Book Review: “King of the Crocodylians”

19 12 2008

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I’ve noticed a certain trend in paleo-literature with regards to the applicative qualities of the volume’s topic in relation to readability: Books focusing on more obscure subjects are frequently far more enjoyable than their more-encompassing counterparts. This is likely due to the fact that such publications are almost invariably of particular personal interest to the author, who is frequently capable of conveying a superior sense of enthusiasm through the text in comparison to a discussion on a (relatively) mundane introductory topic.

Such is the case in David Schwimmer’s book, “King of the Crocodylians: The Paleobiology of Deinosuchus.” Dr. Schwimmer specializes in the Mesozoic paleontology of the American Southwest and has a passion for the period’s extinct crocodylian fauna, the most famous of which belong to the genus Deinosuchus.

When the name Deinosuchus is mentioned (after-all, it is a quintessential suppertime discussion topic, right?), paleo-nerds like myself frequently recall the famed skull reconstruction at the American Museum of Natural History and Science. However, Schwimmer points out that, despite the exquisite craftsmanship demonstrated therein, the display is inaccurate. The best reconstruction of this creature to date was drawn specifically for the cover of his book.

Topics discussed include an excellent chapter on the evolution of crocodylians (the most readable and comprehensive I’ve ever come across on the subject), the function and diversity of their scutes (bony, external plates partially covering the backside), the diet of Deinosuchus (it would appear that the animals were at least partial chelonivores, or ‘turtle-eaters’, in addition to having been demonstrably recognized as consuming dinosaurian foodstuffs as well), and the curious fact that specimens found along the Western side of their range (such as Texas and, occasionally, Montana) were significantly larger than their Eastern counterparts.

The book also clears up an unfortunately-prevalent misconception: that these beasts were primarily river-dwellers. Schwimmer reveals that Deinosuchus was heavily-marine in nature, frequenting an extinct body of water commonly known as ‘the Western-Interior seaway’ (for more information on this, check out this amazing website) which essentially split the North American continent in half during much of the middle and late Cretaceous period.

As I mentioned earlier, the greatest strength of this book lies in its readability: jargon is kept to a minimum and that which is unavoidable is defined comprehendably by the glossary. Furthermore, Schwimmer clearly demonstrates a passion for the topic, and his descriptions of various excavating and cataloging endeavours across much of the nation reflect this. I’d highly reccomend it to anyone even vaguely-interested in the subject and to paleo-enthusiasts of (nearly) all ages.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all.

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