Temporal range: 70–35Ma Maastrichtian - Eocene
de Stefano, 1903
Dyrosauridae is a family of extinct neosuchian crocodyliforms that lived from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) to the Eocene. Fossils of this group have been found in almost every continent, specifically Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.
Dyrosaurids were one of the few groups of marine reptiles to survive the End Cretaceous mass extinction. Several distinct genera have been documented, varying in overal size and cranial shape. Genera such as Dyrosaurus possessed long, slender jaws with numerous teeth (indicative of a primarily fish diet much like the extant gharial). It was a large animal, growing up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length. Even bigger, possibly up to 9 meters (30 feet), was Phosphatosaurus. More robust in its morphology, its jaws were relatively shorter, wider and much stronger, with large, partly rounded teeth. This jaw morphology would have been unsuitable for grasping slippery prey; instead a diet involving catching and crushing larger marine animals (such as sea turtles) is more likely.
Dyrosaurids were once considered an African group, but more recent discoveries indicate they inhabited the majority of the continents. In fact, basal forms suggest that their cradle may have been North America.
Cladogram after Jouve et al. (2005) showing phylogenetic relationships of Dyrosauridae and other closely related neosuchians:
Composite cladogram for Dyrosauridae (from Jouve et al. 2008 and Barbosa et al. 2008):
Dyrosauridae incertae sedis: Tilemsisuchus
Cladogram after Hastings et al. (2011) showing geographic occurrences of taxa:
|Valid.||A long-snouted South American dyrosaurid.|
|Valid.||A recently discovered dyrosaurid from Morocco. Its skull was a full meter in length and it appears to have been a marine predator.|
|Valid.||A Moroccan dyrosaurid with extremely elongate jaws.|
|Valid.||A small, short-snouted Colombian dyrosaurid.|
|Junior synonym.||— junior synonym of Hyposaurus|
Most dyrosaurids were marine crocodiles. Dyrosaurids found from what is now northern and western Africa are thought to have inhabited the Trans-Saharan Sea, an epicontenental seaway that covered low-lying basins that formed during the late Mesozoic breakup of Africa and South America through crustal attenuation and fault reactivation, during a time of great global sea level elevation.
Dyrosaurids have also been found from nonmarine sediments. In northern Sudan, dyrosaurids are known from fluvial deposits, indicating that they lived in a river setting. Bones from indeterminate dyrosaurids have been found in inland deposits in Pakistan as well. Some dyrosaurids, such as those from the Umm Himar Formation in Saudi Arabia, inhabited estuarine environments near the coast. The recently named dyrosaurids Cerrejonisuchus and Acherontisuchus have been recovered from the Cerrejón Formation in northwestern Colombia, which is thought to represent a transitional marine-freshwater environment surrounded by rainforest more inland than the estuarine environment of the Umm Himar Formation. Cerrejonisuchus and Acherontisuchus lived in a neotropical setting during a time when global temperatures were much warmer than they are today.
In 1978, it was proposed that dyrosaurids lived as adults in the ocean but reproduced in inland freshwater environments. Remains belonging to small-bodied dyrosaurids from Pakistan were interpreted as juveniles. Their presence in inland deposits was viewed as evidence that dyrosaurids hatched far from the ocean. Recently however, the large-bodied and fully mature dyrosaurids of the Cerrejón Formation have shown that some dyrosaurids lived their entire lives in inland environments, never returning to the coast.