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Fossils Of Oddball Crocodile Relative Found In Texas Suburb

2019-6-19 20:55| 发布者: hujian| 查看: 65| 评论: 0

摘要:   SOME 96 MILLION years ago, the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, were part of a lush river delta that was home to turtles, dinosaurs, fish—and a bizarre creature that looked like a crocodile but may have ...

  


SOME 96 MILLION years ago, the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, were part of a lush river delta that was home to turtles, dinosaurs, fish—and a bizarre creature that looked like a crocodile but may have eaten like an opossum.

  The newfound animal, Scolomastax sahlsteini, is a crocodyliform, an extinct, distant cousin of today's crocodiles and alligators. It grew about three to six feet long, and its right lower jaw implies that it had fewer teeth than>

  These traits are consistent with living animals that crunch on hard foods or eat a varied diet, which suggests that Scolomastax may well have been omnivorous. By contrast, modern crocodiles are carnivores and often specialise in ambushing prey near the water's edge.

FollowVideoCrocodiles Have the World's Strongest Bite—See It In ActionEvery year, a massive migration brings wildebeest, zebras, and more to the Mara River—but many are dragged down to a watery grave by a massive demon of the deep, Africa's Nile crocodile.loading...

  RELATED: CROCODILES HAVE THE WORLD'S STRONGEST BITE—SEE IT IN ACTION

  Every year, a massive migration brings wildebeest, zebras, and more to the Mara River—but many are dragged down to a watery grave by a massive demon of the deep, Africa's Nile crocodile.

  For more live action, visit wildsafarilive.com.

  “It seemed to be filling a niche that we really don’t see modern crocs and alligators filling,” says lead study author Christopher Noto, a palaeontologist at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. “Living crocodiles and alligators are not 'living fossils.' They are simply just survivors and only represent a small fraction of the lifestyles that their ancient>

Urban wildlife?

  The strange reptile, described last week in The Anatomical Record, is the latest ancient creature to emerge from Texas's Arlington Archosaur Site. At about 96 million years old, this site dates to the Cretaceous period, a time when a vast seaway stretched from western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The waterway split North America into two ancient continents: Laramidia to the west, and Appalachia to the east.

  Many of North America's Cretaceous fossil sites, such as Utah's stunning horned-dinosaur localities, capture the goings-on in Laramidia. But the Arlington Archosaur Site records a river delta in Appalachia, which is a much rarer find. What's more, Scolomastax is a paralligatorid, a group best known from fossils in Asia. As the first paralligatorid ever found in Appalachia deposits, Scolomastax reinforces the notion that animals living in Asia and North America mixed and mingled in the early Cretaceous, before rising waters split North America in two.

  “The cool thing about the Arlington Archosaur Site is that it's actually from both a time [and a place] that we don't find many fossils,” says study coauthor Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, a palaeontologist at the University of Tennessee. “There's a lot about Appalachia that's still really mysterious, so everything we find at this site is filling in major gaps.”

  The Arlington Archosaur Site was discovered in 2003 by a group including Derek Main, then a graduate student at the University of Texas-Arlington. Main oversaw study of the site until 2013, when he died unexpectedly. Noto took over the project that same year, and he has been leading its study ever since with partial funding from the National Geographic Society.

  If you're picturing windswept badlands like the fossil dig site scenes from Jurassic Park, the Arlington Archosaur Site may throw you for a loop: It's located within Viridian, a large planned community in Arlington, Texas, a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

  “The funny thing about [the site] is if you stand up and you’re facing the wall where all the fossils are coming out, and you turn around, in the distance you can actually see the Dallas Cowboys football stadium,” Drumheller-Horton says.

Ancient bounty

  Odd though it may sound, the proximity to a major urban area has helped palaeontologists protect and study the site. Most of the excavators have been volunteers, including many from the Dallas Paleontological Society. Among them is local amateur palaeontologist Art Sahlstein, one of the site's co-discoverers and the discoverer of Scolomastax. Researchers gave the reptile the species name sahlsteini to honour his contributions.

  “[This] academic and public partnership has put academic palaeontologists together with amateur fossil enthusiasts and really forged something that is pretty unique and different,” Noto says. “I do think there’s a model there for these types of>

  RELATED: SEE THE MYSTERY AND BEAUTY OF FOSSILS

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  This nearly whole, deep-black skull belongs to the most complete specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex on display in Europe, an individual nicknamed Tristan Otto. With 170 of its 300-odd bones preserved, this scientifically important but privately owned skeleton is currently at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany. Discovered in 2010 in Montana’s famed Hell Creek Formation of the late Cretaceous, the 12-metre-long fossil took four years to excavate and prepare.

  PHOTOGRAPHY BY GERD LUDWIG

  Dallas's Perot Museum of Nature and Science has taken on the site's fossil collection, which has swelled to thousands of specimens. The bounty includes remains of various dinosaurs, plants, and fish; a huge crocodyliform called Deltasuchus; up to nine species of extinct turtles; and possibly some remains of a small snake. Drumheller-Horton adds that the site also preserved hundreds of coprolites, or fossilised feces.

  For now, excavations at the site are on hold as researchers sift through the huge haul they've already uncovered. But Soto says that even more surprises—and opportunities for connecting people with the distant past—may lie ahead.

  “One of the things we constantly would hear from people who'd visit the site or volunteer there was, I had no>

Lead Image: Some 96 million years ago in what is now Arlington, Texas, a smallish>Scolomastax sahlsteini lived within a vast river delta. In this artistic reconstruction, the prehistoric reptile is feeding on the remains of a lungfish.

  ILLUSTRATION BY BRENTON ADRIAN.



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