Skull of extinct crocodile-like reptile to be on display at Arizona museum

Jan 19, 2022, 4:15 AM | Updated: 7:42 am
(Petrified Forest National Park Photo)...
(Petrified Forest National Park Photo)
(Petrified Forest National Park Photo)

PHOENIX — People will soon be able to get a look at the skull of a crocodile-like reptile that lived in Arizona millions of years ago.

A phytosaur specimen called Smilosuchus adamanensis will be on display sometime this year at the Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona, the National Park Service said in a press release on Friday.

The skull of the phytosaur named Gumby will be part of the “Rivers to Stone” display case at the museum, which is a recreation of a mural primarily made of original fossil material from various animals that lived in a river during the Late Triassic period, the museum said.

However, museum staff said the real fossil will only be displayed if Gumby stays together.

The museum said the fossil was excavated from Petrified Forest National Park in June of 2008 but an unexpected rainstorm reburied it and made the bones flexible, resulting in Gumby occasionally falling apart.

A replica of the skull was made when the fossil collapsed during a recent process that involved cleaning rock from the bones, the museum said, with the increased access to the depth of the skull allowing staff to create a high-quality mold to produce copies of Gumby.

“The updated display will depend on whether Gumby continues to behave like a solid and less like a liquid,” museum curator Matt Smith said in the release. “If Gumby goes to pieces again museum staff will be able to display a cast in the exhibit case and store the original specimen in the collections to protect it.

“Sometimes, we get lucky, and we can display our delicate fossils. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they remain stubbornly behind the scenes.”

One replica of the fossil has already been created and will be put into the Rainbow Forest Museum dig pit in the Blue Mesa Room later in the year, Smith said.

The museum said nine different types of phytosaur have been found in the park, with the animals likely being dominant predators during their lives.

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Skull of extinct crocodile-like reptile to be on display at Arizona museum