The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Florida

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in Florida?

The Saber-Toothed Tiger, a prehistoric animal of Florida. Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the vagaries of continental drift, there are no fossils in the state of Florida dating to before the late Eocene epoch, about 35 million years ago--which means you simply aren't going to find any dinosaurs in your backyard, no matter how deep you dig. However, the Sunshine State is extremely rich in Pleistocene megafauna, including giant sloths, ancestral horses, and shaggy Mammoths and Mastodons. On the following slides, you'll discover a list of Florida's most notable dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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Mammoths and Mastodons

woolly mammoth
The Woolly Mammoth, a prehistoric animal of Florida. Wikimedia Commons

Woolly Mammoths and American Mastodons weren't restricted to the northern parts of North America before the last Ice Age; they managed to populate most of the continent, at least during intervals when the climate was relatively cool and brisk. In addition to these well-known pachyderms of the Pleistocene epoch, Florida was home to the distant elephant ancestor Gomphotherium, which appears in fossil deposits dating to about 15 million years ago.  

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Saber-Toothed Cats

Megantereon, a prehistoric cat of Florida. Wikimedia Commons

Late Cenozoic Florida was populated by a healthy assortment of megafauna mammals (see the other items in this slideshow), so it only makes sense that predatory saber-toothed cats prospered here as well. The most famous Florida felines were the relatively small, but vicious, Barbourofelis and Megantereon; these genera were later supplanted during the Pleistocene epoch by the bigger, stockier and more dangerous Smilodon (aka the Saber-Toothed Tiger).

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Prehistoric Horses

Hipparion, a prehistoric horse of Florida. Heinrich Harder

Before they went extinct in North America at the end of the Pleistocene epoch--and had to be reintroduced to the continent, in historical times, via Eurasia--horses were some of the most common prehistoric mammals on the abundant and grassy plains of Florida. The most notable equids of the Sunshine State were the tiny (only about 75 pounds) Mesohippus and the much larger Hipparion, which weighed about a quarter of a ton; both were directly ancestral to the modern horse genus Equus.

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Prehistoric Sharks

Megalodon, a prehistoric shark of Florida. Wikimedia Commons

Because soft cartilage doesn't preserve well in the fossil record, and because sharks grow and shed thousands of teeth over the course of their lifetimes, Florida's prehistoric sharks are known mostly by their fossilized choppers. The teeth of Otodus have been discovered in abundance all over the state of Florida, to the extent that they're a common collector's item, but for sheer shock value, nothing beats the enormous, dagger-like teeth of the 50-foot-long, 50-ton Megalodon.

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Megatherium, a prehistoric animal of Florida. Sameer Prehistorica

Better known as the Giant Sloth, Megatherium was the largest land mammal ever to roam Florida--bigger even than fellow Sunshine State residents like the Woolly Mammoth and the American Mastodon, which it could outweigh by a few hundred pounds. The Giant Sloth originated in South America, but managed to colonize much of southernmost North America (via the recently appeared Central American land bridge) before it went extinct about 10,000 years ago.

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Eupatagus, a prehistoric invertebrate of Florida. Wikimedia Commons

For most of its geologic history, until about 35 million years ago, Florida was completely submerged under water--which helps to explain why paleontologists have nominated Eupatagus (a type of sea urchin dating to the late Eocene epoch) as the official state fossil. True, Eupatagus wasn't as fearsome as a meat-eating dinosaur, or even fellow Florida residents like the Saber-Toothed Tiger, but fossils of this invertebrate have been found all over the Sunshine State.