Phytosaur Teeth - Classic Riker Box Specimens
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Phytosaur Teeth - Classic Riker Box Specimens
In the early Mesozoic era, dinosaurs walked the Earth and heavy ferns covered the land in a hot climate, but one familiar danger lurked at the water’s edge: the ancient Phytosaur. This monstrous reptile was an early aquatic predator that struck with terrifying speed and power at anything unfortunate enough to cross its feeding grounds. While it resembled a modern crocodile, the phytosaur is far older and perhaps more frightening than the aquatic reptiles we know today.
Classic Riker Box Specimens
These particular specimens were uncovered from the Redonda formation in New Mexico. They are estimated to be around 210,000,000 years old and likely come from the Redondasaurus, a genus of phytosaur found in the area. These creatures were some of the most evolutionarily advanced members of the phytosaur family.
Classic Riker Box Phytosaur Tooth Sizes
For convenience we've grouped teeth into similar sizes by length and "visual weight" in order to assign them to categories:
Small: Less than 0.75" (< 2cm)
Medium: Greater than 0.75" (> 2-2.25cm)
Small and Medium Phytosaur teeth ship in a glass-topped riker box case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". Each tooth is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar. All teeth include a small information card that also serves as the certificate of authenticity.
Please Note: Triassic material of this quality is extremely rare. Teeth will vary in color, condition, and shape. Some may have visible cracks or other wear. Images on this page are representative of the types of teeth you can expect. Keep in mind that they are some of the oldest teeth in our entire collection.
TEMPORAL RANGE: 242,000,000 to 201,600,000 years ago
MORE ABOUT PHYTOSAURS
Emerging in the Triassic period, the phytosaur was an enormous semi-aquatic reptile, identifiable from their long snouts and scute-armored bodies. This heavy armor protected them from other predators, while their massive jaws secured prey with a powerful bite. Phytosaurs were huge creatures, with some species growing over 20 feet long. This could put them toe to toe with most dinosaurs of the time.
The phytosaur’s teeth varied from species to species, indicating a difference in diet among the creatures. Some had long conical teeth which helped to catch fish and other marine animals. Others had shorter snouts and serrated fangs which cut like blades through the flesh of terrestrial creatures that came to their lakes to drink. Their leg structures also gave some hint to their behavior, with terrestrial feeders having more developed limbs and marine phytosaurs gaining an almost paddle-like adaptation to move through the water.
📸 ABOVE: A massive phytosaur skull fossil from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
📸 Phytosaur Tooth over a Fossil Scute
A Prehistoric Hunter
As an ambush predator, the phytosaur likely sat quietly in the water awaiting its prey. Its nostrils, placed near their eyes, stuck out of the water allowing them to breathe while submerged. When something came close enough, the phytosaur would attack with a burst of power and speed, snapping its jaws around its next meal.
Phytosaurs were also well armored with tough scutes called osteoderms. Osteoderms are found in many different and unrelated species from reptiles and amphibians to mammals, fish, and of course dinosaurs. They sometimes form fantastic structures such as the shells of the armadillo and glyptodon, or the tall, dorsal plates and tail spikes of Stegosaurus.
The Triassic extinction brought about the end of most phytosaur species, with any survivors not making it much further. Their niche as aquatic ambush predators wouldn’t go unfilled though, as creatures like the Spinosaurus and eventually modern crocodilians adapted to survive on the same brutal lifestyle as their ancient predecessor.
📸 A fossil scute plate from a phytosaur, which served as dermal armor.
Though they resembled modern crocodilians, the evolutionary relationship is tenuous at best. The similar appearance is likely a product of convergent evolution. This is a process in which different species begin to adapt similar traits to solve the same problem. One of the most common convergent features is wings, a great solution to flight shared by birds, mammals, insects, and pterosaurs.
As it turns out, phytosaurs predate the emergence of crocodilians by millions of years. It’s accepted that they fall into the archosaur clade, a group that is split between birds and reptiles. Some biologists believe they were the first marker of the split, while others argue they might even predate this. What is certain is how ancient these creatures are, appearing over 200 million years ago.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Bonnan, Matthew F. “The Archosaur Chassis, Part 2: A Primer on Archosaur Posture and Diversity.” The Bare Bones: An Unconventional Evolutionary History of the Skeleton, Indiana University Press, 2016, pp. 344–61.
Datta, D., et al. “Taphonomic signatures of a new Upper Triassic phytosaur (Diapsida, Archosauria) bonebed from India: aggregation of a juvenile-dominated paleocommunity.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, vol 39, no 6, 2019.
Jones, A., Butler, R. “A new phylogenetic analysis of Phytosauria (Archosauria: Pseudosuchia) with the application of continuous and geometric morphometric character coding.” PeerJ, 2018.