed to have been alive between 130 to 112 million years.
  • They probably thrived in tropical environment filled with trees, flora and fauna, rivers and greenery.
  • They were believed to be prime predators and even a threat to dinosaurs who were unfortunate enough to cross their path.

Sarcosuchus (SAR-ko-su-kus) is nicknamed the “super croc” for a good reason. Although the first crocodiles appeared during the Triassic period some 228 million years ago, it was not until the Cretaceous period of the dinosaurs that the “super croc” emerged from the African river.

The Sarcosuchus is one of the largest and best-known reptiles related to the present-day crocodiles. They lived during the Early Cretaceous approximately 112 million years ago, with many scientists believing that this species could have also preyed on dinosaurs.

If you compare the modern-day alligators, crocs, and caimans, they will look insignificant in size. The Sarcosuchus could grow up to 12 meters, 40 feet long, but its smallest wasn’t too miniature with a 10-meter (33-feet) average. In comparison, the caiman and dwarf crocodile can only reach about 1.7 meters (about six feet) in length as an adult.

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The Sarcosuchus could be found in the Ténéré Desert in central Niger. They would have been the top predator of the African rivers. During their time, this giant croc with more than 100 razor-sharp teeth fed on dinosaurs that came within their range.

Named byFrance de Broin & Phillipe Taquet, 1966
DietCarnivore
SizeUp to 12 meters long
Weight8 tons
LocationAlgeria, Brazil, Mali, Morocco, Niger, and Tunisia
HabitatFreshwater environments
Time periodHauterivian to Albian of the Cretaceous
Fossil representationTeeth, skulls, cranial skeleton
Age110 million years ago

Description and Size

Modern saltwater crocodiles are a dominant predator today. They are the largest living reptile with a bite force that could snap its prey in two. The females can grow up to three meters, while the males can grow up to six meters. But even as the modern crocs are quite monstrous in size, they are nothing compared to their ancestors—the Sarcosuchus—which weighed about eight tons.

This species was estimated to grow between 9.5 meters and 12 meters, although more modern estimates said the largest could only be around nine meters long. That’s still massive even in today’s standard of modern crocs.

Sarcosuchus

The Sarcosuchus was very similar to the crocodile today, although they are not technically related.

©Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock.com

Snout

If the length of the Sarcosuchus was massive, imagine how big its skull was. Records showed its skull was about 1.78 meters long (5 feet and 10 inches). But it was not the size of its skull that was terrifying—it was the size of its snout. Out of the 1.78 meters of the skull, 1.3 meters (4 feet and 3 inches) were jaws. That jaw held around 132 teeth, which could grow back over the Sarcosuchus’ lifetime. Although not exactly sharp, the Sarcosuchus had powerful jaws that could lock in its prey.

However, this snout ended up in a bulbous depression called a “bulla.” Paleontologists still have difficulty understanding what the bulla was for, but some believe it could have been sexual. This might have meant that male Sarcosuchus with larger bullas were more attractive to female Sarcosuchus. It could have also been an enhanced smelling organ that helped this animal to hunt.

Others believed the bulla could be a weapon used when fighting with other species. It could also have been a sounding chamber that the species used to communicate with each other over long distances.

Eyes

The Sarcosuchus did not move its eyes horizontally as humans and other species do. Instead, their eyes moved vertically because they most likely spent their time looking up and down for prey. This species was usually submerged in river waters, so it was natural for them to look upward for food.

Tail

One of the most powerful body parts in the Sarcosuchus was its tail. It moved horizontally, creating a driving force that propelled the “super croc” forward. This drive is fast enough for the animal to hunt fast-moving fish. Just how forceful was its tail? It was so powerful that it could propel the Sarcosuchus to leap out of the water and catch potential prey.

What Did Sarcosuchus Eat?

The “super croc” ate pretty much anything—from fish to dinosaurs. It was so powerful that it preyed on land-dwelling dinosaurs. Anything that entered the water was prey for the Sarcosuchus. It attacked its prey by way of ambush, and with its 130-bone-crushing teeth, it was impossible to get out of the Sarcosuchus’ bite.

Although some would think that an animal this massive would be purely carnivorous or have fed on the available dinosaurs on land, the Sarcosuchus subsisted more on fish than the dinosaurs that waded in the water. It is also possible that this species ate fish exclusively and only fed on dinosaurs when the opportunity presented itself. Gigantic theropods with snouts like the “super croc” followed piscivorous diets.

Habitat

Africa wasn’t always the desert that people know it to be now. It became so in modern times when the Sahara Desert overtook the lush African rivers. During the later Mesozoic Era, the Sarcosuchus basked in Africa’s year-round heat and humidity. But this species wasn’t the only one that took advantage of the region’s nature. Other plus-sized reptiles, and even the dinosaurs, once roamed what is now the Sahara Desert.

Most of the specimens and fossils of the Sarcosuchus were found in the region of Niger in West Africa. The Sarcosuchus used to live in an extensive river system of what was then a combined continent of Africa and South America. Some also believed that the “super croc” reached river deltas since their remains were also found in Tunisia.

Threats and Predators

It is hard to think there was a threat to the “super croc” during its time. Paleontologists believed the Sarcosuchus was the top predator in the African rivers when they were around. It is still a mystery how this species hunted for food.

Some scientists believed they weren’t really aggressive against dinosaurs because of the orientation of their snouts. The narrow snout would have made it difficult for the Sarcosuchus to fight against land dinosaurs. It is more practical to think of them as predators in the water, meaning they feasted primarily on fish. As it grew old, the SuperCroc’s snout broadened, allowing it to lunge out of the water and grab a dinosaur.

Discoveries and Fossils

French paleontologist Albert-Felix de Lapparent first discovered fossils of the Sarcosuchus. In 1966, it was named by France de Broin and fellow paleontologist, Philippe Taquet. But, in 1997 and 2000, paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team led an expedition in the Desert of Niger in West Africa. There, they found other fragmentary remains of the Sarcosuchus, allowing them to publish a detailed account of its anatomy.

Not Technically a Crocodile

Although it is called the “super croc,” the Sarcosuchus isn’t a direct ancestor of modern crocodiles. It was a member of an extinct prehistoric type of reptile called the Pholidaosaur. This species became extinct millions of years ago. It left no direct living descendant.

Experts said that the Sarcosuchus and crocodiles are more like distant second cousins. These two species have different skeletal structures, such as the ball-and-socket joints, osteoderms, and palate shape.

Extinction

The Sarcosuchus went extinct around 95 to 115 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. It was unclear why the species became extinct, though scientists believed it was because of the lack of food. The “super croc” went extinct roughly around the same time that the dinosaurs did. If it survived after the dinosaurs, it would have counted as one of the largest land-dwelling predators on Earth.

Similar Animals to Sarcosuchus

  • Crocodile: The Sarcosuchus looked closely like the crocodiles, but they are more distant relatives than directly related. Crocodiles are giant semi-aquatic reptiles that live in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
  • Spinosaurus: It is widely believed that the Sarcosuchus fought with the Spinosaurus, which could also go in the waters. This extinct dinosaur used to live in what is now North Africa. During its time, it was a top predator, eating anything from fish to fellow dinosaurs.
  • Giganotosaurus: This theropod dinosaur lived in what is now Argentina. It was slightly bigger than the T-Rex but ranked behind the Spinosaurus in size.
  • Carcharodontosaurus: This was also a top predator during its time, along with the Sarcosuchus in the African rivers. Both the Carcharodontosaurus and Giganotosaurus were bigger than the T-Rex.

Next Up…

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Lex is a green-living, tree-hugging, animal-lover, who at one time was the mother to twenty one felines and one doggo. Now she helps pet owners around the globe be the best caretakers for their most trusting companions by sharing her experience and spreading love.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How many teeth does the Sarcosuchus have?

The Sarcosuchus has as many as 132 teeth. However, its teeth weren’t the problem since they weren’t exactly the sharpest in a species this size. The SuperCroc’s jaw was the bigger problem for its prey because it locked them in.

Is the Sarcosuchus related to the crocodile?

These two species are more like distant second cousins. There are differences in their skeletal structure. The Sarcosuchus is only called a SuperCroc because of its appearance, but it is not a direct ancestor of the modern-day crocodile.

What happened to the Sarcosuchus?

It is not clear why the Sarcosuchus suddenly became extinct, though it could be because they lacked food.

Did the Sarcosuchus fight with the Spinosaurus?

They both existed when they were the predators of their respective habitats — the Sarcosuchus in the water and the Spinosaurus on land. However, there is no proof that these two species ever closely fought.

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