Its face had an expression like a giant bulldog, with fang-like teeth and an upturned jaw that could open wide to consume large prey. Its flippers had the appearance of wings. With more than 100 vertebrae along the backbone, it resembled an Atlantic tarpon -- except that it was 14 to 15 feet long instead of 5 to 8 feet long.
Visitors to UNT's Environmental Education, Science and Technology Building will be able to see a 250-pound fossil of the head of the prehistoric Xiphactinus (pronounced Zie-fak-tin-nuz) Audex fish, a menacing predator that lived between 100 and 65 million years ago, as well as a fossil of the creature's right flipper. The fossils were identified as Xiphactinus by George Maxey, UNT lecturer in geography and director of the university's Meteorite, Rock, Mineral and Fossil Identification Lab.
Discovered in late 2010 by Denton County resident Paul Jones and his daughter Maggie, the Xiphactinus fossils has been on display on the first floor of the EESAT Building since April 21 and will remain on display for a year. The building is located on the northwest corner of Avenue C and West Mulberry Street at 1704 W. Mulberry St.
Maxey dates the specimens as being 90 to 100 million years old, from the Late Cretaceous period, and says they're among the most exceptional finds that have been brought to the lab since it opened in 2010 to help community members identify found objects.
"We were stunned to see them," Maxey says.
He described the Xiphactinus Audex as a "fast-swimming, aggressive predator" that lived in coastal waters that once covered parts of what is today Denton County.
"These fossils show us what Denton County was like 100 million years ago, when it was a coastal and marine environment," he says.
The fossils are in a glass display case. A printed artist's representation of the rest of the Xiphactius Audex's body is in the case between the head and flipper fossils, to give viewers an idea of the proportion of the fish's body. The case also will have additional information about Texas during the Cretaceous period.
For more information on the Meteorite, Rock, Mineral and Fossil Identification Lab, contact George Maxey at 940-565-2372 or at George.Maxey@unt.edu.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.