An amateur paleontologist has found a fossilised jaw bone belonging to a long-snouted fish while on a dig at the Petrified Forest.
The size of a fingernail, the bone was found at the site of a lake or pond during the Late Triassic period. This was a period that fish were thought to be extinct in North America.
"People who actually study this group of fish might start setting their sights in our direction now," said park paleontologist.
The bone was discovered by Phoenix resident Stephanie Leco, who was taking part in a dig for citizens at the national park near Holbrook where fossils are often uncovered. Already having several finds of small teeth under her belt, she was stumped when she came across the fossil.
She showed it to Matt Smith, the park's lead fossil preparer, who took it to the lab for closer examination. Later, he emailed her that it belonged to a fish that was closely related to the genus Saurichthys.
According to Parker, the full jaw of the fish would be three to four times longer than the fossil that was discovered. He added that other fossils of the fish may be found on the East Coast and on the Colorado Plateau where similar rock is exposed.
"Although it's probably a new species, we can't say that it is yet because we don't have enough specimens," said Ben Kligman. He intends to look for the full fossil of the fish next summer.