North Texas seems to be a prime place for dinosaur discovery, with numerous fossils spotted through the years by professional paleontologists and avid collectors alike. Among the most recent finds: a prehistoric crocodile that apparently liked to eat dinosaurs.
The bones of a Deltasuchus motherali, a 20-foot-long crocodile estimated to have roamed North Texas some 95 million years ago, was found by and named after teenager Austin Motheral at the Arlington Archosaur Site.
Ronald Tykoski, director of the Perot Museum's Paleontology Lab, says this popular site at the northern edge of the city was once nothing more than a vacant, industrial lot.
“But people used to like to go out there and wonder around,” he said. “There’s a very active amateur fossil-hunting community in Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
Interest in the area grew and the site became a subject of study. Multiple species of turtles, crocodiles and plant- and meat-eating dinosaurs have been found there, he says.
“It’s a matter of having the right sort of setting at the time, so you need a place where sediment is being deposited and you need things to die a lot,” Tykoski said. “If you get that combination of things…something’s going to get buried and trapped.”
But these ideal conditions do no good without people out in the field to find the fossils.
“Ninety-five times out of 100, it’s a rock, it’s a modern bone,” Tykoski said. “But you get those little winners in there every now and then: ‘Hey, that’s a mammoth bone, that’s a jaw of a mastodon, that’s a hand claw from some sort of carnivorous dinosaur’ or something.”
Tykoski credits the region’s enthusiasm to people's general love of “big, scary, toothy things.” And for many people, especially kids, discovering fossils and learning about dinosaurs is an introduction to science.
“There’s a bigger world out there,” he said.
Listen to the full interview with Tykoski in the audio player above.
Photo credit: Brandon Wade, Fort Worth Star-Telegram