Did you know that ancient Kansas was just as rich in animal species as it is now? Kansas is located in the midwestern United States. It is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and rodents. In total, 238 species of rare animals and 400 rare plants inhabit the so-called “Sunflower State.”
The territory of Kansas is abundant in fossils, so the paleontological field is developed enough to make spectacular discoveries in the present day.
The fossils discovered in the area date from the Cambrian to the Pleistocene periods, during which the sea covered Kansas, then it became a savannah, so it was home to numerous marine species, amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammoths, camels, and mastodons. Recent Kansas discoveries indicate that sharks also lived in the area! The fossils found in 2010 are the best existing specimens of that shark type in the United States!
|Living period||Mesozoic era, from the Late Triassic to the Late Cretaceous, some 228 to 66 million years ago|
Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates that could fly. In short, they were flying reptiles. Scientists believe they are the largest animals that can fly. “Pterosaur” literally means “wing lizard” from the Greek words pteron and sauros.
The first pterosaur fossil description was made in 1784 by Cosimo Alessandro Collini. It was a real struggle to understand what animal it was – it was neither a dinosaur, bird, or reptile. How should scientists classify it? Nobody knew. Even today, people call them “flying dinosaurs.” However, pterosaurs do not descend from the same dinosaur order.
These flying vertebrates are of two kinds:
- Basal pterosaurs: had long tails;
- Pterodactyloids: had short tails.
Pteranodon is a genus of pterosaur that lived in Kansas. The other states they inhabited were Alabama, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The first Pteranodon fossils were discovered in 1870 and included two wing metacarpal bones.
|Extinct since||66 million years ago|
Mosasaurs were common marine reptiles in Kansas. Mosasaurs became extinct approximately 66 million years ago, having evolved from aquatic lizards from the Aigialosuaridae family. The first mosasaur fossils were discovered in the 1760s.
Mosasaurs grew as long as 13 feet, but the record is set by Mosasaurus hoffmannii, which measures 56 feet. These reptiles preferred to live in shallow, warm inland seas.
Supposedly, these marine reptiles appeared during the Cretaceous period, and over the 20 million years that followed, they evolved significantly, becoming dominant predators. Mosasaurs lived up until 66 million years ago, when the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (K-Pg) made them disappear, along with millions of other plant and animal species inhabiting Earth.
In 1870, paleontologists from Kentucky discovered multiple Clidastes mosasaur fossils that could almost make an entire skeleton. It took them four days to excavate these discoveries.
|Living period||From the Late Jurassic until the Late Cretaceous|
Rudists are marine heterodont bivalves. Even though they first appeared during the Late Jurassic, they only flourished during the Cretaceous period, eventually becoming almost extinct by the end of the epoch.
4. Saber-tooth cat
|Living period||Pleistocene epoch|
Saber-tooth cats are scientifically called Smilodon, a genus in the extinct subfamily Machairodontinae, in the family of Felidae. Living animals in this family include cats, caracals, lions, panthers, and leopards. Saber-tooth cats are also called saber-tooth tigers or saber-tooth lions.
These “cats” lived in what we now call the North and South American continents during the Pleistocene epoch.
The fossils discovered in Kansas indicate that saber-tooth cats lived during the Quaternary, the most recent period in the Cenozoic Era. The ecosystem was covered in savannahs and coniferous forests.
|Living period||Between the Pliocene and Holocene epochs|
Mammoths were mammals related to and resembling Asian and African elephants. It was approximately 13.1 feet tall and weighed 8.8 short tons.
Scientists believe the first mammoth appeared approximately 5 million years ago and lived worldwide until the Holocene epoch. The most common mammoths inhabiting North America are the woolly mammoth and the Columbian mammoth. The evidence says that the mammoth fossils found in Kansas most probably belonged to a Columbian.
Numerous mammoth fossils have been discovered in Kansas over the centuries. Discoveries have been made even in recent years. In 2016, for example, a southern Kansas construction company found a mammoth tusk measuring 8 feet long. David Hughes, an anthropology professor, stated that the mammoth the fossil belonged to was approximately 12 feet tall and was as old as 20 years. The mammoth was probably a Columbian. On the same site, the professor found a mammoth tooth, a horse tooth, and a camel tooth.
6. Prehistoric sharks
We’ve all heard about or seen sharks in real life or on-screen. The surprising thing is that sharks could probably rank as the oldest extant animal species, as scientists think they first appeared more than 400 million years ago! And yes, they inhabited Kansas, along with pterosaurs, mosasaurs, and mammoths. Kansas is an excellent source of prehistoric shark teeth. The shark fossils found in 2010 in Kansas are North America’s best “example” of the Cretodus genus.
In 2010, 91-million-old shark vertebrae were discovered during excavations near Tipton, Mitchell County, Kansas. They were accidentally discovered by someone who didn’t even specialize in fossils. Naturally, they went on with the search and found other parts of a prehistoric shark’s body – a total of 61 vertebrae, 134 teeth, and 23 scales. Scientists classified the shark as Cretodus houghtonorum and stated it was approximately 17–22 feet long.
These findings were crucial in outlining the shark’s history and the future of the aquatic ecosystems that would remain without sharks.
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