Phytosaur, fish fossils found in southern Utah

Posted at 10:15 PM, Nov 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-04 00:15:31-05

SOUTHERN UTAH – Paleontologists from the University of Utah have recently discovered the remains of several small fish and a phytosaur in southern Utah.

Carrie Levitt is the collections manager of the university’s paleontology department, and she said the finds were fascinating.

"We discovered a lot of very interesting fossils,” she said. “Lots of fish fossils, which is really neat cause they still have scales on it and sometimes even teeth, and we also found some phytosaur material. A phytosaur is a large animal from the Triassic that kind of looked like a crocodile.”

Randall Irmis is the curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah, and he said finding fish fossils is rare.

"Fish tend to fall apart really quickly,” he said. “They have lots of scales and small bones, and they fall apart once they rot, and so to find sites with complete fish is quite rare."

The team of paleontologists found the fossils on Utah’s portion of the Chinle, which is a dark red and orange formation spread across the American Southwest that was created in the Triassic Period.

"Utah is an amazing place for fossils,” Levitt said. “We have so many different aged rocks in Utah, from the Triassic, the Jurassic and the Cretaceous, and so it's just a gold mine for fossils."

Irmis said Utah’s fossil offerings are a cut above the rest.

"Utah has the best fossil record anywhere in the United States, and I could argue maybe anywhere in North America,” he said. “It doesn't matter what type of fossil you're interested in, or what time period, we have that fossil record."

So far the team has found the fossils of 12 fish as well as the phytosaur, but the site hasn’t been fully excavated. A team will return next summer to uncover more.

"We're hoping to excavate these sites and so at the phytosaur site we're hoping that all of the skeleton is there,” Irmis said. “That's a rare occurrence, but there were a lot of bones exposed, so we're very hopeful. And at the fish site, we're hoping to find a lot more complete fish skeletons"