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Blancotherium buckneri
Blancotherium buckneri

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TMM 30896-390, Blancotherium buckneri, holotype, left side of skull and mandible.

Temporal range:  Early Clarendonian

Scientific classification
Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Order:  Proboscidea Illiger, 1811
Family:  †Gomphotheriidae Hay, 1922
Genus:  †Blancotherium
Type species:  Blancotherium buckneri (Sellards, 1940b)

Blancotherium buckneri is gomphothere; a new genus for "Gnathabelodon" buckneri Sellards (1940).

Range. Early Clarendonian of Texas

Diagnosis. Long, gently upward curving upper tusks with no enamel band and no spiral; small, oval-shaped lower tusks with enamel band; downward deflected symphysis that becomes very elongated in old individuals; molars with pretrite trefoils, four main loph/lophids on M3/m3 with a smaller fifth loph/lophid and a posterior heel.

Etymology. Generic name reflects Blanco Creek locality where most of the known material of this taxon has been collected.

Remarks. Blancotherium n. gen. is a gomphotheriid proboscidean previously referred to Gnathabelodon buckneri by Sellards (1940b). Sellards (1940b) did not designate a type specimen.

Type specimen. TMM 30896-390 partial skull and mandible.

Localities. TMM 30936? (Ten Mile Waterhole Creek), TMM 31081 (Farish Ranch), TMM 30896 (Buckner Ranch).

Referred specimens. TMM 30936-28 M3; TMM 31081-422 thoracic vertebra, -1158 partial palate with right and left M1-M3, -1287 right scapula; TMM 30896-51 right scapula, -64 mandible with left and right m2 and m3 (erupting), -85 femur, -90 humerus, -108 mandible with left and right m3, -141 M1, 197 tibia, -210 tibia, -218 humerus, -254 humerus, -232 humerus, -242 femur, -250 tibia, -257 stylohyoid, -260 femur, -269 partial palate with left M2-M3 and right M3, -278 partial right dentary with m2-m3, -285 femur, -295 right dentary with m3, -298 stylohyoid, -299 ulna, -309 mandible with left and right m1-m3 (m3 unerupted), -311 mandible with left and right m3, 318 mandible with left and right m3, -325 partial palate with right and left M2 and M3, -381 right M3, -386 M3, -389 skull with M2, M3, “M4”, -390 partial skull and mandible with M2-M3 and m3, -518 M3, -570 right dentary with m2-m3, -520 lower tusk, -526 lower tusk, -532 tibia, -655 left femur, -656 skull with right M2, M3, left M3 and left upper tusk, -657 mandible with left and right m3. Numerous cranial and post-cranial elements are still in field jackets.

Diagnosis. Only species of the genus.

Age. Early Clarendonian (Cl1-Cl2) based on faunal composition of the Lapara Creek Fauna from the Goliad Formation, TX.

Description. Blancotherium buckneri is a longirostrine gomphothere with long, upward curving upper tusks that lack enamel bands. These tusks show no evidence of helical spiraling. At least five mandibles preserve alveoli for lower tusks that are roughly oval in cross-section (~35-45 mm x 25-35 mm). Two isolated lower tusks (TMM 30896-520, -526) are compressed laterally, slightly curved with enamel bands on one side. Mandibles from the most mature individuals have very elongated symphyses and show only equivocal evidence for lower tusks. Mandibles are variable but generally have long narrow symphyses that progress from U-shaped posteriorly to flattened anteriorly. Some specimens suggest that the anterior end of the symphysis was bilobed. The symphysis is deflected downward relative to the tooth row with measured angles ranging from 24 to 38 degrees and a mean of 33 degrees. The length of the symphysis varies from 47 to 97 cm, but the anterior portion is often broken. The intermediate molars are trilophodont while the third molars commonly exhibit four well-developed lophs (ids) with pretrite trefoil patterns, a smaller fifth loph(id) and a posterior heel existing of 2-3 conules (conulids). The molars are relatively hypsodont and include accessory conules (ids) in the valleys between the primary lophs (ids). 

Ancient 'Texas Serengeti' had elephant-like animals, rhinos, alligators and more

Date: April 11, 2019
Source: University of Texas at Austin

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Fossilized skull parts from ancient elephant relatives in the collections of the Jackson School Museum of Earth History. The skull of a shovel-jawed gomphothere (pictured on bottom) collected by Great Depression-era fossil hunters is still wrapped in its field jacket.
Credit: The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

During the Great Depression, some unemployed Texans were put to work as fossil hunters. The workers retrieved tens of thousands of specimens that have been studied in small bits and pieces while stored in the state collections of The University of Texas at Austin for the past 80 years.
Now, decades after they were first collected, a UT researcher has studied and identified an extensive collection of fossils from dig sites near Beeville, Texas, and found that the fauna make up a veritable "Texas Serengeti" -- with specimens including elephant-like animals, rhinos, alligators, antelopes, camels, 12 types of horses and several species of carnivores. In total, the fossil trove contains nearly 4,000 specimens representing 50 animal species, all of which roamed the Texas Gulf Coast 11 million to 12 million years ago.
A paper describing these fossils, their collection history and geologic setting was published April 11 in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.
"It's the most representative collection of life from this time period of Earth history along the Texas Coastal Plain," said Steven May, the research associate at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences who studied the fossils and authored the paper.
In addition to shedding light on the inhabitants of an ancient Texas ecosystem, the collection is also valuable because of its fossil firsts. They include a new genus of gomphothere, an extinct relative of elephants with a shovel-like lower jaw, and the oldest fossils of the American alligator and an extinct relative of modern dogs.
The fossils came into the university's collection as part of the State-Wide Paleontologic-Mineralogic Survey that was funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal agency that provided work to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. From 1939 to 1941, the agency partnered with the UT Bureau of Economic Geology, which supervised the work and organized field units for collecting fossils and minerals across the state.
Despite lasting only three years, the survey found and excavated thousands of fossils from across Texas including four dig sites in Bee and Live Oak counties, with the majority of their finds housed in what is now the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections at the Jackson School Museum of Earth History. Over the years, a number of scientific papers have been published on select groups of WPA specimens. But May's paper is the first to study the entire fauna.
This extensive collection of fossils is helping to fill in gaps about the state's ancient environment, said Matthew Brown, the director of the museum's vertebrate paleontology collections.
The emphasis on big mammals is due in large part to the collection practices of the fossil hunters, most of whom were not formally trained in paleontology. Large tusks, teeth and skulls were easier to spot -- and more exciting to find -- than bones left by small species.
"They collected the big, obvious stuff," May said. "But that doesn't fully represent the incredible diversity of the Miocene environment along the Texas Coastal Plain."
In order to account for gaps in the collection, May tracked down the original dig sites so he could screen for tiny fossils such as rodent teeth. One of the sites was on a ranch near Beeville owned by John Blackburn. Using aerial photography and notes from the WPA program stored in the university's archives, May and the research team were able to track down the exact spot of an original dig site.
"We're thrilled to be a part of something that was started in 1939," Blackburn said. "It's been a privilege to work with UT and the team involved, and we hope that the project can help bring additional research opportunities."
Scores of WPA-era fossils in the UT collections are still secured in plaster field jackets, waiting to be unpacked for future research projects. Lab managers Deborah Wagner and Kenneth Bader are supervising their preparation, which includes teaching UT students fossil prep skills so they can pick up where the WPA workers left off.
Wagner said that the advantage of unpacking fossils decades later is that they are able to apply modern research techniques that scientists from past eras wouldn't have dreamed possible.
"We are able to preserve more detailed anatomy and answer questions that require higher resolution data," she said.
May said that he plans to continue to study the fossils as more are prepared.

Story Source: University of Texas at Austin. "Ancient 'Texas Serengeti' had elephant-like animals, rhinos, alligators and more." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 11, 2019).

Journal Reference:
  1. Steven R. May. The Lapara Creek Fauna: Early Clarendonian of south Texas, USA. Palaeontologia Electronica, 2019 DOI: 10.26879/929
The Lapara Creek Fauna includes a large collection of fossil vertebrates obtained by the State-Wide Paleontologic-Mineralogic Survey in Texas (1939-1941) under the direction of the Bureau of Economic Geology and the Texas Memorial Museum. Of the 50 species of fossil vertebrates, five species are fish, seven are reptiles, two are birds and 36 are mammals. The 36 species of mammals represent 31 genera of which four are rodents, five are carnivores, two are proboscideans, 10 are artiodactyls and 10 are perissodactyls. These taxa are known from four separate local faunas distributed within the lower to middle parts of the Goliad Formation and are Clarendonian in age. The Ten Mile Waterhole Creek and Bridge Ranch local faunas compare well with Cl1 faunas in North America, while the Farish Ranch and Buckner Ranch local faunas compare well with early Cl2 faunas. The fauna includes the first occurrence, or at least very early occurrences, of cf. Trachemys sp., Apalone sp., Alligator cf. mississippiensis and cf. Eucyon sp. Identification of Ceratogaulus cf. rhinoceros extends the known geographic range of this taxon and represents the oldest occurrence of a mylagaulid from the Texas coastal plain. Blancotherium buckneri is a new generic name assigned to a longirostrine gomphothere that is represented by numerous specimens from the Buckner Ranch Local Fauna. The diverse horse fauna includes 12 species representing nine genera, all but one of which are hypsodont. The composition of the fauna is consistent with the widespread Clarendonian Chronofauna and with a mixed woodland-grassland environment on a broad floodplain associated with low-gradient rivers.
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