Wannchampsus kirpachi (small terrestrial crocodile), two skulls as preserved in contact, Early Cretaceous

Wannchampsus kirpachi (small terrestrial crocodile), two skulls as preserved in contact, Early Cretaceous

Fossilized bone; Proctor Lake, Texas

Shuler Museum of Paleontology, SMU-76604-5


Listen to Dr. Dale A. Winkler, Director of the Shuler Museum of Paleontology at SMU discuss this work (1:59 minutes)

Audio Transcript

Wannchampsus kirpachi (small terrestrial crocodile), two skulls as preserved in contact, Early Cretaceous

Fossilized bone; Proctor Lake, Texas

Shuler Museum of Paleontology, SMU-76604-5


By Dr. Dale A. Winkler, Director of the Shuler Museum of Paleontology at SMU


Shown here are two tiny fossil skulls, still locked together as they were found, in ancient sediments. The nose of one skull is lodged below the back of the left lower jaw of the other. A large opening visible on the skull behind is its right eye socket. You can see a pair of rimmed openings at the back of both skulls, which served as places for the jaw muscles to attach. Protruding out from the front of the forward skull are parts of its lower jaw. The discovery of these small and primitive relatives of modern alligators and crocodiles gives us insight into the animals that populated the Texas landscape during part of the Cretaceous Period, more than 110 million years ago. Unlike any other fossil ancient crocodilian that had been found before, this rare find brought to light a species that was new to science. For every species of animal or plant that is named in biology, there is one individual specimen that is selected and preserved in a museum, to serve as its so-called “type” specimen. The forward one of these fossils skulls was selected by an SMU graduate student as the type for a new species Wannchampsus kirpachi. Its name honors a Texas paleontologist renowned in the study of fossil crocodiles, and the person who discovered the specimens.


Although their bodies would have been even less than one-meter long when they were alive, these fossil crocodilian skulls represent nearly full-sized adults. As evidenced by the sediments and the other fossils at the locality where they were discovered, these little crocodilians lived fully on land, not in the water as modern alligators and crocodiles do. Another point of interest is that the fossil locality where they were found is well known for preserving numerous skeletons of a new species of small plant-eating dinosaur. Most of these dinosaurs were babies. It is suggested that these baby dinosaurs were the prey of this small nemesis of the Cretaceous of Texas.