The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of New York

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in New York?

Eurypterus, a prehistoric animal of New York. Nobu Tamura

When it comes to the fossil record, New York drew the short end of the stick: the Empire State is rich in small, marine-dwelling invertebrates dating to the early Paleozoic Era, hundreds of millions of years ago, but yields a virtual blank when it comes to dinosaurs and megafauna mammals. (You can blame New York's relative lack of sediments accumulated during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras.) Still, this isn't to say that New York was entirely devoid of prehistoric life, some notable examples of which you can find on the following slides. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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Eurypterus, a prehistoric animal of New York. Dmitris Siskopoulos

A little over 400 million years ago, during the Silurian period, much of North America, including New York State, was submerged under water. The official state fossil of New York, Eurypterus was a type of marine invertebrate known as a sea scorpion, and was one of the most feared undersea predators before the evolution of prehistoric sharks and giant marine reptiles. Some specimens of Eurypterus grew to almost four feet long, dwarfing the primitive fish and invertebrates they preyed on!

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Coelophysis, which may have left the New York footprints attributed to Grallator. Wikimedia Commons

It isn't a well-known fact, but various dinosaur footprints have been discovered near the town of Blauvelt, in New York's Rockland County (not too far from New York City). These tracks date to the late Triassic period, about 200 million years ago, and include some tantalizing evidence for roving packs of Coelophysis (a dinosaur best known for its prevalence in far-off New Mexico). Pending conclusive evidence that these footprints were really laid down by Coelophysis, paleontologists prefer to attribute them to an "ichnogenus" called Grallator.

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The American Mastodon

The American Mastodon, a prehistoric animal of New York. Wikimedia Commons

In 1866, during the construction of a mill in upstate New York, workers discovered the near-complete remains of a five-ton American Mastodon. The "Cohoes Mastodon," as it has become known, testifies to the fact that these giant prehistoric elephants roamed the expanse of New York in thunderous herds, as recently as 50,000 years ago (doubtless alongside their close contemporary of the Pleistocene epoch, the Woolly Mammoth).  

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Various Megafauna Mammals

giant beaver
The Giant Beaver, a prehistoric animal of New York. Wikimedia Commons

Like many other states in the eastern U.S., New York was relatively tepid, geologically speaking, until the late Pleistocene epoch--when it was traversed by all sorts of megafauna mammals, ranging from Mammoths and Mastodons (see previous slides) to such exotic genera as the Giant Short-Faced Bear and the Giant Beaver. Unfortunately, most of these plus-sized mammals went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, succumbing to a combination of human predation and climate change.