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SMU alumnus and paleontologist Thomas Adams discovers new prehistoric crocodile

Rivard Report

Originally Posted: September 7, 2017

As a paleontologist and the Witte Museum‘s curator of paleontology and geology, Thomas Adams sees his job as being something of an interpreter.

“We want to tell the Texas narrative because there’s a story to be told,” Adams said. “It’s already written in rocks. We just need to translate it.”

For Adams, some of that translation is informed by his own discoveries. He has unearthed a new species of prehistoric crocodile, one he named Deltasuchus motherali and outlined in a recent scholarly article. The species was about 20 feet in length and a top predator in the food chain when it roamed Texas millions of years ago.

Adams, along with co-authors Chris Noto at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Stephanie Drumheller-Horton at the University of Tennessee, published the description of the new crocodile species earlier this month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. This is the third new species Adams has discovered and named. His most recent find, the species’ partial skull, was unearthed in North Texas in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society, the excavation site in Arlington has a surprisingly complete ancient ecosystem ranging from about 95 million to 100 million years old, when all of Texas was underwater except for a peninsula that included what is now the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Adams called his work “a unique opportunity to document a site about a period we know little about, the Middle Cretaceous.”

The Cretaceous period occurred between 145.5 million and 65.5 million years ago. During the mid-Cretaceous, the planet’s land mass split into several smaller continents, creating large-scale geographic isolation and expansive new coastlines. READ MORE