(order name Aetosauria
) are an extinct order
of heavily armoured, medium- to large-sized Late Triassic herbivorous archosaurs
. They have small heads, upturned snouts, erect limbs, and a body covered by plate-like scutes
. All aetosaurs belong to the family Stagonolepididae
. Two distinct subdivisions of aeotosaurs are currently recognized, Desmatosuchinae
, based primarily on differences in the morphology
of the bony scutes of the two groups. Over 20 genera
of aetosaurs have been described.
Aetosaur fossil remains are known from Europe, North and South America, parts of Africa and India. Since their armoured plates are often preserved and are abundant in certain localities, aetosaurs serve as important Late Triassic tetrapod index fossils. Many aetosaurs had wide geographic ranges, but their stratigraphic ranges were relatively short. Therefore, the presence of particular aetosaurs can accurately date a site that they are found in.
Aetosaur remains have been found since the early 19th century, although the very first remains that were described were mistaken for fish scales. Aetosaurs were later recognized as crocodile relatives, with early paleontologists considering them to be semiaquatic scavengers. They are now considered to have been entirely terrestrial animals. Some forms have characteristics that may have been adaptations to digging for food. There is also evidence that some if not all aetosaurs made nests. (see more...)