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Temporal range: Triassic
Saurichthys fossil
Scientific classification

Agassiz, 1834
Type species
Saurichthys apicalis
Agassiz, 1834
  • More than 50 species
  • Belonorhynchus Bronn 1858
  • Brevisaurichthys Beltan 1972
  • Giffonus Costa 1862
  • Gymnosaurichthys Berg 1940
  • Ichthyorhynchus Bellotti 1857
  • Stylorhynchus Martin 1873 non Lesson1847 non Stein 1848
  • Systolichthys Beltan 1972
Saurichthys curionii 1
Saurichthys curionii fossil from the Middle Triassic of Monte San Giorgio, Switzerland
Triassic marine vertebrate apex predators
Early Triassic and Middle Triassic marine predators: 3. Saurichthys
Saurichthys seefeldensis
Saurichthys seefeldensis attacking Preondactylus, based on an outdated interpretation of a gastric pellet now believed to contain remains of Langobardisaurus

Saurichthys (meaning: 'lizard fish') is an extinct genus of predatory ray-finned fish from the Triassic period. It is the name giving genus of the family Saurichthyidae (Changhsingian-Middle Jurassic). This family also includes the Permian Eosaurichthys (China) and the Jurassic Saurorhynchus (= Acidorhynchus) from Europe and North America.

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

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. The use of subgenera (Eosaurichthys, Costasaurichthys, Lepidosaurichthys, Saurorhynchus, Sinosaurichthys) in the literature reflects differences in morphology between species groups. 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 closest modern-day relatives include the sturgeons, paddlefish, and the bowfins. However, a recent study investigated the inner skull anatomy of Saurichthys and questioned a close affiliation with Acipenseriformes and Amiiformes.


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).

Species of Saurichthys looked superficially similar to the modern pike (note that the pike is a teleost and only distantly related with Saurichthys). Its dorsal and anal fins were placed opposite each other well back on the body, and the tail was symmetrical. These features would have made it a powerful swimmer, and it is presumed to have hunted in a similar way to the pike, attacking from an ambush at high speed. 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 caudal fin is abbreviate-diphycercal.

Early Triassic species of Saurichthys 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.


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. It first approached its prey and then attacked it by quick, sudden darts. Some species may have lived as subsurface cruisers (Sinosaurichthys).

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

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.


Fossils of gravid females provide evidence for (ovo-)viviparity in Saurichthys 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.


Saurichthys apicalis
Lower jaw of Saurichthys apicalis
  • Saurichthys (Costasaurichthys Tintori 2013)
    • Saurichthys (Costasaurichthys) costasquamosus Rieppel 1985
    • Saurichthys (Costasaurichthys) paucitrichus Rieppel 1992
  • Saurichthys (Eosaurichthys Liu and Wei 1988)
    • Saurichthys (Eosaurichthys) chaoi (Liu and Wei 1988)
    • Saurichthys (Eosaurichthys) madagascariensis Piveteau 1945
  • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys Tintori 2013)
    • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys) dayi (Raymond 1925)
    • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys) elongatus Stensiö 1925
    • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys) ornatus Stensiö 1925
    • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys) toxolepis Mutter et al. 2008
    • Saurichthys (Lepidosaurichthys) wimani (Woodward 1912)
  • Saurichthys (Saurorhynchus Agassiz 1844)
    • Saurichthys (Saurorhynchus) calcaratus Griffith 1977
    • Saurichthys (Saurorhynchus) deperditus (Costa 1862)
    • Saurichthys (Saurorhynchus) striolatus Bronn 1858
    • Saurorhynchus acutus (Agassiz 1844)
    • Saurorhynchus anningae Maxwell & Stumpf 2017
    • Saurorhynchus brevirostris (Woodward 1895)
    • Saurorhynchus hauffi Maxwell & Stumpf 2017
  • Saurichthys (Sinosaurichthys Wu et al. 2009)
    • Saurichthys (Sinosaurichthys) longipectoralis Wu et al. 2009
    • Saurichthys (Sinosaurichthys) longimedialis Wu et al. 2009
    • Saurichthys (Sinosaurichthys) minuta Wu et al. 2009
  • Saurichthys apicalis Agassiz 1834 (type species)
  • Saurichthys breviabdominalis Maxwell et al. 2015
  • Saurichthys curionii (Bellotti 1857)
  • Saurichthys daubreei Firtion 1934
  • Saurichthys dawaziensis Wu et al. 2009
  • Saurichthys dianneae Maxwell et al. 2016
  • Saurichthys dongusensis Minich 1992
  • Saurichthys eximius Minikh 1982
  • Saurichthys gigas (Woodward 1890), non von Quenstedt 1858
  • Saurichthys gracilis (Woodward 1890)
  • Saurichthys grignae Tintori 2013
  • Saurichthys gypsophilus Reis 1892
  • Saurichthys hamiltoni Stensiö 1925
  • Saurichthys hoffmanni Werneburg et al. 2014
  • Saurichthys huanshenensis Chou & Liu 1957
  • Saurichthys irregularis Oertle 1928
  • Saurichthys latifrons Eck 1865
  • Saurichthys lepidosteoides Frech 1903
  • Saurichthys macrocephalus (Deecke 1889)
  • Saurichthys majiashanensis Tintori et al. 2014
  • Saurichthys minimahleri Werneburg et al. 2014
  • Saurichthys nepalensis Beltan & Janvier 1978
  • Saurichthys obrutchevi Minich 1981
  • Saurichthys orientalis Sytchevskaya 1999
  • Saurichthys parvidens Wade 1935
  • Saurichthys piveteaui Beltan 1968
  • Saurichthys proximus Minich 1981
  • Saurichthys rieppeli Maxwell et al. 2015
  • Saurichthys sceltrichensis Renesto et al. 2021
  • Saurichthys seefeldensis Kner 1867
  • Saurichthys spinosa Wu et al. 2018
  • Saurichthys stensioi Lehman 1952
  • Saurichthys tenuirostris Münster 1839
  • Saurichthys tertius Minich 1982
  • Saurichthys ultimus Minikh 1992
  • Saurichthys vjuschkovi Minikh 1983
  • Saurichthys yangjuanensis Wu et al. 2015
  • Saurichthys yunnanensis Zhang, Zhou, Lu & Bai 2010

Species based on fragmentary fossils

  • Saurichthys aculeatus Henry 1876
  • Saurichthys annulatus Winkler 1880
  • Saurichthys catalaunicus (Betlan 1972)
  • Saurichthys indicus de Koninck 1863
  • Saurichthys listroconus Plieninger 1844
  • Saurichthys longiconus Agassiz 1834
  • Saurichthys longidens Agassiz 1844
  • Saurichthys osseus (Betlan 1972)
  • Saurichthys semicostatus Münster 1839
  • Saurichthys striatulus Henry 1876
  • Saurichthys subulatus Henry 1876


  • Saurichthys acuminatus Agassiz 1844 → †Birgeria acuminata
  • Saurichthys acutus Agassiz 1844 → †Saurorhynchus acutus
  • Saurichthys brevirostris (Woodward 1895) → †Saurorhynchus brevirostris
  • Saurichthys costatus Münster 1839 → †Birgeria? costata
  • Saurichthys elegans Stensiö 1925 → †Saurichthys elongatus
  • Saurichthys intermedius (Bassani 1886) → †Saurichthys curionii
  • Saurichthys krambergeri Schlosser 1918 → †Saurichthys deperditus
  • Saurichthys mougeoti Agassiz 1844 → †Birgeria mougeoti
  • Saurichthys robustus Bassani 1886 → †Saurichthys curionii, †Saurichthys macrocephalus, †Saurichthys costasquamosus
  • Saurichthys stoppanii (Bassani 1886) → †Saurichthys curionii
  • 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. Bulletin of Geosciences 87(3), 543–570.
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