Goniopholis (crocodile) (GO-nee-AH-foh-liss)

Painting of a crocodile standing in shallow water.  Its mouth is open, revealing many teeth.

Click to zoom.

Teeth and pieces of body armor (called scutes) from crocodilians are common finds in the Cretaceous clays of Maryland. The teeth were pointed and cone-shaped, different from the serrated, knife-like teeth of most predatory dinosaurs. The scutes, with their distinctive "dimpled" pattern, were embedded in the skin and probably covered with keratin, the same material that forms your fingernails. Although these crocodilians were very similar to their modern relatives in size, shape, and diet, many species living elsewhere in the world during the Cretaceous were very different. Some had evolved radically different teeth, suggesting unusual diets and feeding behaviors. Others walked (or ran) on upright legs, a form of movement unlike that used by their splay-legged modern relatives. The animal depicted in the painting is Goniopholis, which ranged across North America, Europe and Asia.




Tooth from a Cretaceous crocodilian. It is cone-shaped, and slightly curved toward the tip.

Crocodilian tooth fossil. Click to zoom.

A flat, dimpled piece of bone, called a scute, that formed part of the armored skin of a Cretaceous crocodile.

This fossil scute formed part of the armored skin of a Cretaceous crocodile. Click to zoom.


Skeleton of a caiman, a modern crocodilian, with the armor removed and displayed above and below.  The upper armor covered the back and the back of the neck, and the tops of the legs and tail.  The lower armor covered the underside.

The skeleton and armor of a caiman, a modern crocodilian. Click to zoom.

A closeup view of scutes in the Caiman armor shows several of the individual dimpled, overlapping plates.

The dimpled pattern on the surface of the caiman scutes is similar to that seen in the fossil. Click to zoom.