|Name Meaning||“The flesh crocodile”||Height||N/A|
|Pronunciation||Sar-koh-soo-kuss||Length||9 to 9.5 meters (29.5 to 31.2 feet)|
|Era||Mesozoic – Early Cretaceous||Weight||3.45 to 4.3 metric tons (3.80 to 4.74 short tons)|
|Classification||Reptilia, Pseudosuchia & Crocodylomorpha||Location||Africa, South America|
The term Sarcosuchus comes from the Greek words sarx and souchus, which translate as flesh and crocodile, respectively, which is where this reptile’s common name comes from.
The flesh crocodile was a common creature of the Early Cretaceous, having lived in today’s Africa and South America approximately 133-112 million years ago.
The genus consists of two species, Sarcosuchus imperator and Sarcosuchus hartti, the latter being known only from a few fossils found in Brazil.
It is now renowned for being one of the largest crocodile-like reptiles that have ever existed, which is why its appearance, behavior, and evolution are of great interest to specialists and dinosaur enthusiasts.
Fully mature Sarcosuchus specimens likely reached 9-9.5 meters (29.5-31.2 feet) in length.
Specialists estimate they weighed around 3.45-4.3 metric tons (3.80-4.74 short tons).
As you can see, although they weren’t exceptionally long like some dinosaurs, they were quite heavy!
Other studies indicate an even larger size, suggesting that this creature reached 11-12 meters (36-39.4 feet) long and grew to weigh eight metric tons (8.8 short tons).
However, the same scientists suggest that this size could be acquired once individuals reach 50-60 years old.
For comparison purposes, we checked the size of other members of the Pholidosauridae family, which the Sarcosuchus is also part of.
We discovered that the length varies greatly between genera.
The Terminonaris, for example, reached only 6 meters (19.7 feet) in length.
The Chalawan, on the other hand, reached exceptional lengths of over 10 meters (33 feet) and had a skull length of 1.1 m (3.6 feet).
As such, while the Sarcosuchus is the family’s best-known member, it might not be the largest if we guide ourselves by the first theory saying it reached only 9 meters (29.5 feet) in length.
This prehistoric creature probably looked like a typical modern crocodile.
It had a long snout, representing approximately 75% of the total skull length.
Both jaws were equipped with teeth arranged on both sides.
There were 35 teeth on each upper jaw side and 31 on each lower jaw side, which indicates that the upper jaw was considerably larger and longer than the lower jaw.
One distinctive characteristic of the Sarcosuchus is the snout expansion, which scientists call bulla.
It is compared to the bulla found in gharials, otherwise known as fish-eating crocodiles, although this bulla is present only in male gharials.
In contrast, both male and female Sarcosuchus had this extension, indicating no sexual dimorphism.
Sarcosuchus possessed osteoderms, otherwise known as dermal scutes.
They extended from the neck’s posterior part to the tail’s middle.
These osteoderms resemble the ones seen in Goniopholis and Sunosuchus.
These osteoderms had different shapes depending on their location on the body.
Habitat and Distribution
The first fossils belonging to the genus were discovered in the Continental Intercalaire Formation of the Kem Kem Group in Morocco.
Some fossils were also recovered from Algeria, Tunisia, and Niger.
The discovery and study of the fossils found in Niger served as a base for identifying a new form of long-snouted crocodile.
They had been deposited in Niger’s Elrhaz Formation.
In 1977, paleontologists recovered other fossils that supposedly belonged to this genus but designated another species, Sarcosuchus hartti.
They were found in Brazil’s Illhas Group.
Since the fossils were found in different parts of the world, we focused on the region where the holotype specimen came from – the Elrhaz Formation, which dates approximately 112 million years ago.
This territory was probably an inland fluvial environment consisting of freshwater bodies.
Some sources list it as having had a humid tropical climate, while others indicate it was very hot and dry in the area.
Nevertheless, it is known that the territory was beneficial for tree and plant growth.
As for the Ilhas Formation in Brazil, where the second species was discovered, it is believed to have been a shallow lacustrine environment that featured an aquatic fauna similar to that of the Elrhaz Formation.
Behavior and Diet
Members of the Pholidosauridae family were all aquatic, although the type of environment they inhabited depended on the genus.
While some were marine creatures that could live in saltwater habitats, the Sarcosuchus was a freshwater reptile.
The Sarcosuchus was also different from others due to its diet.
While most of its relatives were specialized piscivores, Sarcosuchus was a generalist predator.
Specialists suggest that it had a diet similar to large extant species like Crocodylus niloticus, which preys almost exclusively on terrestrial mammals.
As such, the Sarcosuchus likely preyed on terrestrial dinosaurs that shared its habitat.
On the other hand, as with many aspects concerning prehistoric wildlife, this isn’t fully supported by all scientists.
Scientific analysis suggests the Sarcosuchus couldn’t engage in crocodilians’ well-known “death roll” maneuver characteristics.
It is a spinning maneuver that implies a rapid rotation about the longitudinal axis of the body used to subdue and dismember prey.
In easier terms, these crocodiles rolled over until their prey was subdued and dismembered.
Similar creatures like the Purussaurus or the Deinosuchus could execute these death rolls, while the Sarcosuchus skulls likely couldn’t withstand the torsional stresses death rolls imply.
This study indicates that the Sarcosuchus likely relied on other hunting and dismembering techniques.
However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that it indeed preyed on large animals.
Reptiles reproduce sexually, and since the Sarcosuchus was a reptile, this information is also valid for this genus.
The reproductive activity happens through the so-called cloaca, located at the base of the tail.
Modern male crocodilians have a single median penis, usually retracted and stored within the body.
We may suppose this is true for the Sarcosuchus as well.
We can also outline a possible reproductive system of the Sarcosuchus based on what is known about the reproduction of members of the Crocodylomorpha.
These creatures are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs with no embryonic development within the mother.
They likely laid eggs in nests or mounds.
Crocodylomorphs like the Knoetschkesuchus laid smaller eggs, measuring 55 centimeters (21.6 inches) long, while the Sarcosuchus is known to have laid much larger eggs.
The eggs were amniotic, covered in leathery or calcareous shells.
Studies show these creatures require 50-60 years to reach their maximum size.
However, because extant wild crocodiles do not typically live such a long life, it has been suggested that this was also valid for prehistoric forms.
As such, Paul Sereno’s study suggests that the Sarcosuchus relied on extending the duration of rapid growth, thus reaching its maximum size faster.
This has been observed in Deinosuchus as well.
Another interesting thing we’d like to highlight about Sarcosuchus reproduction is based on what is known about extant crocodilians.
More precisely, many rely on temperature-dependent sex determination, which implies that the incubation temperature may influence the sex of the hatched egg.
However, whether the Sarcosuchus indeed used this method is unknown.
Evolution and History
The earliest forms of basal crocodylomorphs are the members of the Sphenosuchia order, which evolved during the Late Triassic.
They were slender terrestrial creatures.
During the Jurassic, members of the Metriorhynchidae family of crocodyliforms developed paddle-like forelimbs and tails similar to modern fish.
Some even developed a skull specialized in feeding on large aquatic reptiles.
Although these are only distant relatives of the Sarcosuchus, they can help us outline a possible evolution of these creatures.
The genus we’re discussing today was discovered between 1946 and 1959, but only around 1997 could scientists describe its anatomy.
This happened after Paul Sereno’s expedition, which resulted in six newly discovered specimens.
However, fossil discoveries related to Sarcosuchus started way before 1964.
More precisely, in 1867, Charles Hartt, an American naturalist, recovered two teeth that were later attributed to the species Crocodylus hartti.
Forty years later, they were moved to the Goniopholis genus of goniopholidid crocodyliform with semi-aquatic ambush predatory behavior.
In the end, scientists concluded it belonged to Sarcosuchus and thus named the second species of the genus, Sarcosuchus hartti.
Physiological characteristics indicate that this creature is closely related to the Terminonaris, which was smaller and lived in North America roughly 96-91 million years ago.
Interactions with Other Species
Since most fossils belonging to the genus were recovered from the Elrhaz Formation, we focused our research on this area.
Here are the prehistoric animals that inhabited this region and shared their habitat with the Sarcosuchus:
- Various fishes like the members of the Pycnodontidae and the Neoceratodus (lungfish)
- Crocodylomorphs like Anatosuchus, Araripesuchus, and Stolokrosuchus
- Ornithischians like Elrhazosaurus, Lurdusaurus, and Ouranosaurus
- Saurischians like Afromimus, Eocarcharia, Kryptops, Suchomimus, and Nigersaurus
As you’ve already noticed, the area was abundant with dinosaurs.
Some were herbivorous, so they probably never crossed paths with Eocarcharia; that is, if the Sarcosuchus didn’t prey on them.
Others, however, were carnivorous, so they might have threatened the Sarcosuchus.
Some dinosaurs, like the Suchomimus, might have been piscivorous or even carcass scavengers.
As such, while it is widely accepted that the Sarchosuchus was a predator and thus probably hunted dinosaurs (probably rather herbivorous than carnivorous), we cannot rule out the possibility that confrontations with carnivorous dinosaurs occurred.
Nevertheless, given this crocodylomorph’s size and armored body, there were few chances for it to be subdued.
Since it is a distant relative of modern crocodilians and one of the largest prehistoric crocodile-like reptiles, Sarcosuchus is now a genus of great interest to scientists.
Although not as popular as other prehistoric creatures in movies and video games, the Sarcosuchus has made notable appearances in the Lost World and New Giants episodes of Planet Dinosaur.
It has also been portrayed in The Most Extreme show, informing viewers that it was much bigger than the Nile crocodile.
If you’re reading this article, you probably know that this creature is often called SuperCroc, as that’s the name it was given in a National Geographic documentary.
The Sarcosuchus also appears in Jurassic World: The Game, but it’s portrayed as a legendary amphibian, not a crocodylomorph.
The Sarcosuchus, one of the largest crocodile-like creatures, was alive roughly 133-112 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous.
It was an aquatic reptile that lived in the territories that now belong to South America and Africa.
It was a large crocodylomorph, reaching over 9 meters (29.5 feet) in length, and had a generalized diet that consisted of large vertebrates, including dinosaurs and fish.
It had a long snout, and the upper jaw was considerably longer than the lower jaw.
Is Deinosuchus bigger than the Sarcosuchus?
The Deinosuchus was probably slightly bigger than the Sarcosuchus.
While the flesh crocodile measured roughly 9 meters long (29.5 feet), the Deinosuchus reached approximately 10-12 meters long (33-39.4 feet).
Is Sarcosuchus stronger than the T-Rex?
Both the Sarcosuchus and the T-Rex were large and powerful creatures.
The Sarcosuchus had an armored body that protected it from predators, while the T-Rex had well-developed hunting techniques and a very strong bite force.
It would be impossible to tell which was stronger.
If they had ever confronted each other, the resolution of this confrontation would greatly depend on the circumstances.