Petrified Forest National Park Phytosaur Skull

Petrified Forest National Park is excited to have a participant in "The Power of Context: National Park Service Museums at 100 Years" exhibition at the Department of Interior Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibition runs from January to December 2005.

The skull is from a meat-eating reptile called a phytosaur, specifically Pseudopalatus mccauleyi. Phytosaurs lived during the Triassic Period 225 million years ago. During this time a vast stream-crossed floodplain existed in what is now northern Arizona. Crocodile-like reptiles, giant fish-eating amphibians, and small dinosaurs lived among a variety of ferns, cycads, and other plants and animals that are known today only from fossils. Paleontologists discovered the skull of Pseudopalatus mccauleyi in 1985, excavating it in 1986. Phytosaurs looked much like today's crocodiles, although they are only distantly related. They were 15-17 feet in length with a long tail and short, stout legs. Bony plates for body protection and large, sharp teeth, made phytosaurs successful predators on land and in water. Nostrils just in front of their eyes allowed them to freely breathe while floating low in shallow waters. They could then remain almost invisible for long periods of time while watching for unsuspecting prey. Crocodiles have nostrils protruding high on the end of their snout, allowing them to exhibit the same behavior.

Several additional phytosaur species have been found in Petrified Forest National Park, including Leptosuchus crosbiensis, Leptosuchus adamanensis, and Pseudopalatus pristinus . Petrified Forest National Park is one of the world's greatest storehouses of knowledge about life on earth during the Late Triassic Period, when the Age of the Dinosaurs was just beginning. On the skull's return from Washington, D.C. in January 2006, it will be exhibited in the Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park.

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