The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Alabama

Basilosaurus skull
Basilosaurus skull.

Amphibol / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

You might not think of Alabama as a hotbed of prehistoric life—but this southern state has yielded the remains of some very important dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. On the following slides, you'll discovery a bestiary of ancient Alabama wildlife, ranging from the fierce tyrannosaur Appalachiosaurus to the ever-hungry prehistoric shark Squalicorax.

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Appalachiosaurus skeleton
McClane Science Center

It's not often that dinosaurs are discovered in the southeastern United States, so the announcement of Appalachiosaurus in 2005 was big news. The juvenile specimen of this tyrannosaur measured about 23 feet long from head to tail and probably weighed a bit less than a ton. Abstracting from what they know about other tyrannosaurs, paleontologists believe that a full-grown Appalachiosaurus adult would have been a formidable predator of the late Cretaceous period, about 75 million years ago.

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Lophorhothon statue

James Emery / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Not the most well-known dinosaur in the record books, the partial fossil of Lophorhothon (Greek for "crested nose") was discovered west of Selma, Alabama in the 1940's. Originally classified as an early hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, Lophorhothon may yet turn out to have been a close relative of Iguanodon, which technically was an ornithopod dinosaur that preceded the hadrosaurs. Pending further fossil discoveries, we may never know the true status of this prehistoric plant-muncher.

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Basilosaurus skeleton

Tim Evanson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Basilosaurus, the "king lizard," wasn't a dinosaur at all, or even a lizard, but a giant prehistoric whale of the Eocene epoch, about 40 to 35 million years ago (when it was discovered, paleontologists mistook Basilosaurus for a marine reptile, hence its inaccurate name). Although its remains have been dug up all over the southern United States, it was a pair of fossilized vertebrae from Alabama, discovered in the early 1940s, that stimulated intense research into this prehistoric cetacean.

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Squalicorax illustration
Dmitry Bogdanov

Although it's not nearly as well known as Megalodon, which lived tens of millions of years later, Squalicorax was one of the fiercest sharks of the late Cretaceous period: its teeth have been found embedded in the fossils of prehistoric turtles, marine reptiles, and even dinosaurs. Alabama can't claim Squalicorax as a favorite son—the remains of this shark have been discovered all over the world—but it still adds some luster to the fossil reputation of the Yellowhammer State.

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Agerostrea, a fossil invertebrate discovered in Alabama.

Hectonichus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

After reading about the dinosaurs, whales and prehistoric sharks of the previous slides, you may not be much interested in Agerostrea, a fossil oyster of the late Cretaceous period. But the fact is that invertebrates like Agerostrea are extremely important to geologists and paleontologists since they serve as "index fossils" that enable the dating of sediments. For example, if an Agerostrea specimen is discovered near the fossil of a duck-billed dinosaur, that helps determine when the dinosaur lived.

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Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Alabama." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Alabama. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Alabama." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).