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NMMNHS Finds New Ancient Amphibian

It’s a new discovery of something really old that used to swim in New Mexico rivers. Now, the prehistoric creature on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science officially has a scientific name.

The creature came before the dinosaurs.

Noah Metcalfe from Socorro remarked, “It looks like an alligator.”

Taelene Fowler, a fifth grader, said, “A big lizard.”

Leonardo Perez noted, “He has like spikes coming out of his nose.”

But the ancient creature has a name: Eocyclotosaurus appetolatus.

“The Eocyclotosaurus is a name of a known genus. The species name appetolatus means it bites or attacks to the side,” said Larry Rhinehart, a retired employee from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science who is a volunteer.

Rhinehart and a team dug up fossils along the Pecos River.

“It’s pretty rare to find fossils in general and a bone bed that contains hundreds of thousands of bones as this one does is quite rare,” he said.

“It’s been given a name which is kind of important in science. You can know you have a new animal, but it’s not really recognized by science until it’s been published in a peer-review journal,” Rhinehart added.

Rhinehart described what the creature was like when it was alive.

“It looks quite a bit like an alligator. That’s because it had the same ecological niche in its day that an alligator has today,” said Rhinehart. “It was a fairly large aquatic predator that ate fish and caught small animals off the shores,” he said.

Rhinehart said its closest relatives today would be salamanders and frogs. But when Eocyclotosaurus appetolatus was here, New Mexico was a different place.

“It was near the equator, so it was very tropical. There were large river systems crossing New Mexico, and they flowed to the northwest toward the seacoast, which at that time was on the Utah-Nevada border,” he said. “Close relatives are known from Arizona and from Europe, especially in Germany.”

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