Sarcosuchus

World’s top 6 biggest prehistoric crocodiles ever lived

Previously, I published a post about the largest crocodiles ever recorded. All sizes in that post were recorded in the recent times. The crocs listed were large, yes, but not as big as most people think. But in the prehistoric ages, some animals were much bigger than today’s counterparts – including crocodiles. So, what was the World’s biggest crocodile ever lived? Here are the top six candidates.

Before reading the post, keep in mind that the list given below can change at anytime with any newly found fossil. Due to the absence of a complete enough skeleton in most cases, the numbers given are estimates. A common method to estimate the size of crocodiles and crocodile-like reptiles is the use of the length of the skull measured in the midline from the tip of the snout to the back of the skull table, since in living crocodilians there is a strong correlation between skull length and total body length in subadult and adult individuals irrespective of their sex.

6. Euthecodon brumpti and Gryposuchus croizati (~10 meters / ~33 feet)

Euthecodon brumpti was a large slender snouted fish eating crocodile, that was common in the lakes and rivers of Lake Turkana (Kenya) between 1 and 8 million years ago, during the Neogene. A particularly large specimen of this crocodile found at Lothagam on the west side of Lake Turkana dated to some 4 million years, was estimated to (as explained above) have been almost 10 meters (~33 ft) in length.

Gryposuchus is an extinct genus of gavialoid crocodilian. It was also a slender snouted crocodile like Euthecodon. Fossils have been found from Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and the Peruvian Amazon. The genus existed during the early and middle Miocene epoch. One recently described species, G. croizati, grew to an estimated length of 10 meters (33 ft).

Gryposuchus
A rough estimate of Gryposuchus compared with a 1.8 meter tall person. Photo: prehistoric-wildlife.com

5. Deinosuchus (10.6 meters / 35 feet)

Deinosuchus hatcheri skeleton
A reconstructed Deinosuchus hatcheri skeleton at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Photo: wikipedia

Deinosuchus is an extinct genus related to the alligator that lived 80 to 73 million years ago (Ma), during the late Cretaceous period. The name translates as “terrible crocodile” and is derived from the Greek deinos, “terrible”, and soukhos, “crocodile”. The first remains were discovered in North Carolina (United States) in the 1850s; the genus was named and described in 1909.

Deinosuchus was far larger than any modern crocodile or alligator, with the largest adults measuring 10.6 m (35 ft) in total length, its overall appearance was fairly similar to its smaller relatives (today’s alligators).

Deinosuchus was an apex predator and probably capable of killing and eating large dinosaurs. It may have also fed upon sea turtles, fish, and other aquatic and terrestrial prey.

Deinosuchus attacks
Deinosuchus was an apex predator and probably capable of killing and eating large dinosaurs. You can buy this poster on ebay.

4. Rhamphosuchus (up to 11 meters / 36 feet)

Rhamphosuchus
Rhamphosuchus

Rhamphosuchus was the number one, but not any more: for many years scientists believed that it was one of the largest, if not the largest crocodylian that ever lived, reaching an estimated length of 15 to 18 m (49 to 59 ft) and 20 tons in weight. However, a more recent study suggests that the animal may have been 8–11 m in length, and therefore is not the largest known crocodylian.

Rhamphosuchus inhabited what is now the Indian sub-continent in the Miocene. It is only known from incomplete sets of fossils, mostly teeth and skulls.

Rhamphosuchus size
Modern upper estimate of Rhamphosuchus compared with a 1.8 meter tall person. Photo: prehistoric-wildlife.com

3. Mourasuchus (up to 12 meters / 39 feet 4 in)

Mourasuchus is an extinct genus of giant crocodilian from the Miocene of South America. With an estimated length of up to twelve meters long,‭ ‬Mourasuchus was one of the biggest crocodiles of all time.‭ ‬However, despite this gigantic size, Mourasuchus had a relatively weak jaw and skull construction combined with quite small teeth for its size: the skull has been described as duck like, being broad, flat and very elongate.‭ ‬These two things do not portray an apex predator that wrestled large prey into the water. It presumably obtained its food by filter feeding; the jaws were too gracile for the animal to have captured larger prey. It also probed the bottoms of lakes and rivers for food. Fossils have been found in the Fitzcarrald Arch of Peru, where it coexisted with many other crocodilians, including the giant gharial, Gryposuchus, and the alligatorid Purussaurus. The great diversity of crocodylomorphs in this Miocene-age (Tortonian stage, 8 million years ago).

Mourasuchus size comparison
Upper estimate of Mourasuchus compared with a 1.8 meter tall person. Photo: prehistoric-wildlife.com

Winner?

Number two and one are controversial. So I didn’t give numbers at the top two monsters. Sarcosuchus, Purussaurus, Deinosuchus, and Rhamphosuchus had similar body sizes. Sarcosuchus and Deinosuchus had similar proportions, but both were geologically much older, dating from the Early and Late Cretaceous, respectively. Rhamphosuchus lived around the same time as Purussaurus, but was slightly smaller, had a more gharial-like snout and lived in India.

1 or 2? Purussaurus brasilensis (estimated between‭ ‬11‭ ‬and‭ ‬12.5 ‬meters / ~36 – 41 ft)

Purussaurus
A Purussaurus reconstruction at Lima, Peru. Photo: lapaleontologiaencolombia.blogspot.com

Purussaurus was actually a caiman(1). It has lived in South America during the Miocene epoch, 8 million years ago. It is known from skull material found in the Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian Amazonia, and northern Venezuela.

Purussaurus is one of the largest known crocodyliformes ever to have existed. ‬Body length estimated between‭ ‬11‭ ‬and‭ ‬12.5 ‬meters (~36 – 41 feet). The estimated skull length for one large individual of the type species P. brasiliensis is 1,400 millimetres (55 in). Paleontologists estimate that P. brasiliensis reached around 12.5 metres (41 ft) in length, weighing around 8.4 metric tons, with a mean daily food intake of 40.6 kg. Bite force has been estimated to be around 69,000 N (around 7 metric tons-force). This is really a massive force, because today’s “winners” -saltwater crocodiles- slammed their jaws shut with “only” 16,460 N of bite force.

The large size and estimated strength of this animal appears to have allowed it to include a wide range of prey in its diet, making it an apex predator in its ecosystem. As an adult, it would have preyed upon large to very large vertebrates with no real competition from sympatric, smaller, carnivores.

Purussaurus size
Lower estimated size of Purussaurus compared with a 1.8 meter tall person. Photo: prehistoric-wildlife.com

1 or 2? Sarcosuchus imperator (estimated between‭ ‬11‭ ‬and‭ ‬12 ‬meters / ~36 – 40 ft)

Sarcosuchus
Sarcosuchus was one of the largest crocodiles ever lived in history (about 12 meters long, or 40 ft). Photo: photos-albums.com

Most sources on the web claim that the Sarcosuchus imperator was the biggest crocodile ever lived, but as I said above, in fact it is still controversial.

Sarcosuchus, popularly known as “supercroc” is an extinct genus of crocodyliform and distant relative of the crocodile that lived 112 million years ago. It dates from the early Cretaceous Period of what is now Africa and South America and is one of the largest crocodile-like reptiles that ever lived. It was almost twice as long as the modern saltwater crocodile and weighed up to 8 tonnes. Like most crocodiles, it had a huge biteforce, possibly up to 9 tons, more than 88,000 N, far exceeding any modern-day crocodile (16,460 N), and is one of the most powerful bite forces on Earth (but it still isn’t a match for T-rex).

Fish are easy prey for small crocodiles but as they grew larger they would need more sustenance to survive and so they may have begun to incorporate dinosaurs into their diets as well.‭ ‬As seen in crocodiles today,‭ ‬Sarcosuchus may have also left the water to scavenge the kills of the larger dinosaurs as well.

Although it’s unlikely that Sarcosuchus deliberately hunted dinosaurs for lunch, there’s no reason it had to tolerate other predators that competed with it for limited resources. A full-grown SuperCroc would have been more than capable of breaking the neck of a large theropod, such as, say, the contemporary, fish-eating Spinosaurus, the biggest meat-eating dinosaur that ever lived.

Sarcosuchus size
Lower estimated size of Sarcosuchus imperator compared with a 1.8 meter tall person. Photo: prehistoric-wildlife.com
Sarcosuchus skeleton
Sarcosuchus imperator skeleton at Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. Photo: wikipedia
Sarcosuchus skull comparison
Sarcosuchus skull vs human vs modern crocodile.
Sarcosuchus, an artist's concept
Sarcosuchus, an artist’s concept

Notes

  1. A Caiman is an alligatorid crocodilian belonging to the subfamily Caimaninae, one of two primary lineages within Alligatoridae, the other being alligators. Caimans inhabit Central and South America. They are relatively small crocodilians.

Sources

11 thoughts on “World’s top 6 biggest prehistoric crocodiles ever lived”

  1. this article was very helpful. Thank you for writing and posting it! it helped settle a dispute among 3rd grade students in Osceola Mills, PA.

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