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Temporal range: Late Triassic
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Order: Trilophosauria
Family: Trilophosauridae
Genus: Spinosuchus
von Huene, 1932
  • S. caseanus von Huene, 1932 (type)

Spinosuchus (meaning "spined crocodile") is a genus of extinct reptile of uncertain affinities, from the late Triassic of Texas, southern USA. It has been assigned to a variety of groups over its history, from coelophysid dinosaur to pseudosuchian to uncertain theropod dinosaur to proterosuchid to possible trilophosaur. This uncertainty is not unusual, given that it is only known from a poorly preserved, wall-mounted, partial vertebral column of an animal that lived in a time of diverse, poorly known reptile groups.


In 1922, Ermin C. Case described a partial vertebral column (UMMP 7507) he'd discovered in 1921 from the Tecovas Member of the Carnian-age Upper Triassic Dockum Formation of Crosby County, Texas, as Coelophysis sp. (Coelophysis at that time also being poorly known).[1] He considered it to be about 2.5 meters (8.5 ft) long.[1] Additional material was referred to it, including a femur (UMMP 3396),[1] an ilium (UMMP 8870), and a basicranium (UMMP 7473).[2] These additional remains have since been recognized as belonging to a variety of other Triassic animals, all of which were poorly known or unknown at the time: the femur to an aetosaur, possibly Desmatosuchus,[3] the ilium to a herrerasaurid, either Chindesaurus or Caseosaurus, depending on the taxonomic authority,[4] and the basicranium to the rauisuchian Postosuchus.[5]

Friedrich von Huene recognized it as a new genus in 1932, and named it in honor of Case.[6] He considered it to be a "podokesaurid".[6] Since the 1970s, though, it has been considered a nondinosaurian.[7][8][9] However, a review by Hunt et al. in 1998 suggested that it was a theropod, possibly a herrerasaurid, citing its hollow centra as evidence for dinosaurian affinities.[3] In an abstract for the 1999 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting and his unpublished thesis, Richards recognized that it had a variety of characters that are apomorphic for various dinosaur subgroups, but that these are also found in different basal archosaur groups, and that the poorly preserved, distorted, and reconstructed vertebrae offer no evidence for assignment to any major archosaur group; it does, though, show some resemblances to the trilophosaurs.[10][11] Further review, as part of a larger series of papers on the evolution of dinosaurs in the Late Triassic by Sterling Nesbitt, Randall Irmis, and William Parker, found Spinosuchus to be a valid genus. However, the authors could not classify it beyond Archosauriformes, and disagreed with Richards' trilophosaur hypothesis.[12] Justin Spielmann and colleagues published a redescription in 2009 that concluded Spinosuchus was a trilophosaurid closely related to Trilophosaurus.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Case, E.C. (1922). New reptiles and stegocephalians from the Upper Triassic of western Texas. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 321. 84 p.
  2. ^ Case, E.C. (1927). The vertebral column of Coelophysis Cope. Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan 2:209-222.
  3. ^ a b Hunt, A.P, Lucas, S.G., Heckert, A.B., Sullivan, R.M., and Lockley, M.G. (1998). Late Triassic dinosaurs from the western United States. Geobios 31(4):511-531.
  4. ^ Long, R.A., and Murry, P.A. (1995). Late Triassic (Carnian and Norian) tetrapods from the southwestern United States. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 4:1-154.
  5. ^ Chatterjee, S. (1985). Postosuchus, a new thecodontian reptile from the Triassic of Texas and the origin of tyrannosaurs . Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences 309(1139):395-460.
  6. ^ a b von Huene, F. (1932). Die fossile Reptil-Ordnung Saurischia, ihte Entwicklung und Geschichte. Monographien zur Geologie und Palaeontologie 1(4). 361 p. [German]
  7. ^ Zhang, F-K. (1975). A new thecodont Lotosaurus, from Middle Triassic of Hunan. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 8(3):144-147.
  8. ^ Padian, K. (1986). On the type material of Coelophysis Cope (Saurischia: Theropoda) and a new specimen from the Petrified Forest of Arizona (Late Triassic: Chinle Formation). In: Padian, K. (ed.). The Beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 45-60. ISBN 0-521-36779-4
  9. ^ Murry, P.A., and Long, R.A. (1989). Geology and paleontology of the Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Park and vicinity, Arizona and a discussion of vertebrate fossils of the southwestern Upper Triassic. In: Lucas, S.G., and Hunt, A.P. (eds.). Dawn of the Age of Dinosaurs in the American Southwest. New Mexico Museum of Natural History: Albuquerque, New Mexico. 29-64. ISBN 0-12-226810-5
  10. ^ Richards, H.R. (1999a). Is Spinosuchus a dinosaur? Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19(Supplement to 3), Abstracts of Papers, Fifty-Ninth Annual Meeting, 70A.
  11. ^ Richards, H.R. M.S. (1999b). Osteology and relationships of Spinosuchus caseanus Huene, 1932 from Texas (Dockum Group, Upper Triassic): a new interpretation. December 17, 1999. Richard J. Zakrzewski, Thesis Advisor. Fort Hays University, Department of Geosciences.
  12. ^ Nesbitt, Sterling J.; Irmis, Randall B.; Parker, William G. (2007). "A critical re-evaluation of the Late Triassic dinosaur taxa of North America". Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 5 (2): 209–243. doi:10.1017/S1477201907002040. 
  13. ^ Spielmann, J.A., Lucas, S.G., Heckert, A.B., Rinehart, L.F., and Richards, H.R., III. 2009. Redescription of Spinosuchus caseanus (Archosauromorpha: Trilophosauridae) from the Upper Triassic of North America. Palaeodiversity 2:283-313.


  • Glut, D.F. (2002). Is Spinosuchus a theropod? In: Glut, D.F. Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia. 2nd Supplement. McFarland & Company, Inc.:Jefferson, North Carolina, 46-48. ISBN 0-7864-1166-X

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