Pakasuchus kapilimai: Tanzania's Extinct Warm-Blooded Cat Crocodile

by DerdriuMarriner

Tanzania’s fossils of extinct warm-blooded cat crocodile Pakasuchus kapilima discovered by Dr Patrick O’Connor head twenty-first century scientific finds.

Cat crocodiles do not bolt their food whole

Among the scariest events in the 2008-released action drama horror film Black Water are the seconds during which a saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) achieves a vertical thrust of the upper body toward two Northern Australian swamp-touring sisters, Grace (Diana Glenn) and Lee (Maeve Dermody), whose feet dangle from low-lying mangrove branches. The terrifying upward movement brings to mind one of the unexpected constants in the life cycle and natural history of one of the saltwater crocodile’s distant ancestors, Pakasuchus kapilimai. Patrick O’Connor, one of the extinct antecedent’s discoverers and paleontologist of Ohio University at Athens, calls the specimens from East Africa’s Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania cat crocodiles, the literal meaning of Kiswahili paka and Greek suchus.




Ancient crocodile Pakasuchus kapilimai of Tanzania's Rukwa Rift Basin: graphic is comparing the size of the ancient crocodile Pakasuchus kapilimai to a housecat.

Roaming Tanzania in the Middle Cretaceous period, P. kapilimai had a number of features unusual for crocodylians, such as mammal-like teeth and flexible spine.The previously unknown "croc" was unearthed from 105 million-year-old, mid-Cretaceous rocks.
Pakasuchus discovered by international researchers led by Patrick O'Connor of Ohio University and partly funded by NSF.
Pakasuchus discovered by international researchers led by Patrick O'Connor of Ohio University and partly funded by NSF.

Cat crocodiles exhibit mammal-like mouthparts for piecemeal chews


The description feline defers to such cat crocodile hallmarks as:

  • agile backbones;
  • housecat-sized 5- to 10-pound (2.27- to 4.54-kilogram) frames;
  • housecat-sized 2-foot (60.96-centimeter) head-to-tail lengths; and
  • small, 3.5-inch (8.89-centimeter) skulls.

The designation canine emphasizes a peculiarity of cat crocodile snouts whereby nasal openings are dog-like to the front for land-breathing as opposed to atop the head for water-breathing. The term mammal finds similar applicability regarding:

  • food chains and predator/prey webs;
  • look and use of jaws and teeth; and
  • niches within southern hemisphere habitats 65,000,000 to 105,000,000 years ago.

Paleontologists indeed give to cat crocodiles:

  • canine-, molar-, premolar-filled, mobile-jawed mouthparts;
  • diets of insects, primitive mammals, small lizards; and
  • roles of mammals with the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea. 


Diagram of dentition of Early Cretaceous notosuchian Pakasuchus kapilimai. Gray area reconstructs missing parts of the holotype skull.

Pakasuchus kapilimai flourished as mammal-like Crocodyliforme in Cretaceous (Latin: creta, "chalk") geologic period.
Pakasuchus kapilimai flourished as mammal-like Crocodyliforme in Cretaceous (Latin: creta, "chalk") geologic period.

Cat crocodiles favor insects, lizards, and primitive mammals


Southeast Africa’s floodplains hold for modern experts such as Professors Saidi Kapilima -- whom the cat crocodile species kapilimai honors -- of Tanzania’s University of Dar-es-Salaam and Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University at Athens red sandstone-preserved fossils from the southern supercontinent Gondwana. Medical scanning one such specimen’s tight-closed jaws indeed identifies the cat crocodile’s crocodilian skullbone arrangements, feline skull, and mammalian canines for biting, jaws and premolars for sliding, and molars for shearing before swallowing. Paleontologists thereby judge cat crocodile corporeal, dental, and mandibular forms and functions as consistent with the evolutionary precept of creatures pursuing similar lifestyles evolving similar features.

Fauna-loving amateurs, newbies, and specialists likewise know of the above-mentioned discoveries through Dr O’Connor’s taxonomy-related article of 2010. 


Pakasuchus kapilimai: an extinct, warm-blooded ancestor of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodilus porosus)

life restoration of Pakasuchus kapilimai
life restoration of Pakasuchus kapilimai

Cat crocodiles get armor-free bodies with armor-full tails


Fossilized cat crocodiles let twenty-first century Earthlings in on ancient population controlling-species in mammal-sparse Gondwana to the south of animal-rich Laurasia. They make easier reconstructions of life cycles and natural histories regarding the collateral and direct ancestors of the twenty-first century’s fearsome alligators, caimans, crocodiles, and gavials. Their discovery indeed nudges the incredible and the unknown into less mysterious, more credible realms.

Cat crocodile fossils particularly offer insights into animal survival and faunal sustainability since the related crocodile and dinosaur descendants of archosaurs respectively did and did not survive ancient Earth’s mass extinctions. They preserve evidence of crocodilian experimentation with cat-like, dragonfly-chasing, front-snouted, land-lubbing, osteoderm-free, warm-blooded physiques hindered only by inexplicably weighted-down tails of bony, crocodile-like armor. 



Uploaded to YouTube on August 8, 2010 by tyrantslayer24 ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Pakasuchus teeth

Uploaded to YouTube on August 3, 2010 by edyong209 ~ URL:

Sources Consulted


Alonso, Juan Carlos, and Gregory S. Paul. 2015. The Early Cretaceous: Notes, Drawings, and Observations from Prehistory. Lake Forest, CA: Walter Foster Jr., imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.

Bonner, John. 4 August 2010. “Tooth to tail oddities in ancient croc.” Nature > News

  • Available @

Kaufman, Gabriel. 2007. Saltwater Crocodile: The World’s Biggest Reptile. New York, NY: Bearport Publishing. 

O’Connor, Patrick M.; Sertich, Joseph J.W.; Stevens, Nancy J.; Roberts, Eric M.; Gottfried, Michael D.; Hieronymus, Tobin L.; Jinnah, Zubair A.; Ridgely, Ryan; Ngasala, Sifa E.; Temba, Jesuit. The evolution of mammal-like crocodyliforms in the Cretaceous Period of Gondwana. Nature 466, 748–751 (5 August 2010). doi:10.1038/nature09061

  • Available @

Ohio University. 4 August 2010. “Mammal-like crocodile fossil found in East Africa, scientists report.” ScienceDaily > Releases.

  • Available @

Strauss, Bob. "10 prehistoric crocodiles everyone should know." > About Education > Dinosaurs > Prehistoric Animals.

  • Available @

Switek, Brian. 6 August 2010. “Pakasuchus: the croc that ate like a mammal. Smithsonian > Science > Nature.

  • Available @ 

Than, Ker. 5 August 2010. “Pictures: Ancient ‘Cat Crocodile’ Discovered.” Illustration Courtesy Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation. National Geographic > News > Photogalleries.

  • Available @

"These Crocs Are Made for Biting: The Discovery." National Science Foundation > News > Special Reports.

  • Available via NSF @

"These Crocs Are Made for Biting Fact Sheet: Pakasuchus kapilimai." National Science Foundation > News > Special Reports.

  • Available via NSF @

"These Crocs Were Made for Chewing?" 2010. National Science Foundation > News. Press Release 10-134 (August 4, 2010).

  • Available via NSF @

Witton, Mark. 3 August 2010. “Pakasuchus: an ancient crocodile and mammal wannabe.” Discover Magazine > Photos.

  • Available @

Yong, Ed. 4 August 2010. "Pakasuchus -- the crocodile that’s trying to be a mammal." > Phenomena, A science salon hosted by National Geographic Magazine.

  • Available @

Zielinski, Sarah. 6 August 2010. “A cat-like crocodile from the Cretaceous.” Smithsonian > Science > Nature.

  • Available @


Pakasuchus kapilimai's homeland: southeastern Tanzania's Rukwa Rift Basin contains Lake Rukwa, watery homeland of huge populations of modern-day crocodiles.

Lake Rukwa, in Tanzania, as seen from space
Lake Rukwa, in Tanzania, as seen from space
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Ancient Earth Journal: The Early Cretaceous: Notes, Drawings, and Observations from Prehistory by Juan Carlos Alonso and Gregory S. Paul ~ Available now via Amazon

Juan Carlos Alonso is an artist with focus as sculptor on prehistoric animals; Gregory Paul is credited as dinosaur specialist for Jurassic Park and Discovery Channel's When Dinosaurs Roamed America and Dinosaur Planet.
Cretaceous geologic period

Wildlife Paradise; Tierparadies, 1939 ~ Giclée Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

1939 ink and wax crayon on transparent paper by Oskar Schlemmer (September 4, 1888 – April 13, 1943), German Bauhaus (1919 to 1933) artist
Wildlife Paradise; Tierparadies, 1939

Miposaur Toy by WowWee MiP Robot ~ Available now via Amazon ~ "The future of Prehistoric is here!" ~ #43 Best Seller in Toys & Games>Electronics for Kids>RC Figures & Robots

Hand gesture command recognition *Unique dual-wheel balancing *Evolving intelligence for progressive play *Includes Beacon Sense infused trackball, that Miposaur will flawlessly keep in sight *Use trackball to activate modes (dance, feed, etc.)
dinosaur-themed products

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/01/2015

CruiseReady, Cat crocodiles weren't apex predators so they were part of the everybody-gets-eaten chain in ancient food webs. It's a bit gruesomely intriguing to ponder what their meat tasted like, as possibly more mammalian -- since they were warm-blooded -- than reptilian.

CruiseReady on 07/31/2015

What amazing creature this must have been... small as the baby gatprs or crocs that we know today, yet with some attributes we don't associate with them at all. Wonder if they were ever prey to their larger cousins?

DerdriuMarriner on 07/14/2015

happynutritionist, Thank you for liking the images and information on cat crocodiles! Me too, I completely understand the feline comparisons in terms of head, limbs, and lines. But it indeed would be a scary situation for a cat crocodile to expect to be petted, sit on laps, or...swish that armored tail!

DerdriuMarriner on 07/14/2015

blackspanielgallery, Yes, it's amazing about the archaeological traces that extinction leaves! It must be so rewarding to be one of the artists whose job it is to draw the reconstructions from the available evidence.

happynutritionist on 07/09/2015

I can see why it would be said that this crocodile is catlike, the picture renderings have a posture that looks like a cat, though not one that would be pleasant to pet or have sitting on the lap. Beautifully done page.

blackspanielgallery on 07/07/2015

It is amazing how much is becoming known of extinct animal.

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