State fossils get approval from Kansas House committee

02/20/2014 9:10 AM

02/21/2014 6:53 AM

Make room Western meadowlark, ornate box turtle, bison and cottonwood.

The Tylosaurus and Pteranodon may soon join you as state symbols.

House Bill 2595 naming the Tylosaurus and Pteranodon as the state fossils of Kansas was approved in a House committee Wednesday and will soon be sent to the full House for a vote.

So why does Kansas need a state fossil?

“Aside from the fact that 40 other states have already identified their own state fossils, Kansas has been exporting fossils since 1868,” said Mike Everhart, adjunct curator of vertebrate paleontology at the

Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays

, who testified before the committee.

The Smoky Hill chalk beds of western Kansas have been known throughout the world for containing fossils dating to the Cretaceous period, nearly 87 million years ago, Everhart told legislators.

In his testimony Wednesday, Everhart explained why the Tylosaurus and Pteranodon should be considered as state symbols:

“Both Tylosaurus and Pteranodon are almost exclusively Kansas fossils, being discovered first and most in our state,” Everhart said. The two – one a marine lizard and the other a flying reptile – lived at the same time as dinosaurs.

The Tylosaurus was a lizard that grew to be longer than a school bus, about 45 feet. And with a skull four to five feet long and equipped with large teeth, it could eat anything it wanted, Everhart said. Its closest living relative is the Komodo dragon.

In modern culture, the pteranodon, a massive 25-foot flying reptile, is one of the best known fossils around the world, he said. It has been featured in movies such as “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park.”

Kansas is so well known for its chalk beds containing rich fossils that many Kansas fossils are now in the most well-known museums in the world.

The first known specimen of the Tylosaurus, Everhart said, was found in 1868 near Monument Rocks by an Army captain. A Congressional delegation happened to be in Kansas when Capt. John Butler Conyngham made the discovery.

A professor from Harvard happened to see the fossil and took it back to Massachusetts with him where it was studied by Professor Edward Cope of Philadelphia. It remains in the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The first Pteranodon wing bones were found in Logan County in 1870 by Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale College. The name

Pteranodon loniceps

means “long-headed toothless flier,” Everhart said.

“Both of these extinct animals would be unique among state fossils,” Everhart said. “They would be appropriate recognition of our fossil heritage here in Kansas and the many spectacular fossils from this state that are exhibited in museums around the world.”

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