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Wikimedia Commons

8 Official State Dinosaurs

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

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


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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


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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


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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


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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


Tim Krepp

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


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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.

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Animals
14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
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Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.

1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.

A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.
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So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.

2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.

A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
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It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: An eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.

3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.

Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.
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Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch them themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).

4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE ...

Two bald eagles perched on a tree.
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Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: The male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.

5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.

Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.
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Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.

6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
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Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.

7. FEMALES ARE LARGER THAN MALES.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
iStock

In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weigh about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.

8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.

A bald eagle flies across the water.
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People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.

9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.

Baby eagle chicks in a nest.
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Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.

10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.

An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
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You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.

11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.

A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.
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It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.

12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.

Close-up of a bald eagle's face.
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What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.

13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.

A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.
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If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.

14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.

A bald eagle
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There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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