The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Kentucky

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in Kentucky?

giant short-faced bear
The Giant Short-Faced Bear, a prehistoric mammal of Kentucky. Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to dinosaurs--or pretty much any kind of prehistoric animals--Kentucky got the short end of the stick: this state has virtually no fossil deposits from the start of the Permian period to the end of the Cenozoic Era, a span of geologic time stretching for over 300 million empty years. However, this doesn't mean that the Bluegrass State was entirely bereft of ancient fauna, as you can learn by perusing the following slides. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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The American Mastodon

The American Mastodon, a prehistoric mammal of Kentucky. Wikimedia Commons

During most of the 18th century, Kentucky was part of the commonwealth of Virginia--and it was in this territory's Big Bone Lick fossil formation that early naturalists discovered the remains of an American Mastodon (which the area's Native American population referred to as a giant buffalo). In case you were wondering how a Mastodon made it so far down south from the icy northern steppes, that wasn't unusual behavior for the mammalian megafauna of the later Pleistocene epoch.

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Fossilized brachiopods. Wikimedia Commons

They're not quite as impressive as an American Mastodon (see previous slide), but ancient brachiopods--tiny, shelled, ocean-dwelling creatures closely related to bivalves--were thick on Kentucky's sea floor from about 400 million to 300 million years ago, to the extent that an (unidentified) brachiopod is this state's official fossil. (Like much else of North America, and the rest of the world, for that matter, Kentucky was completely under water during the Paleozoic Era.)

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Prehistoric Fleas

Wikimedia Commons

Just how sparse are the fossil pickings in Kentucky? Well, back in 1980, paleontologists were thrilled to discover the single, tiny imprint of a single, tiny wing left by a single, tiny, 300-million-year old ancestral flea. It had long been known that various kinds of insects lived in late Carboniferous Kentucky--for the simple reason that this state was home to various kinds of land-dwelling plants--but the discovery of an actual fossil finally supplied objective proof.

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Various Megafauna Mammals

Megalonyx, the Giant Ground Sloth. Wikimedia Commons

Toward the end of the Pleistocene epoch, about one million years ago, Kentucky was home to various kinds of giant mammals (of course, these mammals had been living in the Bluegrass State for eons, but didn't leave any direct fossil evidence.) The Giant Short-Faced Bear, the Giant Ground Sloth, and the Woolly Mammoth all called Kentucky home, at least until they were rendered extinct by a combination of climate change and hunting by early Native Americans.