A Dinosaur for California!

by Karol McQueary, President, Southern California Paleontological Society

California, like all states, has many symbols – the state tree (redwood), state marine fish (Garibaldi), state fossil (Smilodon fatalis), and even a state insect (the dogface butterfly), just to name a few.  But now, thanks to an enterprising law student’s idea two years ago, it looks like California will also have an official state dinosaur.  This dino, Augustynolophus morrisi, is a crested hadrosaur, an herbivore about 26 feet in length, and is only found in California.  It dates to the late Maastrichtian Age, thus placing it as one of the last known dinosaurs before the K-T extinction.  Only two specimens have been uncovered, both in the Moreno formation of the Panoche Hills of Fresno County, roughly in the geographical center of the state.

The two specimens, excavated from 1939 to 1940 by a team from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), were thought to belong to the Saurolophus genus, but recent in-depth study of the fossils revealed that the cranial structure was quite unlike the other Saurolophus dinosaurs.  A paper co-authored in 2014 by Albert Prieto-Márquez,  Johathan R. Wagner, Phil  R. Bell, and Luis M. Chiappe (currently VP of Research and Collections and Director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los  Angeles) amended the taxonomy and provided a new name for the dinosaur, one honoring both a patron and supporter of the field of paleontology at NHM and other institutions, Gretchen Augustyn, and paleontologist Dr.  William J. Morris.

A bill to designate this dinosaur as an official symbol of the state is currently going through the legislative process in Sacramento.  This bill, AB 1540, authored by Assemblymember  Richard Bloom of the 50th Assembly District, passed through Assembly committee and will now be taken to the Assembly floor for a vote.  From there it will go through the same process in the State Senate and then on to Governor Jerry Brown for signature.   The Southern California Paleontological Society is joining the effort as a co-sponsor, and society members will be appearing before the caldinoState Senate to speak for passage of this bill.  Because one of the stated purposes of this bill is to increase children’s interest in science, SCPS is asking its young members for their support in writing letters, petitions and posters in support of AB 1540.  These will be presented at the Senate hearing later in April.

The effort to designate Augustynolophus morrisi  as an official California state dinosaur is gaining momentum.  It is a piece of bright news in an otherwise news-weary time, and we have every expectation that this will soon be a part of California history. Stay tuned for the final outcome!

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