Discover 6 Extinct Animals That Lived in West Virginia

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: July 20, 2022
© Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com
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West Virginia is the 39th most populous state, with a population of 1,755,715. This state is well-known for its rugged mountains, hiking trails, rivers, and waterfalls that are perfect for outdoor adventures. According to the Department of Natural Resources, 35 state parks, nine state forests, and three rail trails are in West Virginia.

One of the most famous trails is the Appalachian Trail. It is a mountain system covering thirteen states, including West Virginia. Although situated amidst civilization, Arnold Guyot reported that there are still more than a thousand miles of impenetrable forests in the Appalachian mountain system.

West Virginia’s physiography is a result of striking geological activity. According to studies, this land of grandeur was submerged in an ocean more than 400 million years ago. Many pieces of evidence support this claim. Although covered in mountains and forests, West Virginia has massive salt deposits and fossils of marine animals.

West Virginia is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and reptiles. However, let us not forget the six extinct animals that once roamed West Virginia.

1. Limnopus glenshawensis

Limnopus is an ichnogenus of ancient tetrapod footprint.

©Dmitry Bogdanov / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Limnopus glenshawensis
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderTemnospondyli
Sub-orderEuskelia
SuperfamilyEryopoidea
FamilyEryopidae
IchnogenusLimnopus
IchnospeciesLimnopus glenshawensis
Living PeriodUpper Pennsylvanian – 300 Million Years Ago

An abundant fossil of tetrapod footprints was discovered in Wayne County, West Virginia. Tetrapods are four-legged animals, including amphibians and reptiles. The tracks discovered had 11.8 inches (30 cm) intervals and were found 15 meters above the Brush Creek Limestone. These tracks have been assigned to Limnopus. Thus, a new ichnospecies, Limnopus glenshawensis, was proposed. The said species was believed to be an amphibian with a total length of slightly over 1 m. Studies show that this species could thrive in brackish and fresh water.

2. Giant sloth 

Megatherium
Giant ground sloths are well-known for their giant claws.

©Esteban De Armas/Shutterstock.com

Giant sloth 
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPilosa
FamilyMegalonychidae
SubfamilyMegalonychinae
GenusMegalonyx
SpeciesMegalonyx jeffersonii
Living PeriodPleistocene Epoch – 5 million to 11,000 years ago

Prehistoric giant sloths are divided into different families. One of them is Megalonyx. The term came from the Greek word “great claws.” True to its name, Megalonyx jeffersonii is the largest species of the Megalonyx family, and these giant ground sloths are well-known for their giant claws. Recent publications mentioned that Statesman Thomas Jefferson was sent fossils discovered in Haynes Cave, Monroe County, West Virginia, in 1797. Jefferson identified the fossil as bones from a giant ground sloth. There is also some recorded fossil of Megalonyx Jeffersonii found in North Dakota in 1999.

3. Flat-headed Peccary

Flat-headed Peccary
The flat-headed peccary is an extinct pig-like mammal that came from the Tayassuidae family.

©David Starner / CC BY 3.0 – License

Flat-headed Peccary
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderArtiodactyla
FamilyTayassuidae
GenusPlatygonus
SpeciesPlatygonus compressus
Living PeriodPleistocene (Ice Age) – 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago

The flat-headed peccary, scientifically named Platygonus compressus, is an extinct pig-like mammal that came from the Tayassuidae family. It is called flat-headed because of the straight shape of its forehead. The first description of Platygonys compressus was published in 1848. 

According to studies, the estimated body mass is 62 pounds (28 kg) based on the available data on the gathered femur, humerus, tibia, and ulna fossils. They are herbivores that are both browsers and grazers. Grazers are grass eaters, while browsers are herbivores that eat non-grass like twigs, acorns, tree bark, and fruits.

The flat-headed peccary has lived in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Texas, and West Virginia. According to records, the fossil West Virginia first discovered the fossil of Platygonus compressus in a cave in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

4. Saber-toothed tiger

Saber-toothed tiger on isolated background
The saber-toothed tiger is a carnivore that once roamed West Virginia from the upper Miocene to the late Pliocene.

©Valentyna Chukhlyebova/Shutterstock.com

Saber-toothed tiger
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyFelidae
GenusSmilodon
SpeciesSmilodon populator
Living PeriodUpper Miocene to the late Pliocene – 23 million to 2.6 million years ago

The saber-toothed tiger, scientifically called Smilodon, is a carnivore that once roamed West Virginia from the upper Miocene to the late Pliocene (23 million–2.6 million years ago). They were considered apex predators with large, muscular bodies weighing up to 661 lbs (300 kg) and long canine teeth. Even the largest mammal that weighed up to 12 tons can not survive when attacked by a Smilodon because they will hunt in packs. Their main prey were deer, bison, and woolly mammoths. The one true enemy of Smilodon is humans

The canine teeth of a Smilodon can be an average of 7 inches (18 cm) long. As a result, they were known as saber-tooth tigers. However, they are not tigers. They are not even closely related to tigers. In West Virginia, fossils of Smilodon were found in Greenbrier and Pendleton Counties.

5. American cheetah

American Cheetah
American cheetahs have legs that are bigger than modern cheetahs.

©Sheatherius / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

American cheetah
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
Sub-orderFeliformia
FamilyFelidae
SubfamilyFelinae
GenusMiracinonyx
SpeciesMiracinonyx inexpectatus
Living PeriodPliocene to Pleistocene epoch

The American cheetah, scientifically named Miracinonyx inexpectatus, is an extinct species that roamed West Virginia. Their morphological structure and features resemble those of the modern cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). American cheetahs have legs that are bigger than modern cheetahs, which suggests that they are built for fast running.

In 2004, a study about the cheetah room fauna in Hamilton Cave in West Virginia included Miracinonyx inexpectatus, among other species.

6. Dire wolf

dire wolf isolated on white background
The dire wolf is an extinct canine that used to be a competitor to Smilodon.

©Catmando/Shutterstock.com

Dire wolf
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata 
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyCanidae
GenusAenocyon 
SpeciesAenocyon dirus
Sub-speciesAenocyon dirus guildayi Aenocyon dirus dirus
Living PeriodLate Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs – 125,000 to 9,500 years ago

The dire wolf, scientifically named Aenocyon dirus, is an extinct canine that used to be a competitor to Smilodon. Aenocyon came from the Greek word “dreadful” or “fearsome.” According to studies, Canis dirus (dire wolf) was named by Joseph Leidy in 1858, but due to morphological differentiation, it was recombined into a different genus; it was renamed Aenocyon dirus by Merriam in 1918. New genetic data suggests that gray wolves were not closely related to dire wolves. Modern wolves belong to the Canis genus. On average, Aenocyon dirus guildayi weighs about 132 pounds, and Aenocyon dirus dirus weighs about an average of 150 pounds. In West Virginia, several fossils of dire wolves were found in a cave in Greenbrier County in 1960.


The Featured Image

Dire wolf close-up
A large shaggy dire wolf bares its wicked teeth as it glares at you with deep blue eyes.
© Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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