100 Million-Year-Old Coelacanth Fish Species Discovered in Texas

Pieces of tiny fossil skull found in Fort Worth have been identified as 100 million-year-old coelacanth bones, according to paleontologist John F. Graf, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The SMU specimen is the first coelacanth in Texas from the Cretaceous, said Graf, who identified the fossil, and named the new coelacanth species Reidus hilli. The Cretaceous geologic period extended from 146 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Coelacanths have been found on nearly every continent, but Reidus hilli is now the youngest coelacanth identified in the Lone Star State and the first coelacanth ever identified from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The coelacanth fish has eluded extinction for 400 million years, but was originally thought to have gone extinct about 70 million years ago. That changed, however, when the fish rose to fame in 1938 after live specimens were caught off the coast of Africa. Today coelacanths can be found swimming in the depths of the Indian Ocean.

A Fort Worth resident, Robert R. Reid has collected fossils for decades and found the fossil specimen while walking some land that had been prepared for construction of new homes. Reid noticed the fossil lying loose on the ground in a washed out gully created by run-off.

"When I found it, I could tell it was a bone but I didn't think it was anything special," said Reid, recalling the discovery. "I certainly didn't think it was a coelacanth."

Reidus hilli came from the fossil-rich Duck Creek Formation, which is a layer-cake band of limestone and shale about 40 feet thick. The fossil was found in marine sediments, Graf said. It is one of many marine fossils found in the North Texas area, which 100 million years ago was covered by the Western Interior Seaway that divided North America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.

Reidus hillis is named for the amateur collector who made the discovery and after Robert T. Hill, the “Father of Texas Geology”, and a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who led surveys of Texas during the 1800s.