Prehistoric world in pictures

Giant insects, vegetarian crocodiles and ancient elephant-like mammals with shovel-shaped tusks are just some of the strange sights brought to life by palaeoartist Julius Csotonyi. Peer through his window onto the prehistoric world, reconstructed based on recent scientific evidence, below.

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  • Devonian aquatic scene

    Devonian aquatic scene

    The early tetrapod Acanthostega swims for cover in a flooded forest of Archaeopteris about 365 million years ago.

    The evolution of tetrapods (vertebrates with four limbs) from lobe-finned fishes was an important step in the colonisation of land. Acanthostega was an early form, still more suited to life in water. Although it had well-defined limbs and digits (eight on each foot), its leg joints weren't weight-bearing and it still had fish-like gills.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Early Permian landscape

    Early Permian landscape

    The giant temnospondyl (primitive amphibian) Eryops lunges after a passing giant insect from the family Meganeuridae, which has in turn caught a small reptile such as Hylonomus, about 298 million years ago.

    The Meganeuridae looked very similar to their modern dragonfly descendants, but grew much larger. The largest reconstructed wingspan is about 70 centimetres. Due to the way insects breathe, some scientists think that they were only able to reach gigantic sizes in the Carboniferous and Early Permian because of the high oxygen content of the air - 35% compared to 21% today.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Permian reptiles Dicynodon and Archosaurus

    Permian reptiles

    Reptiles evolved from amphibians about 315 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period. They were the first land animals not restricted to living near water, able to lay their eggs on land since they had hard waterproof shells and their own internal supply of liquid. By the Late Permian advanced reptiles up to 3 metres long were thriving.

    This ancient Russian scene from around 260-250 million years ago includes the reptiles Dicynodon, with its two prominent tusks, and Archosaurus.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Desmatosuchus, an armoured vegetarian crocodilian from the Triassic

    Desmatosuchus, an armoured vegetarian crocodilian

    Crocodilians have a far more diverse history than their few living representatives (crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharials) suggest. Not all were carnivores, as the herbivorous Desmatosuchus from Triassic Texas illustrates. The impressive armour of this ancient crocodile relative offered some protection from predators such as Postosuchus.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Cretaceous dinosaurs Suchomimus and Sarcosuchus

    Suchomimus and young Sarcosuchus

    Sarcosuchus, a distant relative of the crocodile, was the largest crocodilian to ever live. Adults reached 12 metres in length - three times longer than the biggest modern crocodile.

    Here, in a reversal of the more commonly portrayed attack, the spinosaurid dinosaur Suchomimus snags a young Sarcosuchus by the tail. Unperturbed a young Kryptops drinks in the foreground of this Cretaceous scene in Niger, Africa.

    'The image aims to underscore the fact that archosaurs (the group including dinosaurs, birds and crocodilians) can fill radically different niches at different points in their development,' says Csotonyi.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Pack of Utahraptor dinosaurs attacking Hippodraco

    Utahraptor attacking Hippodraco

    Csotonyi tells us: 'Inspired by research spearheaded by Dr James Kirkland, this image reenacts a moment in the last few hours of life of a pack of Utahraptor and the Hippodraco that lured them to their miry fate in a patch of Early Cretaceous Utah quicksand.'

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Troodontid dinosaur Mei long, sleeping and with cryptic colouration

    Sleeping dinosaur

    This illustration depicts the first published specimen of the troodontid dinosaur Mei long, a name which means 'sleeping dragon' in Chinese. Discovered in the Yixian formation in China, the dinosaur was preserved in a posture similar to that adopted by sleeping birds today.

    Csotonyi adds, 'In this reconstruction, I wished to illustrate the concept of cryptic coloration (where the colour patterns of an animal closely match those of its surroundings), which is employed by modern animals to hide from predators or prey.'

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Lythronax dinosaurs investigating the shark Squalicorax stranded on a Cretaceous beach

    Lythronax investigating a shark carcass

    On a beach in Laramidia (now Utah in North America) about 80 million years ago, a pair of Lythronax argestes move in to investigate the stranded carcass of a large Squalicorax shark, which is already being picked at by enantiornithine birds.

    'Although protofeathers are not known from Lythronax, phylogenetic bracketing (comparing traits of close relatives) suggests their presence in tyrannosaurids in general, so I chose to give Lythronax a stubble of downy feathers,' explains Csotonyi.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Late Cretaceous dome-headed dinosaur Acrotholus and Neurankylus turtle

    Late Cretaceous scene

    The dome-headed dinosaur, Acrotholus audeti, encounters a turtle, Neurankylus lithographicus, soaking in a footprint of a hadrosaur that had passed by earlier.

    First described in 2013 from fossils found in Alberta, Canada, Acrotholus lived about 85 million years ago. Its domed skull was over 10cm thick and may have been used both for combat and display, although its function is still debated.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Giant Miocene shark Otodus megalodon stalking Platybelodon

    Miocene monster

    The Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago) boasted a real life sea monster,' says Csotonyi. Otodus megalodon was probably the most formidable predator ever to swim in the sea. According to estimates from fossil teeth, the largest individuals were more than twice as long as great white sharks, and bulkier. Typically it ate small whales and lived in deep water, but it did come closer to shore.

    'Whereas this giant shark mainly inhabited the open ocean, my image depicts a hypothetical encounter with a swimming Platybelodon in the Gulf of Mexico,' explains Csotonyi. Related to elephants, Platybelodon had four tusks, of which the flattened lower two resembled a shovel. Its bones sometimes show evidence of attack by sharks.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books

  • Diabloceratops dinosaur head restoration

    Diabloceratops head reconstruction

    This image, featuring Diabloceratops, demonstrates how palaeoartists create a fleshed-out life restoration from fossilised remains. Diabloceratops lived about 79 million years ago towards the end of the Cretaceous Period in what is now Utah, USA.

    Image © The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi published by Titan Books