An Ultimate Guide to Moschops: The Calf Face

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 24th September 2023

Name Meaning“Calf Face”Height1.8 meters (5.9 feet)
PronunciationMoss-kopsLength2.7 meters (8.9 feet)
EraPaleozoic EraLate PermianWeight129 to 327.4 kg (284 to 722 lbs)
ClassificationSynapsida,‭ Therapsida & DinocephaliaLocationSouth Africa

Moschops Pictures

Moschops was a therapsid herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the Permian Period of South Africa | CoreyFord via Getty Images

The Moschops

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Moschops Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Moschops Concept

Looking, on the one hand, like a reptile and, on the other hand, like a mammal, it’s no wonder the Moschops is now the subject of many scientific articles and discussions among scientists and prehistoric wildlife enthusiasts!

Moschops is Greek for “calf face,” and it was a plant eater.

Despite this, it was heavily built and likely even engaged in intraspecific combat!

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

The Moschops had a distinctively thick skull that protected its small but efficient brain, and although considered primarily terrestrial, some scientists argue it may have been semi-aquatic.

Were these creatures semi-aquatic, indeed? Read on to find out the answer and other amazing facts about this extinct animal from the Permian period!

Physical Characteristics

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Moschops Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Moschops Size Comparison Chart

Moschops were dinocephalian synapsids, meaning they were large- and heavily-bodied therapsids with mammal-like postures. 

These creatures had small heads with high and short snouts.

They also had broad orbits, short necks, strong jaw muscles, strong forelimbs and hindlimbs, and a relatively wide pelvis.

The study of their elbow joints showed that they were adapted for mammal-like moving rather than reptile-like crawling.

The shoulders were much higher than the pelvis, the forelimbs were stretched to the side of the body and were typically flexed, and the hind limbs were right under the hips. 

Moschops measured roughly 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) long and weighed 129 kilograms (284 pounds), with the maximum weight being registered at 327.4 kilograms (722 pounds).

Moschops | Warpaintcobra via Getty Images

If we were to compare it with their closest relatives from the Tapinocephalide family, we’d say they weren’t among the heaviest.

Riebeeckosaurus, for example, was 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long, but it was much heavier, weighing approximately 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

The same goes for Keratocephalus, which was the same length (2.5-3 meters or 8.2-9.8 feet) but weighed much more, reaching between 700 and 1,000 kilograms (1,543-2,200 pounds).

Tapinocephalus was even heavier, reaching 1.5-2 tonnes (3,300-4,400 pounds) at around the same length of three meters (9.8 feet).

Another member of their family, Criocephalosaurus, reached 4-5 meters (13.1-16.4 feet) in length.

Another interesting fact about Moschops is that its thick skull housed a remarkably small brain, about as small as a chicken egg!

However, this didn’t mean Moschops weren’t smart enough to survive and reproduce.

Moschops was a primeval herbivorous dinosaur that lived in South Africa in the Permian Period | CoreyFord via Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

Moschops fossils were recovered from South Africa’s Karoo Supergroup. 

Although many online sources list that it has been discovered in Karoo’s Ecca Group, we’d like to highlight that this might not be accurate.

Establishing this is important because it helps us understand what kind of habitat Moschops inhabited.

Moschops lived roughly 265-260 million years ago during the Capitanian age of the Permian.

The units of the Karoo Supergroup were deposited over 120 million years ago between the Late Carboniferous and Early Jurassic.

The Permian consists of the Ecca Group and the Beaufort Group, and the stratigraphic range of the Ecca Group dates from the Late Carboniferous to the Early Permian, approximately 303-290 million years ago.

carboniferous forest
A Carboniferous Forest | selvanegra via Getty Images

For clarity, the stratigraphic range determines the age of fossils, rocks, and sediments.

Considering this, the stratigraphic range of the Ecca Group does not coincide with the period Moschops lived in!

The Beaufort Group, on the other hand, dates from the Guadalupian epoch of the Permian to the Early Triassic, roughly 268-247 million years ago.

Based on this information and a study confirming it, Moschops belonged to the Beaufort Group rather than the Ecca Group.

The Ecca Group was predominantly marine, resulting from Gondwana drifting away from the South Pole and glaciers melting.

fossil tree
Fossil tree from the Permian Ecca Group of the Karoo Sequence at the petrified forest, east of Doro !Nawas, Namibia | Hans Hillewaert via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It featured large swampy deltas, dense vegetation, and a vast range of mountains.

The Beaufort Group, on the other hand, was predominantly terrestrial, although it still had fluvial or alluvial regions.

It served as home for numerous reptilians and amphibians and is known for being extremely rich in therapsid synapsid fossils.

Studies show that members of Tapinocephalidae might have lived in both dry and swamp environments, being semi-aquatic.

However, some scientists suggest that Moschops, in particular, were terrestrial, preferring dry uplands.

Behavior and Diet

Moschops was a therapsid herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the Permian Period of South Africa | CoreyFord via Getty Images

Moschops creatures were quadrupedal, moving in a mammal-like way.

The fact that they had heavy, strong skulls suggests they might have engaged in intraspecific head-butting behavior.

This was probably done either for mating or for territorial reasons.

The head-butting theory is supported by a study that revealed certain central nervous system anatomical characteristics that could be associated with combative behavior.

As such, since head-butting behavior is typically linked with complex social behaviors, we cannot rule out the possibility that this was the case for Moschops

Moschops had physiological characteristics, like teeth form, body shape, and skull shape, indicating that they were herbivorous animals that preferred tough vegetation like cycad stems.

Close-up of lush cycads planted in the garden | Qin Ningzhen via Getty Images

Since this diet isn’t rich in nutrients, Moschops likely spent much time feeding to ensure the body had the required nutrients.

As stated above, scientists aren’t completely sure about this creature’s lifestyle. 

Although many members of the same family are considered aquatic or at least semi-aquatic, some specialists argue that Moschops was fully terrestrial.

Others propose it was semi-aquatic because its body wasn’t only adapted for a terrestrial lifestyle.

However, if these mammal-like creatures engaged in head-butting behavior, they were likely well-suited for being exclusively terrestrial.

Life Cycle

Moschops capensis | WillemSvdMerwe via Deviant Art

Many studies now focus on establishing the connection between therapsids and modern mammals and outlining their similarities with them.

One study argues that therapsids can be compared to mammals by establishing whether they were viviparous (meaning they gave birth to live animals instead of dinosaurs and birds, which are oviparous and lay eggs) and how they cared for their young.

To be able to confirm these details, scientists would need evidence that these creatures had mammary glands, anal and urogenital openings, as well as facial musculature that would serve as aids for suckling.

Skull of Thrinaxodon (cynodont) | Photo via Internet Archive Book Images

The teeth of some cynodonts (therapsids known to resemble early mammals) showed that they might have been used for suckling.

However, they may also indicate that the young just had a different diet than the adults.

Unfortunately, nothing of this kind has been confirmed for Moschops, and very little else is known about its life cycle, reproductive behavior, and how it cared for its young.

It is believed, however, that Moschops might have engaged in head-butting behavior for mating purposes.

Evolution and History

Moschops capensis skeleton | Robert Broom via American Museum National History

To discuss the evolution and history of Moschops, we should start with some elementary details about the evolution of the Synapsida clade.

The oldest-known synapsids are Asaphestera, Archaeothyris, and Clepsydrops.

These animals lived roughly 318-300 million years ago, spreading and changing over the years and eventually becoming the largest terrestrial animals of their period.

The therapsids (Moschops is a therapsid) also evolved from sphenacodonts, which comprised a stem-based clade of synapsids.

Therapsids appeared during the Permian period and were either herbivorous or carnivorous.

Some were as small as rats, while others were as large and heavy as some dinosaurs.

Moschops was a primeval herbivorous dinosaur that lived in South Africa in the Permian Period | CoreyFord via Getty Images

During the Middle Permian, therapsids were the dominant land animals.

The Therapsida clade comprises other groups, including dinocephalians, anomodonts, biarmosuchians, and theriodonts.

The therapsid lineage suffered various changes, eventually leading to cynodont evolution, gradually becoming more and more similar in appearance to early mammals. 

The Moschops is part of the dinocephalian suborder, but the ancestry of dinocephalians isn’t clear yet.

It is believed that they evolved during the Roadian or the Kungurian.

They likely spread after pelycosaurs (primitive Late Paleozoic synapsids) had died or might have even contributed to their extinction because of competition.

A close-up of a reconstructed Moschops capensis skull, from the American Museum of Natural History | Ghedoghedo via Wikipedia

The first fossils belonging to Moschops specimens were discovered in the early 1900s in South Africa.

The recovered fossils were sent to New York City, to the American Museum of Natural History, and described a year later.

Fossil records show there might have been two Moschops species: Moschops capensis and Moschops koupensis.

Some scientists coined two other species, Moschops whaitsi, and Moschops oweni, but they haven’t been fully recognized.

Furthermore, some genera like Agnosaurus, Moschoides, and Pnigalion are often considered synonyms of Moschops.

Interactions with Other Species

An artist’s conception of Moschops capensis, based on the reconstruction of a skeleton found in a semi-desert region of South Africa. The skeleton is displayed at the American Museum of Natural History | Dmitry Bogdanov via Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

Moschops were probably preyed upon by titanosuchids (carnivorous or omnivorous dinocephalians) and theracephalians (eutheriodont therapsids).

South Africa’s Karoo Supergroup is known to be extremely rich in fossil fauna.

The Beaufort Group is, in fact, renowned for its therapsid fossil collection, and, as such, Moschops may have shared their habitat with creatures like:

  • Struthiocephalus
  • Tapinocephalus
  • Styracocephalus
  • Jonkeria
  • Anteosaurus
  • Parareptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Mollusks

As we’ve already stated, Moschops individuals likely engaged in intra-specific head-butting behavior.

Apart from these details and the fact that they were preyed upon by some animals mentioned above, very little is known about their interactions with other species.

Cultural Significance

Moschops was a primeval herbivorous dinosaur that lived in South Africa in the Permian Period. | CoreyFord via Getty Images

If we analyze the cladogram of the Synapsida clade, we observe that the most recent member of this clade is Mammalia, which includes modern mammals.

As such, we can state that any member of the Synapsida clade carries essential information about the evolution and history of modern mammals.

Obviously, Moschops is no exception!

Although cynodonts were the most significant contributors to the rise of mammals roughly 225 million years ago, dinocephalians are of major significance as well.

This is why Moschops and other creatures are now the subjects of research papers that aim to shed light on more aspects of their lifestyle and evolution.

However, relative to other prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs or even other therapsids, Moschops is poorly known and studied.

Hopefully, scientists will soon announce breakthrough discoveries that will outline a more contoured place this genus has in our world’s evolutionary history.

Photo via ARK: Survival Evolved Fandom

Despite not being such a popular prehistoric creature, the Moschops is still a famous creature in the ARK: Survival Evolved video game.

So, if you’re a player, you’re probably already acquainted with it.

A British stop-motion animated children’s TV series is called Moschops.

This TV series portrays prehistoric animals like Moschops, Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, and Ichthyosaurus.

The title character is a Moschops creature, and it is friends with Ally, an Allosaurus theropod.


Moschops therapsids were abundant in South Africa from 265-260 million years ago.

They are renowned for their mammal-like build and posture, as well as for their thick skulls and small brains.

Despite having small brains, these creatures might have engaged in head-butting behavior, which implies that they were capable of complex social behavior.

In short, they weren’t stupid at all and were just as adapted to survive as other prehistoric animals!

Since they are part of the Synapsida clade, which includes modern mammals, the fossilized specimens of Moschops aroused the interest of scientists worldwide, as they may have carried significant information about the evolution of mammals. 


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