The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Georgia

Deinosuchus skeleton
Deinosuchus. Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

During much of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, terrestrial life in Georgia was limited to a slender coastal plain, with the rest of the state submerged under a shallow body of water. Thanks to these vagaries of geology, not many dinosaurs have been discovered in the Peach State, but it was still home to a respectable assortment of crocodiles, sharks, and megafauna mammals, as detailed in the following slides.

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Duck-Billed Dinosaurs

An illustration of a herd of Saurolophus with other, smaller dinosaurs
A herd of Saurolophus near other, smaller dinosaurs. Sergey Krasovskiy / Getty Images

During the late Cretaceous period, the coastal plain of Georgia was covered with lush vegetation (as many parts of the state still are today). This is where paleontologists have discovered the scattered remains of numerous, unidentified hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs), which were basically the Mesozoic equivalent of modern sheep and cattle. Of course, wherever hadrosaurs lived, there were also raptors and tyrannosaurs, but these meat-eating dinosaurs don't seem to have left any fossils!

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Illustration of Deinosuchus attacking a Rhinorex
Deinosuchus and Rhinorex.

Julius Csotonyi / National Geographic

Most of the fossils discovered along Georgia's coastal plain are in a serious state of fragmentation—a frustrating state of affairs compared to the almost-complete specimens found in the American west. Along with the scattered teeth and bones of various marine reptiles, paleontologists have unearthed the incomplete remains of prehistoric crocodiles—most notably, an unidentified genus that measured over 25 feet long, and which may (or may not) wind up being attributed to the fearsome Deinosuchus.

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Illustration of Georgiacetus
Nobu Tamura

Forty million years ago, prehistoric whales looked very different than they do today—witness the 12-foot-long Georgiacetus, which possessed prominent arms and legs in addition to its sharp-toothed snout. Such "intermediate forms" are common in the fossil record, no matter what disbelievers in evolution say. Georgiacetus was obviously named after the state of Georgia, but its fossil remains have been discovered in neighboring Alabama and Mississippi as well.

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A woman stands next to the jaws of a Megalodon
Enya Kim, from the Natural History department at auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields, stands next to the jaws of a Megalodon.

Ethan Mille / Getty Images

By far the biggest prehistoric shark that ever lived, the 50-foot-long, 50-ton Megalodon was equipped with fierce, sharp, seven-inch-long teeth--numerous intact specimens of which have been unearthed in Georgia, as this shark constantly grew and replaced its choppers. It's still a mystery why Megalodon went extinct a million years ago; probably this had something to do with the disappearance of its accustomed prey, which included giant prehistoric whales like Leviathan.

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The Giant Ground Sloth

Magalonyx skeleton

Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Better known as the Giant Ground Sloth, Megalonyx was first described in 1797 by president-to-be Thomas Jefferson (the fossil specimen examined by Jefferson hailed from West Virginia, but bones have been unearthed in Georgia as well). This giant megafauna mammal, which went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, measured about 10 feet from head to tail and weighed 500 pounds, about the size of a large bear!

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The Giant Chipmunk

A chipmunk eating an almond
Modern chipmunk.

playlight55 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

No, this is not a joke: one of the most common fossil animals of Pleistocene Georgia was the Giant Chipmunk, genus and species name Tamias aristus. Despite its impressive name, the Giant Chipmunk wasn't truly giant-sized, only about 30 percent larger than its closest living relative, the still-extant Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus). Georgia was no doubt home to various other megafauna mammals as well, but these have left frustratingly incomplete remains in the fossil record.

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Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Georgia." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Georgia. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Georgia." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).