The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of North Carolina

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in North Carolina?

Wikimedia Commons

North Carolina has had a mixed geologic history: from about 600 to 250 million years ago, this state (and much else of what would become the southeastern United States) was submerged beneath a shallow body of water, and the same situation held for much of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras. (It was only during the Triassic period that terrestrial life in North Carolina had an extended amount of time to flourish.) However, this doesn't mean North Carolina was entirely bereft of dinosaurs and prehistoric life.

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Wikimedia Commons

Hypsibema lived during the late Cretaceous period, one of the rare stretches of time when most of North Carolina was above water. It's the official state dinosaur of Missouri, but fossils of Hypsibema have been discovered in North Carolina as well. Unfortunately, this hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) is what paleontologists call a nomen dubium: it was a probably an individual or species of an already-named dinosaur, and thus doesn't deserve its own genus.

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Jorge Gonzales

Announced to the world in 2015, Carnufex (Greek for "butcher") is one of the earliest identified crocodylomorphs--the family of prehistoric reptiles that diverged from archosaurs during the middle Triassic period and led to modern crocodiles--and at about 10 feet long and 500 pounds, certainly one of the biggest. Since dinosaurs had yet to make it to middle Triassic North America from their ancestral South American habitat, Carnufex may well have been the apex predator of North Carolina!

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Texas Tech University

Not quite a dinosaur, and not quite a prehistoric crocodile (despite the "suchus" in its name), Postosuchus was a splay-legged, half-ton archosaur that ranged widely across North America during the late Triassic period. (It was a population of archosaurs that spawned the very first dinosaurs, in South America, about 230 million years ago.) A new Postosuchus species, P. alisonae, was discovered in North Carolina in 1992; oddly enough, all the other known Postosuchus specimens have been unearthed much farther west, in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

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The scattered remains of Eocetus, the "dawn whale," were discovered in North Carolina in the late 1990s. This early Eocene whale, which lived about 44 million years ago, possessed rudimentary arms and legs, a snapshot of the early stages of whale evolution before these semi-aquatic mammals had adapted to a fully aquatic existence. Unfortunately, not much is known about Eocetus compared to other early whale ancestors, such as the roughly contemporary Pakicetus from the Indian subcontinent.

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Dmitry Bogdanov

A close relative of Postosuchus, Zatomus was named in the mid-19th century by the famous paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. Technically, Zatomus was a "rauisuchian" archosaur; however, the discovery of only a single fossil specimen in North Carolina means that it's probably a nomen dubium (that is, a specimen of an already existing archosaur genus). However it winds up being classified, Zatomus was probably a close relative of a better-known archosaur, Batrachotomus.

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Wikimedia Commons

North Carolina boasts some of the oldest geologic formations in the United States, some dating back to pre-Cambrian times (over 550 million years ago) when pretty much all life on earth was confined to the oceans. The mysterious Pteridinium, like many so-called "ediacarans," was a trilobite-like creature that probably lived at the bottom of shallow lagoons; paleontologists are unsure how this invertebrate moved or even what it ate.

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of North Carolina." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 25). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of North Carolina. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of North Carolina." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).