03.15.2016

State Dinosaurs: Let’s Do This!

Hello, readers! It’s been a while. I have a good excuse, though: I’ve been busy putting together the second issue of the “new” Reports of the NCSE (RNCSE), which you will receive sometime in early-mid April. (That’s assuming you’re a member. You’re a member, right? If not, that can be fixed.) With that giant TO DO crossed off from my list, I found myself in the market for a good blog topic. I did what I always do what I need something, whether inspiration or completely esoteric quote attribution—I asked Glenn Branch. And, as usual, Glenn did not disappoint.

Glenn sent me a link to the story of Mason “Cypress” Oury, a seventeen-year-old paleontology enthusiast in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Oury has been doggedly petitioning the state legislature to adopt Arkansaurus fridayi as the state dinosaur of Arkansas. A. fridayi is known only from a few bones—three metatarsals, three phalanges, three claws, and two vertebrae to be exact—so its classification and identification have been the subject of some controversy. The consensus seems to be that it was a theropod from the early Cretaceous, but whether it represents a new species or not is a little up in the air. In fact, “A. fridayi” is not even considered a scientific name, but an “informal name,” which means that the specimen has not been adequately described in the literature to be granted “official” status. (That’s why Glenn, copyediting a draft of this post, made me set its name in roman rather than italic type. What a stickler!) Nevertheless, assuming that it is a species unto itself, it seems that A. fridayi is the only dinosaur found exclusively in Arkansas, which to Oury, made it an obvious candidate for state dinosaur. It’s taken three years, but it looks like he’ll get his proposal considered in the 2017 legislative session.

Good for you, Arkansas! (Are you paying attention, South Carolina? Kids urging you to adopt state fossils and dinosaurs is good public relations, not, I repeat, not, an invitation to peddle anti-evolution gibberish.)

All of this got Glenn, and therefore me, wondering how many states have state dinosaurs. It turns out that not many do: just seven, plus the District of Columbia, in fact. Colorado claimed Stegosaurus armatus; D.C. has Capitalsaurus (another Stegosaurus armatus, state dinosaur of Colorado (Durbed CC BY-SA 3.0) informal name); Maryland nabbed the sauropod Astrodon johnstoni, Missouri selected the hadrosaur Hypsibema missouriensis; New Jersey, also liking hadrosaurs, opted for Hadrosaurus foulkii; Oklahoma went the theropod route with Acrocanthosaurus atokensis; Texas lassoed the long-necked Paluxysaurus jonesi; and Wyoming stuck to a classic, Triceratops.

How disappointing is that? Every state has a flower, a bird, and a mineral. State minerals, really? How are minerals more exciting than dinosaurs? Which would you rather have on a state quarter, a mineral or a dinosaur? Which would you rather brag about: “We have lots of agate!” or “We have lots of terrifying theropods!”?

So I suggest that we propose state dinosaurs for everyone! Here are the two and only rules: (1) the dinosaur should be from the Mesozoic (so no living birds, though yes, absolutely, they’re dinosaurs), and (2) the dinosaur should have some relevance to the state for which it is proposed.

The way I see it, we can go one of two routes. On the first option, we can be serious, giving each state a completely appropriate dinosaur found within its boundaries or somehow tied to a famous person from that state. In this case, California might get Nodrosaurus, for example, because it is one of the few dinosaurs ever found in the state. Or alternatively, on the second option, we could be somewhat less serious and propose to bestow upon California as its state dinosaur the sustainably-shade-grown, song-bird-friendly vegan free-range organic hormone-free T. rex.

Whether you prefer the serious or the silly approach, let us know in the comments section below what dinosaurs you’d like to see which states adopt, and why. If we get enough quality (Gusme CC BY-SA 3.0) answers, I’ll consolidate them into another post. From there, we can all start petitioning our respective states, which will trigger a groundswell of support for evolution education, which will lead to not only state dinosaurs for everyone but to adoption of the highest quality science standards, which will in turn lead peace, tranquility, and Nobel Prizes for NCSE staff and members. Hey. It could happen.

Are you a teacher and want to tell us about an amazing free resource? Do you have an idea for a Misconception Monday or other type of post? Have a fossil to share? See some good or bad examples of science communication lately? Drop me an email or shoot me a tweet @keeps3.