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Deinosuchus hatcheri

Deinosuchus is an extinct relative of the alligator that lived 80 to 73 Ma (million years ago), during the Late Cretaceous period. The first remains were discovered in North Carolina in the 1850s, but it was not until 1909 that the genus was named and described. Additional fragments were discovered in the 1940s and were later incorporated into an influential, though inaccurate, skull reconstruction at the American Museum of Natural History. Knowledge of Deinosuchus remains incomplete, but better cranial material found in recent years has expanded scientific understanding of this massive predator. Although Deinosuchus was far larger than any modern crocodile or alligator—measuring up to 12 m (40 ft) and weighing up to 8.5 metric tons (9.4 short tons)—its overall appearance was fairly similar to its smaller relatives. It had large, robust teeth that were built for crushing, and its back was covered with thick semispherical osteoderms. One study indicates that Deinosuchus may have lived for up to 50 years, growing at a similar rate to that of modern crocodilians, but maintaining this growth over a much longer period of time. (Read more...)

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Paul Sereno2

Paul Sereno is an American paleontologist who is the discoverer of several new dinosaur species on several continents. He has conducted excavations at sites as varied as Inner Mongolia, Argentina, Morocco and Niger. He is a professor at the University of Chicago and a National Geographic "explorer-in-residence." Sereno's most widely publicized discovery is that of a nearly complete specimen of Sarcosuchus imperator (popularly known as SuperCroc) at Gadoufaoua in the Tenere desert of Niger. Other major discoveries include Eoraptor - the oldest known dinosaur fossil, Jobaria, the first good skull of Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis, Afrovenator, Suchomimus and the African pterosaur. (Read more...)

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"A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn't concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. ... Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. ... In our business, we don't expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter's search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body."
—Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles. Taken from Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.

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Ichthyosaur vertebrae from the Sundance Formation (Jurassic) of southern Wyoming.

Ichthyosaurs were giant marine reptiles that resembled fish and dolphins. Ichthyosaurs thrived during much of the Mesozoic era; based on fossil evidence, they first appeared approximately 245 million years ago (mya) and disappeared about 90 million years ago, about 25 million years before the dinosaurs became extinct. During the Middle Triassic Period, ichthyosaurs evolved from as-yet unidentified land reptiles that moved back into the water, in a development parallel to that of modern-day dolphins and whales. Ichthyosaurs were particularly abundant in the Jurassic Period, until they were replaced as the top aquatic predators by plesiosaurs in the Cretaceous Period. Ichthyosaurs averaged two to four meters in length (although a few were smaller, and some species grew much larger), with a porpoise-like head and a long, toothed snout. Ichthyosaur fossils have been found on every continent except Africa and Antarctica (other researchers reported finding possible ichthyosaur teeth in Antarctica, but they weren't enough to convince most paleontologists). They belong to the order known as Ichthyosauria or Ichthyopterygia ('fish flippers' - a designation introduced by Sir Richard Owen in 1840, although the term is now used more for the parent clade of the Ichthyosauria).

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