The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of New Jersey

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in New Jersey?

Dryptosaurus, a dinosaur of New Jersey. Charles R. Knight

The prehistory of the Garden State might as well be called The Tale of Two Jerseys: For much of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras, the southern half of New Jersey was completely underwater, while the northern half of the state was home to all kinds of terrestrial creatures, including dinosaurs, prehistoric crocodiles and (closer to the modern era) giant megafauna mammals like the Woolly Mammoth. On the following slides, you'll discover the most notable dinosaurs and animals that lived in New Jersey in prehistoric times. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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Dryptosaurus, a dinosaur of New Jersey. Wikimedia Commons

You probably weren't aware that the very first tyrannosaur to be discovered in the United States was Dryptosaurus, and not the much more famous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The remains of Dryptosaurus ("tearing lizard") were excavated in New Jersey in 1866, by the famous paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who later sealed his reputation with more extensive discoveries in the American West. (Dryptosaurus, by the way, originally went by the much more euphonious name Laelaps.)

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Hadrosaurus, a dinosaur of New Jersey. Sergey Krasovskiy

The official state fossil of New Jersey, Hadrosaurus remains a poorly understood dinosaur, albeit one that has lent its name to a vast family of late Cretaceous plant-eaters (the hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs). To date, only one incomplete skeleton of Hadrosaurus has ever been discovered--by the American paleontologist Joseph Leidy, near the town of Haddonfield--leading paleontologists to speculate that this dinosaur might better be classified as a species (or specimen) of another hadrosaur genus.

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Icarosaurus, a prehistoric reptile of New Jersey. Nobu Tamura

One of the smallest, and one of the most fascinating, fossils discovered in the Garden State is Icarosaurus--a small, gliding reptile, vaguely resembling a moth, that dates to the middle Triassic period. The type specimen of Icarosaurus was discovered in a North Bergen quarry by a teenage enthusiast, and spent the next 40 years at the American Museum of Natural History in New York until it was purchased by a private collector (who immediately donated it back to the museum for further study).

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Deinosuchus, a prehistoric crocodile of New Jersey. Wikimedia Commons

Given how many states its remains have been discovered in, the 30-foot-long, 10-ton Deinosuchus must have been a common sight along the lakes and rivers of late Cretaceous North America, where this prehistoric crocodile snacked on fish, sharks, marine reptiles, and pretty much anything that happened to cross its path. Unbelievably, given its size, Deinosuchus wasn't even the biggest crocodile that ever lived--that honor belongs to the slightly earlier Sarcosuchus, also known as the SuperCroc.

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Diplurus, a prehistoric fish of New Jersey. Wikimedia Commons

You may be familiar with the Coelacanth, the allegedly extinct fish that experienced a sudden resurrection when a living specimen was caught off the coast of South Africa in 1938. The fact is, though, that most genera of Coelacanths truly did go extinct tens of millions of years ago; a good example is Diplurus, hundreds of specimens of which have been found preserved in New Jersey sediments. (Coelacanths, by the way, were a type of lobe-finned fish closely related to the immediate ancestors of the first tetrapods.)

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Prehistoric Fish

Enchodus, a prehistoric fish of New Jersey. Dmitry Bogdanov

New Jersey's Jurassic and Cretaceous fossil beds have yielded the remains of a large variety of prehistoric fish, ranging from the ancient skate Myliobatis to the ratfish ancestor Ischyodus to three separate species of Enchodus (better known as the Saber-Toothed Herring), not to mention the obscure genus of Coelacanth mentioned in the previous slide. Many of these fish were preyed on by the sharks of southern New Jersey (next slide), when the bottom half of the Garden State was submerged under water.

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Prehistoric Sharks

Squalicorax, a prehistoric shark of New Jersey. Wikimedia Commons

One doesn't normally associate the interior of New Jersey with deadly prehistoric sharks--which is why it's surprising that this state has yielded so many of these fossilized killers, including specimens of Galeocerdo, Hybodus and Squalicorax. The last member of this group is the only Mesozoic shark known conclusively to have preyed on dinosaurs, since the remains of an unidentified hadrosaur (possibly the Hadrosaurus described in slide #2) were discovered in one specimen's stomach.  

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The American Mastodon

The American Mastodon, a prehistoric mammal of New Jersey. Heinrich Harder

Starting in the mid-19th century, in Greendell, American Mastodon remains have been periodically recovered from various New Jersey townships, often in the wake of construction projects. These specimens date from the late Pleistocene epoch, when Mastodons (and, to a lesser extent, their Woolly Mammoth cousins) tramped across the swamps and woodlands of the Garden State--which was much colder tens of thousands of years ago than it is today!

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of New Jersey." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 25). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of New Jersey. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of New Jersey." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).