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Temporal range: Triassic
~251.9–201.3 Ma
Saurichthys fossil
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Saurichthyiformes
Family: Saurichthyidae
Genus: Saurichthys
Agassiz, 1834
Type species
Saurichthys apicalis
Agassiz, 1834
  • Belonorhynchus Bronn 1858[1]
  • Brevisaurichthys Beltan 1972[2]
  • Giffonus Costa 1862[1]
  • Gymnosaurichthys Berg 1940
  • Ichthyorhynchus Bellotti 1857[1]
  • Stylorhynchus Martin 1873 non-Lesson1847 non-Stein 1848
  • Systolichthys Beltan 1972[2]
Saurichthys curionii fossil from the Middle Triassic of Monte San Giorgio, Switzerland
Early Triassic and Middle Triassic marine predators:[3] 3. Saurichthys

Saurichthys (from Greek: σαῦρος saûros, 'lizard' and Greek: ἰχθῦς ikhthûs 'fish') is an extinct genus of predatory ray-finned fish from the Triassic Period. It is the type genus of the family Saurichthyidae (Changhsingian-Middle Jurassic), and the most speciose and longest lasting genus in the family. This family also includes the Permian Eosaurichthys (China) and the Jurassic Saurorhynchus (= Acidorhynchus)[4] from Europe and North America, though it may be more appropriate to treat these as subgenera of Saurichthys, due to the genus Saurichthys otherwise being paraphyletic.[5]

Fossils of Saurichthys have been found on all continents except South America and Antarctica.[6][7][8] It inhabited both marine and freshwater environments.[8][9] The oldest fossils of Saurichthys were recovered from the Wordie Creek Formation in East Greenland and are Griesbachian (Induan, Early Triassic) in age.[10]

Over 50 species of Saurichthys have been described (see list below). The species differ in size and show variability in their skeletal features. The latter can potentially be ascribed to changes in major developmental genes.[11] The use of subgenera (Eosaurichthys, Costasaurichthys, Lepidosaurichthys, Saurorhynchus, Sinosaurichthys) in the literature reflects differences in morphology between species groups.[12] Several species that were described predominantly in the 19th century are based on fragmentary fossils (often isolated teeth). These are mostly considered invalid species by modern taxonomic standards.

Louis Agassiz, who described the type species of Saurichthys in 1834, named it the "lizard fish" because of skeletal features that he thought were intermediate to reptiles and fishes.

Their exact phylogenetic position is uncertain, though it is agreed that they are not members of Neopterygii. Historically, they have been seen as close relatives of the Acipenseriformes (which includes living sturgeon and paddlefish) as part of the Chondrostei, though this has been strongly questioned by modern studies, which suggests that it may lie outside the Actinopterygii crown group.[5]


Saurichthys model at the Museum of Man and Nature, Munich

Saurichthys was an elongate, streamlined fish, commonly about 0.6 metres (2.0 ft) to 1 metre (3.3 ft) long. Some species were only a few decimetres long (e.g. Saurichthys minimahleri), while others could grow up to about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in length (specimen from the Middle Triassic of Turkey).[13][8]

Species of Saurichthys had an elongate bodyform superficially similar to the modern garfish or needlefish. Its dorsal and anal fins were placed opposite each other well back on the body, and the tail was symmetrical (abbreviate diphycercal[14]). These features would have made it a powerful swimmer.[15] Its jaws were extremely long, making up a third of the total body length, and ended in a sharp, beak-like tip. Two to six longitudinal scale rows are developed, with small scales in between in some species.

The axial skeleton consists of ossified neural and haemal arches. Haemal arches may develop spines. The neural arches often show spines as well as other projections interpreted as prezygapophyses and postzygapophyses. Ossified centra are missing. The axial skeleton shows regionalization, meaning that there are differences in bone morphology between segments of the axial skeleton. Some species show dedifferentiation of the axial skeleton.[16]

Ecology and Evolution[edit]

Saurichthys seefeldensis attacking Preondactylus, based on an outdated interpretation of a gastric pellet now believed to contain remains of Langobardisaurus

Large species of Saurichthys were apex predators among Triassic ray-finned fish, together with the marine Birgeria (Birgeriidae).

Saurichthys is classically interpreted as an ambush predator, similar modern gars and needlefish. It is suggested that it first approached its prey and then suddenly accelerated towards it.[15] Some species may have lived as subsurface cruisers (Sinosaurichthys).[17]

Specimens showing half-swallowed conspecific individuals suggest that cannibalism was relatively common in Saurichthys.[18] Fossil evidence, in the form of a bolus (ball-shaped mass) of bones in the same strata, indicates that Saurichthys attacked marine reptiles such as the tanystropheid Langobardisaurus, or possibly scavenged their corpses.[citation needed]

A study on the gastrointestinal tract of Saurichthys found similarities with present-day sharks and rays, in particular the many windings in the spiral valve. The many windings increased the surface area for digestion, which is sure to have provided the fish with more energy. It indicates that Saurichthys had an energy-laden lifestyle.[19]

Early Triassic species of Saurichthys[18] differ from later species most prominently in their more elongate postorbital portion of the skull (part of the skull behind the eyes) and their generally denser scale cover. Middle Triassic and Late Triassic species, on the other hand, typically have a short postorbital portion of the skull and their scale cover is reduced. This reduction includes both the number of the longitudinal scale rows and the size of individual scales.[8] These evolutionary trends are, however, not an indication for anagenesis, but rather the result of parallel evolution in different lineages of Saurichthys. The aforementioned trends are observed only in marine species. Late Triassic freshwater species of Saurichthys (e.g., S. orientalis, S. sui) retain an elongate postorbital skull portion and a denser scale cover, suggesting that freshwater environments served as refugia for species with a more primitive appearance.[8][20]


Saurichthys curionii with embryos

Fossils of gravid females provide evidence for (ovo-)viviparity in Saurichthys[21] and the oldest known example for viviparity in ray-finned fishes.

Internal fertilisation is also evidenced by specialized pelvic fin rays (Saurichthys calcaratus) or ventral scales (gonopodium; Saurichthys curionii, Saurichthys macrocephalus) that are interpreted as copulatory organs of males.[22]


This list includes species of Saurichthys that are generally considered valid (based on Romano et al.[8] and references cited below). The validity of species that are based on fragmentary material (e.g., isolated scales or teeth) is questionable (see below).

Lower jaw of Saurichthys apicalis
Saurichthys costasquamosus fossil
Saurichthys macrocephalus fossil
Fossil of Saurichthys sp.
Fossil of Saurichthys sp.

Species based on fragmentary fossils[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stensiö, E. (1925). "Triassic Fishes from Spitzbergen, Part II". Kungliga Svenska Vetenskapsakademiens Handlingar. 3: 1–126.
  2. ^ a b Cartanyà, J. (1999). "An overview of the Middle Triassic actinopterygians from Alcover, Mont-ral and El Pinetell (Catalonia, Spain)". In G. Arratia; H. P. Schultze (eds.). Mesozoic Fishes 2—Systematics and Fossil Record. München: Friedrich Pfeil. pp. 535–551.
  3. ^ Scheyer, Torsten M.; Romano, Carlo; Jenks, Jim; Bucher, Hugo (2014). "Early Triassic Marine Biotic Recovery: The Predators' Perspective". PLOS ONE. 9 (3): e88987. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...988987S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088987. PMC 3960099. PMID 24647136.
  4. ^ Kogan, Ilja (2016). "Acidorhynchus Stensiö, 1925 or Saurorhynchus Reis, 1892: how to call the Jurassic saurichthyid?". Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen. 279 (1): 123–126. doi:10.1127/njgpa/2016/0545.
  5. ^ a b Argyriou, Thodoris; Giles, Sam; Friedman, Matt; Romano, Carlo; Kogan, Ilja; Sánchez-Villagra, Marcelo R. (December 2018). "Internal cranial anatomy of Early Triassic species of †Saurichthys (Actinopterygii: †Saurichthyiformes): implications for the phylogenetic placement of †saurichthyiforms". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 18 (1): 161. doi:10.1186/s12862-018-1264-4. ISSN 1471-2148. PMC 6211452. PMID 30382811.
  6. ^ Saurichthys at
  7. ^ Mutter, R. J.; Cartanyà, J.; Basaraba, S. A. U. (2008). "New evidence of Saurichthys from the Lower Triassic with an evaluation of early saurichthyid diversity". In G. Arratia; H.-P. Schultze; M. V. H. Wilson (eds.). Mesozoic Fishes 4—Homology and phylogeny. München: Friedrich Pfeil. pp. 103–127.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Romano C.; Kogan I.; Jenks J.; Jerjen I.; Brinkmann W. (2012). "Saurichthys and other fossil fishes from the late Smithian (Early Triassic) of Bear Lake County (Idaho, USA), with a discussion of saurichthyid palaeogeography and evolution" (PDF). Bulletin of Geosciences. 87: 543–570. doi:10.3140/bull.geosci.1337.
  9. ^ Kligman, Ben T.; Parker, William G.; Marsh, Adam D. (2017). "First record of Saurichthys (Actinopterygii) from the Upper Triassic (Chinle Formation, Norian) of western North America". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 37 (5): e1367304. doi:10.1080/02724634.2017.1367304.
  10. ^ Kogan, Ilja (2011). "Remains of Saurichthys (Pisces, Actinopterygii) from the Early Triassic Wordie Creek Formation of East Greenland" (PDF). Bulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark. 93: 93–100. doi:10.37570/bgsd-2011-59-09.
  11. ^ Schmid, Leonhard; Sánchez-Villagra, Marcelo R. (2010). "Potential genetic bases of morphological evolution in the triassic fish Saurichthys". Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular and Developmental Evolution). 314B (7): 519–526. doi:10.1002/jez.b.21372. PMID 20853419.
  12. ^ a b Silvio Renesto; Fabio Magnani; Rudolf Stockar (2021). "A new species of Saurichthys (Actinopterygii: Saurichtydae) from the Middle Triassic of Monte San Giorgio". Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia. 127 (1): 49–71. doi:10.13130/2039-4942/15143.
  13. ^ Beltan, Laurence; Janvier, Philippe; Monod, Olivier; Westphal, Frank (1979). "A new marine fish and placodont reptile fauna of Ladinian age from southwestern Turkey". Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte. 1979 (5): 257–267.
  14. ^ Brough, James (1936). "On the evolution of bony fishes during the Triassic Period". Biological Reviews. 11 (3): 385–405. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.1936.tb00912.x. S2CID 84992418.
  15. ^ a b Kogan, Ilja; Pacholak, Steffen; Licht, Martin; Schneider, Jörg W.; Brücker, Christoph; Brandt, Sebastian (2015). "The invisible fish: hydrodynamic constraints for predator-prey interaction in fossil fish Saurichthys compared to recent actinopterygians". Biology Open. 4 (12): 1715–1726. doi:10.1242/bio.014720. PMC 4736038. PMID 26603471.
  16. ^ Maxwell, E.E.; Romano, C. & Wu, F.-X. (2021). "Regional disparity in the axial skeleton of Saurichthyidae and implications for axial regionalization in non‐teleostean actinopterygians" (PDF). Journal of Zoology. 315: 29–41. doi:10.1111/jzo.12878. S2CID 233840332.
  17. ^ Wu Feixiang; Sun Yuanlin; Xu Guanghui; Hao Weicheng; Jiang Dayong; Sun Zuoyu (2011). "New saurichthyid fishes (Actinopterygii) from the Middle Triassic (Pelsonian, Anisian) of southwestern China" (PDF). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 56. doi:10.4202/app.2010.0007.
  18. ^ a b c Kogan, Ilja; Romano, Carlo (2016). "Redescription of Saurichthys madagascariensis Piveteau, 1945 (Actinopterygii, Early Triassic), with implications for the early saurichthyid morphotype". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 36 (4): e1151886. Bibcode:2016JVPal..36E1886K. doi:10.1080/02724634.2016.1151886. S2CID 87234436.
  19. ^ Argyriou, Thodoris; Clauss, Marcus; Maxwell, Erin E.; Furrer, Heinz; Sánchez-Villagra, Marcelo R. (2016). "Exceptional preservation reveals gastrointestinal anatomy and evolution in early actinopterygian fishes". Scientific Reports. 6 (18758): 18758. Bibcode:2016NatSR...618758A. doi:10.1038/srep18758. PMC 4702121. PMID 26732746.
  20. ^ a b Fang, G.; Wu, F.X. (2022). "The predatory fish Saurichthys reflects a complex underwater ecosystem of the Late Triassic Junggar Basin, Xinjiang, China". Historical Biology. 35 (8): 1–11. doi:10.1080/08912963.2022.2098023. S2CID 250567176.
  21. ^ Maxwell, Erin E.; Argyriou, Thodoris; Stockar, Rudolf; Furrer, Heinz (2018). "Re‐evaluation of the ontogeny and reproductive biology of the Triassic fish Saurichthys (Actinopterygii, Saurichthyidae)". Palaeontology. 61 (4): 559–574. Bibcode:2018Palgy..61..559M. doi:10.1111/pala.12355. S2CID 135337591.
  22. ^ Bürgin, Toni (1990). "Reproduction in Middle Triassic actinopterygians; complex fin structures and evidence of viviparity in fossil fishes". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 100 (4): 379–391. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1990.tb01866.x.
  23. ^ Kogan, Ilja; Romano, Carlo (2016). "A new postcranium of Saurichthys from the Early Triassic of Spitsbergen" (PDF). Freiberger Forschungshefte C (Paläontologie, Stratigraphie, Fazies 23). 550: 205–221. ISBN 9783860125526.
  24. ^ a b Kogan, Ilja; Tintori, Andrea; Licht (2020). "Locomotor function of scales and axial skeleton in Middle-Late Triassic species of Saurichthys (Actinopterygii". Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia. 126 (2): 475–498. doi:10.13130/2039-4942/13551. S2CID 244984857.
  25. ^ a b Discovery of two new species of primitive fishes
  26. ^ Fei-Xiang Wu; Yuan-Lin Sun; Geng-Yu Fang (2018). "A new species of Saurichthys from the Middle Triassic (Anisian) of southwestern China". Vertebrata PalAsiatica. 56 (4): 273–294. doi:10.19615/j.cnki.1000-3118.171023.
  27. ^ Fossilworks: Saurichthys Agassiz 1843

External links[edit]