Stories from across the United States reveal how authorities chose their official fossils, and some are stranger than others. Illinois chose the Tully monster because it has been found exclusively within state lines. Others are less clear cut, such as Colorado and the Stegosaurus, which was first found in the state but could have been chosen by various others.
Scientists are not sure if Washington DC’s dinosaur even exists
Among those that plumped for locally discovered dinosaurs are Missouri, Oklahoma, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Texas. Strangely enough even in states that sometimes debate the merits of the theory of evolution, the avatar is a plant or animal that lived millions of years ago.
The duck-billed Maiasaura was chosen in Montana, where remains provided evidence that some dinosaurs looked after their offspring. Utah went with the massive meat-eating predator Allosaurus, but that was before the Utahraptor was discovered.
Over in Washington DC, Capitalsaurus is the official fossil despite a lack of scientific proof that it isn’t the same as another named dinosaur. Paleontologists have only discovered two vertebrae from the creature, but that hasn’t stopped people giving it its own theme song and a street sign.
Connecticut chooses a shadow of a fossil
Aside from dinosaurs there are some interesting choices. Both Alabama and Mississippi opted for the 20-meter toothed whale known as Basilosaurus, while Nevada went with the 40-foot, dolphin-like Shonisaurus.
Connecticut made an interesting choice with Eubrontes, because it isn’t even a dinosaur but rather the outline of one. It was classified as a trace fossil after scientists pieced together footprints and tracks.
California chose its state fossil following a battle between two candidates, each backed by a different politician. While one pushed for the woodlouse-like marine animal trilobites, the other wanted to choose the saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis). Somewhat unsurprisingly they chose the sexier option, the cat.
However trilobites went on to win the day, being chosen by Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. However choosing apparently wasn’t an option in Kansas, which went with the 20-foot wingspan flying Pteranodon and the Tylosaurus, a 45-foot flippered lizard.
Nominations run into opposition from creationists
In South Carolina an 8-year old dinosaur fan named Olivia McConnell had to push creationist senators to make the Columbia mammoth the state fossil. The bill was delayed while lawmakers debated adding amendments that referred to the book of Genesis, but was eventually passed in May 2014.
Vermont is the only state that chose a fossil belonging to an animal that is still alive, the white beluga whale. However it since received a demotion of sorts and is now known as the state marine fossil after a mammoth tooth was discovered and name state terrestrial fossil.
Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Washington all picked mammoths or mastodons, the trunked and tusked relatives of modern day elephants. Animals are not the only choice, by any means.
Arizona chose an ancient conifer tree found at the Petrified Forest National Monument. Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas, and Washington also chose petrified wood from different trees, while Maine went with Petrica, a plant which was one of the tallest on Earth until the rise of the dawn redwood, which incidentally is Oregon’s state fossil. It’s a fairly strange decision given that the redwood has been found alive in China.
So far seven states have yet to name a fossil, while others have made some truly bizarre choices. Georgia didn’t really understand the idea of naming a state fossil, and instead chose shark tooth. Not any particular shark tooth, like one from the huge Megalodon, but just a generic shark tooth.