Dinosaurs that Lived in Michigan (And Where to See Fossils Today)

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: August 15, 2023
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Michigan has a very rich fossil record that dates back to the Precambrian. That statement could make you believe that paleontologists found a vast array of dinosaur fossils as well. That is not the case, though. Unfortunately, scientists have no fossil evidence of the dinosaurs that lived in Michigan.

How could that be true? We’ll tell you why no dinosaur fossils have ever been discovered in this state and talk about whether or not any ancient creatures ever roamed this land!

What Is Michigan’s State Fossil?

Although no dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the area, Michigan does have a state fossil. The American mastodon (Mammut americanum) was named the state fossil in 2002. State legislators apparently agonized over the decision to even name a state fossil, but the mastodon became the state fossil after some debate.

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This creature lived during the late Miocene or possibly the late Pliocene, and it survived until it went extinct about 11,000 to 10,000 years ago. Oddly enough, Michigan is not the only state to keep the Mastodon as its state fossil. Indiana’s state fossil is also the mastodon, and New Hampshire considered naming this creature their state fossil as recently as 2015. To be fair, few creautres that roamed the U.S. are as interesting as the mastodon.

Did Dinosaurs Live in Michigan?

We can’t say for certain whether or not dinosaurs lived in Michigan. Without any fossil evidence, we can’t say for certain that any creature lived in the area.  

Some dinosaurs could have come to this area during the Jurassic times when the state was hot, humid, and covered in plant life. Core samples taken while drilling for gas and oil showed evidence of fossilized pollen and plant spores.

If Michigan was dry enough for such plants to flourish, then some dinosaurs could have lived in the state.

While there are no fossil records of dinosaurs living in Michigan, there were prehistoric animals that inhabited the state.

Why We Have No Fossil Evidence of Dinosaurs that Lived in Michigan

We do not know of any dinosaurs that lived in Michigan because the rate of sediment deposition was simply outpaced by the rate of sediment erosion throughout the state. That holds true for all the Mesozoic except for some parts of the Jurassic.  

Finding dinosaur fossils seems unlikely these days, considering that dinosaur life was at its zenith in the Cretaceous and no rocks from that era exist.

As we’ve previously mentioned, workers recovered some Jurassic fossils of plant spores while drilling for oil and gas in the state. However, no surface exposures of Jurassic rocks exist in the state, so it’s very hard to explore what could be found in that layer. We don’t know what the future could bring, though.

What Are Some Prehistoric Animals That Lived in Michigan?

Although no evidence of dinosaurs that lived in Michigan exists, we have abundant evidence of prehistoric creatures from the state. Take a look at some of the prehistoric animals that once roamed the state!

1. American Mastodon

High resolution mastodon rendering

Mastodon’s teeth were cone-like and blunt, meant for browsing.

©CC BY 3.0 / Dantheman9758 – License

The American mastodon was a large creature that somewhat resembled the wooly mammoth in that it had massive tusks and a hair-covered body to keep it warm. These mammals were smaller than mammoths, but they still stood about 7 to 10 feet tall and weighed up to 12,000 pounds.  The American mastodon is also the state fossil of Michigan.

2. Woodland Muskox

Bootherium

A cast replica of a Bootherium bombifrons’ (Harlan’s musk ox) skeleton, assembled from specimens found in several states.

©Daderot / public domain – License

The woodland muskox, Bootherium bombifrons, goes by many names because it has been found throughout many places in North America. Scientists have recovered fossil evidence of this animal from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Oklahoma. The woodland muskox went extinct at the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. The mammal may have been hunted into extinction by humans.

3. Columbian Mammoth

Columbian Mammoth

The Columbian Mammoth is an extinct animal that inhabited warmer regions of North America during the Pleistocene.

©Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com

Although they were often confused with wooly mammoths due to their shared lineage, Columbian mammoth remains have been found throughout much of North America. They had the same long, curved tusks and hair as the woolly mammoth. Yet, the Columbian mammoth was a hybrid of a woolly mammoth and an unidentified creature. These animals lived until about 11,500 years ago when a combination of changing climates and human hunting put an end to them.

4. Giant Beaver

Giant beaver Castoroides

The skeletal remains of the Giant Beaver show the immense size of the creature.

©Steven G. Johnson / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, was the largest species of beaver to ever live. These animals could grow up to 6.2 to 7.2 feet long and weigh up to 276 pounds at their largest! Not only are they the biggest beavers to ever roam North America, but they’re also by far the largest rodent known to live in North America.  

5. Elk Moose or Stag-Moose

Cervalces scotti

The stag moose resided in North America during an era with other megafauna.

©Staka / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

The elk moose (Cervales scotti) was a very large deer that is about the same size as a modern-day moose. It measured about 8 feet long, stood about 6 feet tall at the shoulder, and could weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds or slightly more.

Scientists don’t know why this animal went extinct. Unlike the other megafauna that we’ve mentioned, little evidence of their interactions with humans exists.

Where Can You See Fossils in Michigan?

Even though you won’t see fossils of dinosaurs that lived in Michigan, you can still see fossils of prehistoric animals. The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is a great place to see fossils of ancient creatures.

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the museum hosts all sorts of incredible exhibits and events. The museum hosts interactive spaces and virtual exhibits, and it has fossils and casts of ancient creatures. You can see two complete mastodon skeletons that were excavated from Michigan at the exhibit titled “On the Trail of Mastodons.”

There is plenty to do and see at this museum. While they don’t charge to enter many of the exhibits, they accept donations. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Even though nobody has discovered dinosaur fossils in Michigan, future discoveries could help find evidence. In particular, the Jurassic sediments could be the key to learning more about ancient life in this state.  

Summary of Dinosaurs that Lived in Michigan

NumberDinosaur
1American Mastodon
2Woodland Muskox
3Columbian Mammoth
4Giant Beaver
5Elk Moose or Stag-Moose

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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