The entire Age of Reptiles was filled with fantastic creatures, including our favorite dinosaurs, but the Triassic really sets itself apart for unabashed oddities. Ten million years into the period - quite a stretch in absolute terms but just a relative blip in Deep Time - evolution had spun off the first lanky dinosaurs, marine reptiles with faces like vacuum cleaners, and other creatures that were like nothing that had come before. Now paleontologists have added Shringasaurus indicus to the mix, an unexpected herbivore that took the fossil fandom by surprise. 

Shringasaurus, paleontologist Saradee Sengupta and colleagues report, was not a dinosaur. This reptile from ancient India belonged to a different and little-known group called azendohsaurids that, nevertheless, sometimes appear quite dinosaur-like. In particular, the horns of the 247 million-year-old Shringasaurus recall those of the great horned dinosaurs, albeit presaging them by over 100 million years.

Apart from the horns, though, Shringasaurus bears no real resemblance to the ceratopsids. This Triassic herbivore had a relatively long neck on a thick, low-slung body, reconstructed with the rear legs straight and the forelimbs bent out. As was pointed out to me on Twitter, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the poor iguanas that had horns glued to their faces for the 1960 Lost World remake.

By itself, Shringasaurus is yet another Mesozoic weirdo. But placed in the wider context of the Triassic menagerie, this shuffling reptile underscores the resiliency of life on Earth. Shringasaurus, Sengupta and colleagues point out, was part of a great reptilian diversification that occurred after the end-Permian extinction 252 million years ago largely cleared the terrestrial slate. Shringasaurus, in other words, was part of life's wildly experimental phase as extinction survivors proliferated and made a whole new world. Shringasaurus isn't just strange, then, but a sign of life's success.

Reconstruction and selected bones of Shringasaurus. Credit: Sengupta et al 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Shringasaurus indicus

Meaning: Shringasaurus means "horned lizard", while indicus refers to the country where the bones were found.

Age: Triassic, around 247 million years old.

Where in the world?: Madhya Pradesh, India.

What sort of organism?: A reptile known as an azendohsaurid.

How much of the organism’s is known?: Parts of at least seven individuals found in a single bonebed.


Sengupta, S., Ezcurra, M., Bandyopadhyay, S. 2017. A new horned and long-necked herbivorous stem-archosaur from the Middle Triassic of India. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-08658-8

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir
Pangu's Wing
The Dawn Megamouth
The Genga Lizard
The Micro Lion
The Mystery Titanosaur
The Echo Hunter
The Lo Hueco Titan
The Three-Branched Cicada
The Monster of Minden
The Pig-Footed Bandicoot
Hayden's Rattlesnake Demon
The Evasive Ostrich Seer
The Paradoxical Mega Shark
The Tiny Beardogs
The Armored Fish King
North America's Pangolin
The Invisible-Tusked Elephant
The Mud Dragon
The Spike-Toothed Salmon
The Dream Coast Crocodile
Buriol's Robber
Ozimek's Flyer
The Northern Naustoceratopsian
The High Arctic Flyer
The Tomatillo From the End of the World
The Short-Faced Hyena
The Mighty Traveler from Egg Mountain
Keilhau's Ichthyosaur
Mexico's Ancient Horned Face
Mauricio Fernández's Plesiosaur
New Zealand's Giant Dawn Penguin
The Orange Sea Lion
Mongolia's Ginkgo Cousin
The Geni River Frog
Isabel Berry's Dinosaur
The Whale Caiman
The Moab Lizard
Yang Zhongjian's Lizard
The Little Anubis
The Shuangbai Lizard
The Wyvern Dinosaur
The "Need Helmet" Dinosaur
The Jianianhua Dragon
The Liaoning Hunter
The Dalian Lizard
Crompton's Aleodon
Jenkins' Amphibian Serpent From the Chinle
The Large Ancestor Lizard
The Crown Tooth
Currie's Alberta Hunter
The Elephant Bird Mimic
The Crested Thief
The Hiding Hunter