8 Official State Dinosaurs
Most states have a collection of symbols their citizens have chosen to represent their collective identity: flags, flowers, and birds are popular categories of these. A few states have gone the extra mile and claimed a bit of prehistory as their own, naming official state fossils. However, these eight states have distinctly designated official state dinosaurs, honoring the living, breathing, occasionally flesh-ravaging creatures that once roamed their land.
1. Colorado: Stegosaurus armatus
This plant-eating “armored roof lizard” was a massive collection of physical awkwardness. With its long tail and short legs, the stegosaurus struggled to coordinate the movements of its own body. Its head was also disproportionately small, with a brain the size of a dog’s to match—possibly the smallest of all dinosaurs known to date. At least it had those massive spikes to compensate.
2. Maryland: Astrodon johnstoni
Another herbivore like Colorado’s stegosaurus, Maryland’s state dinosaur may be the only species discovered by a chemist and named by a dentist. While in the field researching for Maryland’s first geologic map, Philip Tyson, noted by his formal title as the State Agricultural Chemist, found two unusual tooth fossils in the clay of Prince George’s County. He turned them over to local dentist Christopher Johnston for futher investigation, and the doctor promptly cross-sectioned one to find a star pattern within, hence the dinosaur’s name: “star-tooth.”
3. Missouri: Hypsibema missouriensis
Wikimedia Commons; exhibit from the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History
The Hypsibema missouriensis, as its name suggests, is one of a kind—fossils discovered in 1942 at the Chronister Dinosaur Site were the first dinosaur remains found in the state of Missouri, and although others followed, none matched those of the original Hypsibema. It has since been classified as a hadrosaur, a “duck-billed dinosaur.” The Smithsonian Museum bought the dinosaur’s thirteen vertebrae from the landowner, who dug them up in the process of installing a cistern, for $50; she used the money to buy a cow.
4. New Jersey: Hadrosaurus foulkii
In 1858, visiting fossil hobbyist William Parker Foulke and paleontologist Joseph Leidy unearthed the first nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton in Haddonfield, New Jersey. In 1868, visitors were invited to view the bones on display at the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia, granting the remains the secondary distinction of being the first dinosaur skeleton mounted for public exhibition (above). The display was so popular, drawing in more than three times the museum’s usual crowd within the first few years alone, that the institution relocated to a larger facility. In 1879, Foulke’s namesake duck-billed dinosaur went international: Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Museum acquired a copy of the skeleton, which became Europe’s first dinosaur exhibit. Today, visitors from all over the world can learn about the Hadrosaurus simply by visiting its website.
5. Oklahoma: Acrocanthosaurus atokensis
Flickr user cryptonaut; from the permanent collection of the North Carolina Museum of Sciences
Oklahoma’s state dinosaur is new on the scene, only obtaining official state adoption in June 2006—though its existence dates to the Early Cretaceous period. A. atokensis is the only named species within its genus, its scientific designation paying homage to Atoka County, where its fossil specimens were discovered. “Acrocanthosaurus” translates to “high-spined lizard,” noting the distinctive neural spines projecting from the dinosaur’s vertebrae, but its claws were the feature to fear: measuring up to six inches long, they were designed to grip its prey and tear flesh from bone. Yikes.
6. Texas: Paluxysaurus jonesi
The Lone Star State’s official dinosaur has gone through quite the identity crisis in recent years. In 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 57, which cited evidence of tracks and bones found primarily within modern state lines to declare the Pleurocoelus species “indigenous to Texas” and one of the family. The Bush dinosaur legacy was aborted no more than seven years later, when graduate student Peter Rose identified the so-called “Pleurocoelus” fossils as an entirely new species, Paluxysaurus jonesi, named for the town and ranch where the bones were originally discovered. Governor Rick Perry signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 16 to make the change official in 2009.
Paluxysaurus jonesi is a member of genus Sauroposeidon, or “earthquake god lizard.” With its neck extended, it could reach up to 56 feet tall, making it the tallest known dinosaur, and one of the heaviest as well, at approximately 56 tons—the equivalent of about 25,000 Big Texan steaks.
7. Washington, D.C.: Capitalsaurus
Okay, D.C. isn’t a state, and Capitalsaurus is just a nickname for its official dinosaur, but we’ll make an exception out of respect to the scientists who spent so long struggling to name the bone fragments unearthed by construction workers at the intersection of First and F Streets SE. The fossils were identified straightaway as some kind of theropod, or “beast-footed,” dinosaur; however, a more specific classification proved difficult. In 1990, after almost a century of various researchers’ attempts to establish the dinosaur’s genus and scientific name, paleontologist Peter Kranz unofficially referred to the remains in a news article as those of the “Capitalsaurus”—and it stuck, albeit off the scientific record. The District of Columbia now commemorates every January 28th as “Capitalsaurus Day.”
8. Wyoming: Triceratops
A year after the release of the film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Wyoming claimed the “three-horned face” as one of its own. A 1994 statute declared, “A state dinosaur shall be designated by election in accordance with the law. The results of the election naming the state dinosaur shall be filed with the secretary of state.” The “election” in question was a poll of elementary school children, who may have voted out of sympathy for Spielberg’s sick triceratops.