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Temporal range: 240–210 Ma
Early to Late Triassic
Skeleton Nothosauria naturkundemuseum Berlin.jpg
Nothosaurus skeleton restoration in Berlin
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Superorder: Sauropterygia
Order: Nothosauroidea
Family: Nothosauridae
Subfamily: Nothosaurinae
Nopcsa, 1923
Genus: Nothosaurus
Münster, 1834
  • N. cymatosauroides Sanz, 1983
  • N. edingerae Schultze, 1970
  • N. giganteus Münster, 1834
  • N. haasi Rieppel et al., 1997
  • N. jagisteus Rieppel, 2001
  • N. juvenilis Edinger, 1921
  • N. marchicus Koken, 1893
  • N. mirabilis Münster, 1834 (type)
  • N. rostellatus Shang, 2006
  • N. tchernovi Haas, 1980
  • N. winterswijkensis Albers and Rieppel, 2003
  • N. yangjuanensis Jiang et al., 2006
  • N. youngi Li and Rieppel, 2004
  • N. procerus Münster, 1834
  • Conchiosaurus Meyer, 1834
  • Dracosaurus Agassiz, 1846
  • Elmosaurus Huene, 1957
  • Kolposaurus Skuphos, 1893
  • Menodon Meyer, 1838
  • Oligolycus Fristch, 1894
  • Opeosaurus Meyer, 1847
  • Paranothosaurus Peyer, 1939
  • Shingyisaurus Young, 1965

Nothosaurus (meaning false reptile) is an extinct genus of sauropterygian reptile from the Triassic period, approximately 240-210 million years ago, with fossils being distributed from North Africa and Europe to China. It is the best known member of the nothosaur order.

A complete skeleton of the species Nothosaurus raabi can be seen in the Natural History Museum in Berlin.


N. mirabilis

Nothosaurus was a semi-oceanic animal which probably had a lifestyle similar to that of today's seals. It was about 4 metres (13 ft), with long, webbed toes and possibly a fin on its tail.[1] When swimming, Nothosaurus would use its tail, legs, and webbed feet to propel and steer it through the water. The skull was broad and flat, with long jaws, lined with needle teeth, it probably caught fish and other marine creatures. Nothosaurus hunted by sneaking up slowly on prey, such as shoals of small fish, then putting on a last-minute burst of speed[citation needed]. Trackways attributed, partly by process of elimination, to a nothosaur, that were reported from Yunnan, China in June 2014, were interpreted as the paddle impressions left as the animals dug into soft seabed with rowing motions of their paddles, churning up hidden benthic creatures that they snapped up.[2] Once caught, few animals would be able to shake themselves free from the mouth of Nothosaurus.

In many respects its body structure resembled that of the much later plesiosaurs, but it was not as well adapted to an aquatic environment. It is thought that one branch of the nothosaurs may have evolved into plesiosaurs such as Liopleurodon, a short-necked plesiosaur that grew up to 6.4 metres (21 ft), and the long-necked Cryptoclidus, a fish eater with a neck as long as 9 metres (30 ft).


Nothosaurus raabi fossil at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

There are over a dozen known species of Nothosaurus. The type species is N. mirabilis, named in 1834 from the Germanic Muschelkalk. Other species include N. giganteus (previously known as Paranothosaurus) from Osnabrück, Germany;[3] N. juvenilis, also from Germany;[4] N. edingerae from the Upper Muschelkalk and Lower Keuper;[5] N. haasi and N. tchernovi from Makhtesh Ramon, Israel;[6][7] N. cymatosauroides from the Spanish Muschelkalk;[8] N. jagisteus from the Upper Muschelkalk of Hohenlohe, Germany;[9] and N. youngi, N. yangjuanensis, and N. rostellatus from Guizhou, China.[10][11][12] Several species have been described from the Lower Muschelkalk in Winterswijk, the Netherlands, including N. marchicus,[13] N. winterswijkensis,[13] and the recently named N. winkelhorsti.[14]

Cladogram of species of Nothosaurus

N. edingerae

N. giganteus

N. mirabilis

N. haasi

N. tchemovi

N. jagisteus

N. marchicus

N. winterswijkensis

N. youngi

N. yangiuanensis

N. juvenilis

N. winkelhorsti

Klein and Albers, 2009[14]

Several other species have been named but are know generally considered invalid. One such species, N. procerus, is now considered a junior subjective synonym of N. marchicus.[15][16] Other species now considered invalid include N. crassus, N. oldenburgi, N. raabi, N. schroderi, and N. venustus.

In popular culture[edit]

In the Rite of Spring segment of Disney's Fantasia, Nothosaurus is briefly depicted; feeding its young and as the anachronistic prey of Dimetrodon.

Nothosaurus was featured in the 2003 BBC series Sea Monsters, a spin-off of the successful Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). Two of them were featured as minor characters that Nigel Marven kept at bay with an electric tazer, before realizing that they meant no harm. He then clamped down on their jaws with his hands like people do with crocodilians to see how they would react. They then swam away.


  • Parker, Steve. Dinosaurus: the complete guide to dinosaurs. Firefly Books Inc, 2003. Pg. 384
  1. ^ Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 72. ISBN 1-84028-152-9. 
  2. ^ (LiveScience) Tia Ghose, "Ancient long-necked 'sea monsters' rowed their way to prey", reporting the scientific article published in Nature Communications 11 June 2014: accessed 28 November 2014.
  3. ^ Diedrich, C. (2009). "The vertebrates of the Anisian/Ladinian boundary (Middle Triassic) from Bissendorf (NW Germany) and their contribution to the anatomy, palaeoecology, and palaeobiogeography of the Germanic Basin reptiles". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 273 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.10.026. 
  4. ^ Rieppel, O. (1994). "The status of the sauropterygian reptile Nothosaurus juvenilis from the Middle Triassic of Germany". Palaeontology 37: 733–745. 
  5. ^ Rieppel, O.; Wild, R. (1994). "Nothosaurus edingerae Schultze, 1970: diagnosis of the species and comments on its stratigraphical occurrence". Stuttgarter Beiträge für Naturkunde, Serie B. 
  6. ^ Rieppel, O.; Mazin, J.-M.; Tchernov, E. (1997). "Speciation along rifting continental margins: a new Nothosaur from the Negev (Israël)". Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences Series IIA 325 (12): 991–997. doi:10.1016/s1251-8050(97)82380-4. 
  7. ^ Rieppel, O.; Mazin, J.-M.; Tchernov, E. (1999). "Sauropterygia from the Middle Triassic of Makhtesh Ramon, Negev, Israel". Fieldiana 1 (40). 
  8. ^ Rieppel, O.; Hagdorn, H. (1998). "Fossil reptiles from the Spanish Muschelkalk (mont-ral and alcover, province Tarragona)". Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology 13 (1): 77–97. doi:10.1080/08912969809386575. 
  9. ^ Shang, Q.-H. (2007). "New information on the dentition and tooth replacement of Nothosaurus (Reptilia: Sauropterygia)". Palaeoworld 16: 254–263. doi:10.1016/j.palwor.2007.05.007. 
  10. ^ Li, J.; Rieppel, O. (2004). "A new nothosaur from Middle Triassic of Guizhou, China". Vertebrata PalAsiatica 42 (1): 1–12. 
  11. ^ Jiang, W.; Maisch, M. W.; Hao, W.; Sun, Y.; Sun, Z. (2006). "Nothosaurus yangjuanensis n. sp. (Reptilia, Sauropterygia, Nothosauridae) from the middle Anisian (Middle Triassic) of Guizhou, southwestern China". NeuesJahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte 5: 257–276. 
  12. ^ Shang, Q.-H. (2006). "A new species of Nothosaurus from the early Middle Triassic of Guizhou,China". Vertebrata PalAsiatica 44 (3): 237–249. 
  13. ^ a b Albers, P. C. H. (2005). "A new specimen of Nothosaurus marchicus with features that relate the taxon to Nothosaurus winterswijkensis". Vertebrate Palaeontology 3 (1): 1–7. 
  14. ^ a b Klein, N.; Albers, P. C. H. (2009). "A new species of the sauropsid reptile Nothosaurus from the Lower Muschelkalk of the western Germanic Basin, Winterswijk, The Netherlands". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54 (4): 589–598. doi:10.4202/app.2008.0083. 
  15. ^ Schroder, H. (1914). "Wirbeltiere der Riidersdorfer Trias". Abhandlungen der Preussischen Geologischen Landesanstalt, Neue Folge 65: 1–98. 
  16. ^ Rieppel, O.; Wild, R. (1996). "A revision of the genus Nothosaurus (Reptilia. Sauropterygia) from the Germanic Triassic with comments on the status of Conchiosaurus clavatus". Fieldiana 1 (34): 1–82. 

General references[edit]

  • Dixon, Dougal (2006). The Complete Book of Dinosaurs. Hermes House.
  • Haines, Tim, and Paul Chambers. The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life. Pg. 64. Canada: Firefly Books Ltd., 2006