The land that is now the United States was once home to a wide assortment of dinosaurs. From the terrifying T-rex to the sturdy Ankylosaurus, this land was teeming with dinosaur life. Interestingly, the state of Arkansas was not as much of a hotbed of dinosaur activity as other states. While paleontologists have found some fossils, they discovered that only a few species were located in this area. Today, we’re going to look at the dinosaurs that lived in Arkansas, the fossils that were discovered, and other prehistoric creatures that once roamed The Natural State.
What Is Arkansas’ State Dinosaur?
Arkansaurus fridayi is the state dinosaur of Arkansas. The dinosaur received this honor in 2017, four decades after it was discovered. This dinosaur was an ornithomimosaurian, a theropod dinosaur that would probably bear some resemblances to the ostrich that lives today.
Arkansaurus fridayi became the state’s official dinosaur because the dinosaur’s fossils were the first ones ever found in Arkansas. The fossils were not found until 1972. Even then, they weren’t recognized as dinosaur fossils right away.
That may sound confusing, but scientists suggest that the fossils in this state are poorly preserved and often buried below many layers of plants and soil. The recovered fossils of the state dinosaur consist of four phalanges, three claws, and three metatarsals of the creature.
The recovered fossils were provided to James Harrison Quinn of the University of Arkansas. He worked to properly clean the fossils, made models of the missing bones, and constructed multiple replicas of the complete foot. He properly described the bones and named the dinosaur. Arkansaurus fridayi is named after the individual that owned the land where they were found, Joe B. Friday.
Although these were the only fossilized bones discovered in the state at the time, this was certainly not the only dinosaur that lived in Arkansas.
What Are the 6 Dinosaurs that Lived in Arkansas?
The dinosaurs that lived in Arkansas include the Arkansaurus fridayi, members of Acrocanthosaurus, Deinonychus, Richardoestesia, Nodosauria, and various titanosaurs, including Sauroposeidon. However, the most complete fossilized bones of dinosaurs found in Arkansas are those belonging to Arkansaurus fridayi.
The other records of dinosaurs that lived in the area come from trace fossils and footprints that the vast creatures left behind. Paleontologists found many trace fossils in the Holly Creek Formation, a part of the Trinity Group that dates back to the Cretaceous period. This area is located in southwest Arkansas.
Scientists discovered some fragments of theropods like the Deinonychus antirropus and Richardoestia, along with fossilized scutes of an ankylosaurus in that area in recent years.
All in all, scientists have limited physical evidence of the dinosaurs that lived in Arkansas. However, using the dates of the footprints and fossils found in nearby areas, some as few as 25 miles across the border, scientists were able to piece together which dinosaurs lived in what is now Arkansas.
We’ve already told you how the fossils of Arkansaurus fridayi were found by Joe B. Friday. The story of how the other dinosaur evidence was discovered in Arkansas is just as interesting.
The Gypsum Quarry
A significant portion of the evidence that we have of dinosaurs that lived in Arkansas comes from footprints left by the creatures as they walked through the state. In one of the most famous cases, dinosaur footprints were mistaken for potholes at a gypsum quarry called the Briar site back in the 1980s.
Quarry workers were annoyed by the unusual potholes that plagued the area. A man named Jeff Pittman was in the area studying the sedimentology of the area in 1983. He drove over those same potholes many times without realizing what they were. After he went to Colorado and New Mexico and saw preserved dinosaur footprints, he realized that they were dinosaur tracks.
He returned and found many tracks belonging to some of the largest dinosaurs. Pittman managed to survey the area and found a variety of trackways belonging to sauropods. Unfortunately, the quarry was an active work zone. Pittman and others performed a quick excavation.
Researchers took pictures and made molds of the tracks before the area was destroyed by the mining operation. In 2011, Acrocanthasaurus tracks were discovered in the area. The future could hold even more discoveries as the area is continually changing and unearthing new tracks.
Other Ancient Animals That Lived in Arkansas
Many other ancient animals lived in Arkansas and left behind fossils evidence, and footprints. For example, Arkansas was once home to creatures like mastodons, mammoths, Megalonyx, and more.
The latter is known as the giant ground sloth, and the fossils of this creature are the most complete of any prehistorical mammal in the state.
Other interesting creatures, like the Ozarcus, a short shark that measured about three feet long, have also been found in the fossil records of the state. These are just a handful of the most interesting creatures that survived in what is now Arkansas.
Where Can You See Dinosaur Fossils in Arkansas?
Given that few dinosaur fossils were ever found in the state, you won’t be able to see many dinosaur fossils in Arkansas. Still, the University of Arkansas Museum does house a variety of fossils in its collection, including the Akrnasaurus fridayi. You can see many of the specimens kept by this university in its online collection.
The University of Arkansas, the Museum of Discovery, and the Mid-America Science Museum possess or possessed molds of the dinosaur footprints taken from the Briar site gypsum quarry. Also, the Mid-America Science Museum has a permanent dinosaur exhibit.
The University of Arkansas museum apparently holds open houses, exhibits, and events. You can communicate with the museum curators and learn more about the rich history of discoveries made throughout the state. However, you may have to set an appointment to gain access to some of the items in the collection.
All told, Arkansas doesn’t have as many preserved fossils as other states. However, this state is home to at least one unique dinosaur. Studies at the Holly Creek Formation continue to provide new insight into the wildlife that lived in this area.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Elenarts/Shutterstock.com
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- Earth Archives, Available here: https://eartharchives.org/articles/arkansas-s-state-dinosaur-officially-named/index.html
- University of Arkansas (1970) news.uark.edu/articles/41362/u-of-a-alumna-confirms-that-state-dinosaur-is-a-new-species
- National Library of Medicine, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8542373/