One of America’s national treasures is its diverse and bountiful fossil record. To honor their prehistoric pasts, most U.S. states have designated official state fossils, ranging from trilobites to dinosaurs. Find out more about these fossils with our quiz.
Question of 10
All but one of these states has chosen some kind of mammoth as its official fossil. Can you spot the outlier?
Mammoth bones are common in South Dakota, but the three-horned dinosaur Triceratops became its state fossil in 1988. The herbivorous beast roamed North America from 68 to 66 million years ago.
Alabama and Mississippi don't always see eye-to-eye, but they do share a state fossil: Basilosaurus. Originally mistaken for a marine reptile, we now know Basilosaurus was something else. What sort of creature was it?
Named in 1834, Basilosaurus was a carnivorous whale measuring about 70 feet (21 meters) long. It had a pair of extremely short hind legs that adults might've used to latch onto each other while mating.
a sea lion
Which state fossil was taken up to the Mir Space Station?
Coelophysis (New Mexico)
Astronauts brought an 8-inch (20-centimeter) Coelophysis skull along for the ride on a 1998 NASA shuttle mission. Coelophysis was a small predatory dinosaur native to the American southwest.
Kansas has two state fossils: Pteranodon and Tylosaurus. What did those animals have in common?
They were both dinosaurs.
They both ate plants.
They lived at the same time.
About 85 million years ago, the aquatic Tylosaurus and the flying, fish-snatching Pteranodon patrolled an inland sea that once covered the great plains. By the way, neither animal is considered a dinosaur.
Complete this sentence: California's state fossil is a saber-toothed ___________.
Smilodon fatalis is often wrongly called a "saber-toothed tiger." Although it was definitely a cat, scientists say this species was not closely related to tigers.
What's the state fossil of Arizona? (Hint: Think national parks.)
petrified conifer wood
Thousands of mineral-rich, tree-shaped fossils litter Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park. Many represent an extinct conifer called Araucarioxylon arizonicum, the state's official fossil.
the American mastodon
a small species of trilobite
Chosen in 2008, West Virginia's state fossil was an ice age mammal named after which U.S. president?
An armchair paleontologist, the Sage of Monticello waxed philosophic about giant ground sloths. One species, Megalonyx jeffersonii, now bears his name.
James K. Polk
Oregon's state fossil is the redwood tree Metasequoia. When did that plant go extinct?
10,000 years ago
2 million years ago
Yep, that was a trick question! Although Metasequoia vanished from Oregon about 5 million years ago, a Chinese population has survived into the 21st century.
Trilobites are popular state fossils. (Just ask Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.) Did these spineless critters live before or after the dinosaurs?
Related to modern horseshoe crabs, the trilobites vanished 248 million years ago at the end of the Permian Period. The earliest dinosaurs came later.
Trilobites and dinosaurs lived at the same time.
North Carolina chose "the fossilized teeth of the [gigantic] megalodon shark" as its state fossil. How long could those teeth get?
4.8 inches ( 12.1 centimeters)
7.6 inches (19.3 centimeters)
Scientists found a tooth that was 7.6 inches long. They also have discovered fossilized megalodon backbones and poop samples.
9.3 inches (23.6 centimeters)