This weekend marks another chance for Central Texas families and paleontology fans to take a big step back in time at Austin Paleo’s annual Fossil Fest in Round Rock. This is an incredible learning opportunity for everyone, and for just $3 for adults and $2 for children, it’s a very inexpensive day of fun and learning. This year’s show focuses on prehistoric sharks, and the event includes guest speakers, the chance to meet scientists, hands-on demos and fossil tables, exhibits, door prizes, and more.

Texas is no stranger to dino discoveries. Austin even has its own Cretaceous-era geologic formation named after it: the Austin Chalk. According to Wikipedia, the Cretaceous period is marked by a rich fossil record in Texas, due to alternating rising and falling of sea levels. This left a variety of life from sea and land to be preserved in the fossil record. Cretaceous vertebrate life of Texas included birds, dinosaurs, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. This vertebrate life resulted in a wide variety of fossils, the most common including echinoids, gastropods, cephalopods, and pelecypods.

Here are just a few of the interesting creatures that roamed the areas where we walk our dogs and listen to live music.

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Pawpawsaurus: Earlier this year researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas published a study about a Texas dinosaur with what is likely to be the cutest name given to a dinosaur ever in all of history: the Pawpawsaurus. Now, the Pawpawsaurus probably didn’t suck on hard candies or spend his Sundays doing crossword puzzles, but it did have an armored plate along its back and eyelids similar to its cousin the Ankylosaurus. The new research reveals, however, that the Pawpawsaurus didn’t have the club tail that its cousin did, instead having to rely on a keen sense of smell to thwart predators. This dinosaur’s range was in the Tarrant County area.

Brachauchenius: This carnivorous reptilian sea creature lived during the Turonian stage of the late Cretaceous with a range included the Western Inland Sea of North America (which included Texas). His name means ‘short neck,’ though the rest of him wasn’t particularly short-he is estimated to have measured up to around 40 feet long. He has the unique distinction of being the last known pliosaur in North America.

Leptostyrax macrorhiza: In 2015 an accidental discovery unearthed another enormous sea creature, this time a 20-foot shark believed to be one of the biggest predators of its time, according to Nature World News. It was previously believed that the pliosaurs were the only large sea creatures of the time, but this new discovery shows that this massive shark could grow up to around 32 feet long, giving the pliosaurs a run for their meat-eating money.

Heart urchins: OK, so these guys are giving the Pawpawsaurus some competition in the adorable name category. The heart urchin also looks kind of fuzzy, making it even cuter. It gets its name because its unique features include a mouth on one end and anus on the other, making it bilaterally symmetrical, resembling a heart.

Bonus: Though they lived much, much later in the Geologic Time Scale than the Cretaceous, it is worth noting that Central Texas was home to REAL LIFE DIRE WOLVES in the Late Pleistocene era. These prehistoric canines are estimated to have weighed between 130 to 240 pounds (different scientists had different takes on their weight possibilities). Regardless, they weren’t actually the massive beasts that “Game of Thrones” brought to life considering that some of the world’s larger dogs like Great Danes (upwards of 200 pounds) and English Mastiffs (upwards of 250 pounds) outweigh them. Still, it’s nice to think of Ghost or Nymeria running around Central Texas tens of thousands of years ago.


Featured photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons licensed

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