A. buceei: Beaver fossil is named after Texan well-liked travel center

A. buceei inhabited Texas nearly 15 million years ago.
Nergis Firtina
A partial skull fossil from the ancient beaver Anchitheriomys buceei.
A partial skull fossil from the ancient beaver Anchitheriomys buceei.

University of Texas, Austin 

In honor of Buc- ee's, a Texas-based chain of well-liked travel centers famous for its cartoon beaver mascot, a new species of ancient beaver that was rediscovered by scientists in the fossil collections of The University of Texas in Austin has been named. Anchitheriomys buceei, or simply "A. buceei," is the scientific name for the beaver.

As stated in the press statement of the University of Texas at Austin, The name was given by an accidental encounter with a Buc-billboard ee's and the beaver's Texas connection, according to Steve May, a research associate at the UT Jackson Department of Geosciences.

The study describes A. buceei and other, much smaller species of fossil beaver has May as its lead author. Based on bones and archival records in the UT collections, the report, which was published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica, gives a summary of beaver occurrences along the Texas Gulf Coast from 15 million to 22 million years ago.

A. buceei: Beaver fossil is named after Texan well-liked travel center
A graphic comparing the size of Anchitheriomys buceei with an average North American Beaver and an average man in the United States.

"This is Beaver Country"

In the year 2020, May noticed the Buc-ee's sign written, "This is Beaver Country," as he was traveling down a highway. His mind immediately went to the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections at UT, where he had been examining the fossils of Texas beavers.

Around 15 million years ago, A. buceei inhabited Texas. According to research co-author Matthew Brown, the director of the vertebrate paleontology collections at the Jackson School, it probably wouldn't have appeared all that different from beavers living in Texas now to the untrained eye. Yet size is one significant distinction.

A. buceei was larger than current beavers by around 30 percent, although it was still considerably smaller than the bear-sized beavers that inhabited North America during the last Ice Age.

Little anatomical elements of the skull were clearly visible thanks to high-resolution X-ray pictures taken at UT Austin's Computed Tomography Lab. May and Brown were able to determine that the skull belonged to a novel species because of these features. Yet they weren't the only ones who had suspicions.

A group of Texan paleontologists first acquired the skull in 1941. One of them, Texas A&M University museum curator Curtis Hesse, wrote in his notes that he intended to give it a new species name. Hesse passed away in 1945, however, before he could finish his research and share his results. With the aid of new technology and a deeper comprehension of the fossil record of beavers, May and Brown continued where Hesse left off 80 years later.

“New discoveries in the field capture lots of attention, but equally as valuable are the discoveries made in existing museum collections,” Brown said. “We know that these opportunities are littered throughout the drawers in these cabinets.”

Study abstract:

The record of fossil beavers from Miocene age strata in the Texas Coastal Plain is sparse. The first occurrence of fossil beavers is in Arikareean age faunas. One fossil beaver specimen was reported from a Hemingfordian fauna near Navasota, TX. Both Monosaulax and Anchitheriomys are described here from multiple early Barstovian faunas including a new taxon, Anchitheriomys buceei. The taxon, A. buceei, was a relatively large beaver, similar to A. fluminis in size, and shares characters with both A. fluminis and A. nanus. The holotype of Anchitheriomys buceei is a partial skull and endocast that preserves key features of the orbital foramina and palatine. Referred specimens include a partial dentary, isolated cheek teeth, and two post-cranial elements. The co-occurrence of this taxon and a small beaver identified as Monosaulax sp. in early Barstovian faunas is coeval with the first occurrence of proboscideans along the Texas Coastal Plain. Beavers are unknown in late Barstovian and Clarendonian faunas, although rodent fossils are uncommon from these faunas in general. Most of the fossil beaver specimens were obtained in the early twentieth century by collectors affiliated with Dr. Mark Francis at Texas A&M University, or with the State-Wide Paleontologic-Mineralogic Survey in Texas and are curated at the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections. Archival materials housed at that facility have been instrumental in unraveling the history of collection, the distribution of localities and the evolving understanding of Miocene vertebrate biostratigraphy on the Texas Coastal Plain.

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