New Jersey looks nothing like it did millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed. Instead of tall buildings and structures, there were pre-historic animals and tall trees. New Jersey, also known as the Garden State, has a long and interesting geographic history including rocks estimated to be at least 500 million years old.
This means there are many places you can still see fossils today! Are you ready to learn more about five dinosaurs that lived in New Jersey? Keep reading and you will also discover where to see fossils today in the Garden State.
The Icarosaurus is a unique dinosaur that stands out. The first completed fossil was found by accident and is from the Late Triassic! Three teenagers including Alfred Siefker, stumbled on a fossil in North Bergen, New Jersey in 1960 while he explored a quarry. Icarosaurus is an extinct genus most closely related to lizards and the tuatara. Scientists estimate this genus was 4 inches long starting from the skull to the hips. It was named after Alfred since he brought the small gliding specimen to the scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Although the Diplurus isn’t a dinosaur, it lived during the same time. This honorable mention is a genus of prehistoric mawsoniid coelacanth fish that lived in the Triassic Period. They are lobe-finned fish closely related to modern coelacanths. You can find these fossils in the Triassic Lockatong Formation sandstone. During an excavation in 1946 hundreds of Diplurus fossils were uncovered.
The Hadrosaurus lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous Period about 80 million years ago. Technically, it’s a genus of hadrosaurid ornithopod dinosaurs. The species found in New Jersey is Hadrosaurus foulkii. This was also the first dinosaur skeleton mounted. It’s important to the state and is New Jersey’s official state dinosaur. From what we know, they were large animals between 23 to 26 feet tall. The first skeleton was uncovered in 1838 by John Estaugh Hopkins while he was digging in a marl pit which was part of the Campanian-age Woodbury Formation.
Like the Hadrosaurus, the Dryptosaurus was found in a marl pit in New Jersey. It was the first partially complete skeleton of a carnivorous theropod dinosaur in North America. It’s also a distant relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex. Many people know this dinosaur because of a painting called “Leaping Laelaps” which depicts two Dryptosaurus fighting. You can see the partial skeleton on display, the rest was filled in with estimates.
5. Pre-historic Sharks
While pre-historic sharks weren’t dinosaurs, they lived with them. Many pre-historic sharks, fish, and crustaceans lived in what we call New Jersey today, specifically Big Brook, New Jersey. Scientists have found plenty of pre-historic shark teeth in the brooks including the extinct goblin shark. A genus of goblin shark still lives today, but it is rarely observed. Apart from their mouths, they also have a flat snout that protrudes out of their head. In New Jersey, you can also still find crow shark teeth. They are small with a shoulder at their crowns.
Where to See Fossils in New Jersey
New Jersey is a hot spot for finding different fossils. The most common ones are shark teeth which are found in many brooks. One of the most popular spots is the Poricy Brook Fossil Beds in Middletown, New Jersey. The fossils you find in this area are from the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era about 145 to 65 million years ago. If you choose to go fossil hunting in this rushing brook, wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. While you can sometimes find fossils washed up along the stream, your best chance is to sift through the sand and grovel.
You can also still find fossils in Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University. In this park is an abandoned pit that was once regarded as a fossil hotspot. However, it was left forgotten. There is a theory that the pit was actually where the mass dinosaur extinction occurred. A museum will open in this location in early 2023.
Last but not least, you can try your luck at the Riker Hill Fossil Site in Livingston, New Jersey. In the park, you can see preserved dinosaur tracks and fossils. It’s a hidden gem and a beautiful walking trail, but don’t disturb the fossils!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/3dsam79
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- Poricy Park Conservancy, Available here: https://poricypark.org/fossil-beds
- True Jersey, Available here: https://www.nj.com/data/2018/07/what_new_jersey_looked_like_millions_of_years_ago.html