The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Louisiana

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in Louisiana?

Basilosaurus, a prehistoric whale of Louisiana. Nobu Tamura

During much of its prehistory, Louisiana was exactly the way it is now: lush, swampy and extremely humid. The trouble is that this type of climate doesn't lend itself to fossil preservation, as it tends to erode away rather than add to the geologic sediments in which fossils accumulate. That, sadly, is the reason no dinosaurs have ever been discovered in the Bayou State--which isn't to say that Louisiana was entirely bereft of prehistoric life, 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 Louisiana. Wikimedia Commons

In the late 1960's, the scattered bones of an American Mastodon were unearthed on a farm in Angola, Louisiana--the first reasonably complete plus-sized megafauna mammal ever to be discovered in this state. In case you were wondering how this huge, long-tusked prehistoric pachyderm managed to make it so far down south, that wasn't an unusual occurrence 10,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, when temperatures across North America were much lower than they are today.

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Basilosaurus, a prehistoric whale of Louisiana. Wikimedia Commons

The remains of the prehistoric whale Basilosaurus have been excavated all over the deep south, including not only Louisiana, but Alabama and Arkansas as well. This giant Eocene whale came by its name ("king lizard") in an unusual way--when it was first discovered, in the early 19th century, paleontologists assumed they were dealing with a giant marine reptile (like the then-recently discovered Mosasaurus and Pliosaurus) rather than a sea-going cetacean.

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Hipparion, a prehistoric horse of Louisiana. Heinrich Harder

Louisiana wasn't entirely bereft of fossils prior to the Pleistocene epoch; they're just very, very rare. Mammals dating to the Miocene epoch have been discovered in Tunica Hills, including various specimens of Hipparion, the three-toed horse directly ancestral to the modern horse genus Equus. A few other three-toed, deer-sized horses have been discovered in this formation as well, including Cormohipparion, Neohipparion, Astrohippus and Nanohippus.

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Various Megafauna Mammals

Glyptodon, a prehistoric mammal of Louisiana. American Museum of Natural History

Virtually every state in the union has yielded the fossils of late Pleistocene megafauna mammals, and Louisiana is no exception. In addition to the American Mastodon and various prehistoric horses (see previous slides), there were also glyptodonts (giant armadillos exemplified by the comical-looking Glyptodon), saber-toothed cats and giant sloths. Like their relatives elsewhere in the U.S., all of these mammals went extinct at the cusp of the modern era, doomed by a combination of human predation and climate change.