Witte Researcher Describes New Species of Early Texas Crocodile

The Curator of Paleontology and Geology has described and named a newly discovered species of crocodile that lived in our area some 115 million years ago, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Dr. Thomas Adams says the 'Tarsomordeo' was the first terrestrial croc-type creature of the Cretaceous Period in Texas.

The Cretaceous is generally considered to be between 145 million and 66 million years ago, during the high point, and later during the extinction, of the dinosaurs.

“Modern day crocodiles and alligators, as well as many fossil crocodiles, have a semi-erect posture and are aquatic ambush predators. However, the small, cat-sized Tarsomordeo is unique

in having long, slender limbs that were held erect,” Says Dr. Adams. “This suggests that it would have been a more agile predator on land.”

Crocodiles are generally considered to have evolved as land animals, but transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle about 200 million years ago, as the land that is now Texas was swampy. But Dr. Adams says as the climate altered again to a semi-arid environment with temperatures higher than today, he ssays Tarsomordeo transitioned back to a land predator.

“This suggests that this new species is the first occurrence in North America of an ecological shift back to being a terrestrial animal as a potential result of environmental factors,”

says Dr. Adams.

'Tarsamadeo' is from the Greek for 'ankle biter,' in a reference to its small size compared with the other creatures that inhabited its world. The croc's full name is 'Tarsomordeo winkleri,' in a tribute to long time Southern Methodist University paleontologist Dr. Dale Winkler, who made many discoveries about Cretacous Period in Texas.

Tarsomeordeo was discovered in the Proctor Lake region in Comanche County, which is known for dinosaur excavations.

“We are learning that the fossil record for this group is much more diverse than previously thought,” says Dr. Adams “this is the second new species to be described from Texas since June.”

Image Courtesy: The Witte Museum (Life reconstruction of Tarsomordeo winkleri with its prey. Artwork by Pamela Riddle)

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