PETRIFIED FOREST, Ariz. (ABC4) – After years of study and preparation the skull of Gumby the Phytosaur will be on display in the Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park. Gumby is a species of phytosaur called Smilosuchus andamanensis, which roughly translates to ‘chisel crocodile’ of Adamana, Arizona. 

Phytosaurs are a group of extinct reptiles that are fairly similar to crocodiles. This species inhabited Arizona during the Late Triassic. Fossils from at least nine different phytosaurs have been found throughout the park in recent years. 

Gumby’s skull was found and uprooted from the park in June of 2008. The fossil earned its name when a rainstorm unexpectedly hit during the extraction process, re-burying the fossil and making its bones somewhat flexible and bendy. Due to its abrupt soaking, Gumby’s skull has been known to fall apart from time to time. 

While undergoing the process of preparation, or cleaning rock from the bones of a fossil, a paleontologist witnessed Gumby collapse. Rather than experiencing frustration, the scientist took advantage of the situation by creating a high-quality mold from which research and display casts, or replicas, can be made. 

Mold of Gumby being made

“We have already created one display cast and are currently planning to incorporate it into our Rainbow Forest Museum dig pit in the blue mesa room later this year,” says museum curator Matt Smith.

Today, the original skull of Gumby is being repaired and is in the process of being mounted for display in the museum’s ‘Rivers to Stone’ display case. The case is a recreation of a small section of a mural representing species found in a Triassic river scene. 

Triassic river scene

“The updated display will depend on whether Gumby continues to behave like a solid and less like a liquid,” says Matt. “If Gumby goes to pieces again, museum staff will be able to display a cast in the exhibit case and store the original specimen in the collections to protect it. Sometimes, we get lucky, and we can display our delicate fossils. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they remain stubbornly behind the scenes.”

For a closer look at Gumby be sure to plan a visit to the Rainbow Forest Museum sometime this year.