The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Mississippi

The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Mississippi

First, here's the bad news: no dinosaurs have ever been discovered in Mississippi, for the simple reason that this state contains no geologic sediments dating to the Triassic or Jurassic periods, and was mostly underwater during the Cretaceous era.

Now, here's the good news: for much of the Cenozoic Era, after the dinosaurs went extinct, Mississippi was home to a wide assortment of megafauna mammals, including whales and primates, about which you can learn by perusing the following slides.

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Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Fossils of the 50-foot-long, 30-ton Basilosaurus have been discovered all over the deep south-not only in Mississippi but in neighboring Alabama and Arkansas as well. As numerous as the remains of this giant prehistoric whale are, it took a long time for paleontologists to come to grips with the early Eocene Basilosaurus-which was initially classified as a marine reptile, hence its odd name, which translates from the Greek as "king lizard."

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National Museum of Natural History

Zygorhiza ("yoke root") was closely related to Basilosaurus (see the previous slide), but possessed an unusually sleek, narrow body and hinged front flippers (a hint that this prehistoric whale may have lumbered up onto land to give birth to its young). Along with Basilosaurus, Zygorhiza is the state fossil of Mississippi; the skeleton at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is affectionately known as "Ziggy."

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Nobu Tamura

Although no dinosaurs lived in Cretaceous Mississippi, this state was well-stocked with marine reptiles, including mosasaurs, fast, sleek, hydrodynamic predators that competed for prey with prehistoric sharks. Although most specimens of Platecarpus have been unearthed in Kansas (which was also covered by water 80 million years ago), the "type fossil" was discovered in Mississippi, and investigated by no less an authority than the famous American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope.

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Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Named after the mystical philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, Teilhardina was a tiny, tree-dwelling mammal that inhabited the forests of Mississippi about 55 million years ago (only 10 million years after the dinosaurs went extinct). It's possible, though not proven, that the Mississippi-dwelling Teilhardina was North America's first primate; it's also possible, but not proven, that Teilhardina is a "polyphyletic" genus, a fancy way of saying that it has yet to be definitively classified by paleontologists.

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Subhyracodon, a prehistoric mammal of Mississippi. Charles R. Knight

Various megafauna mammals dating to the middle Cenozoic Era have been unearthed in Mississippi; unfortunately, these fossils are scattered and fragmentary, especially compared with more complete discoveries in neighboring states. A good example is Subhyracodon, an ancestral rhinoceros of the early Oligocene epoch (about 33 million years ago), which is represented in the Magnolia State by a single, partial jawbone, along with a few other contemporary animals.