The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Michigan

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Have Been Discovered in Michigan?

woolly mammoth
Woolly Mammoths likely trekked the northern reaches of Eurasia in herds (Heinrich Harder). Heinrich Harder

First, the bad news: No dinosaurs have ever been discovered in Michigan, mainly because during the Mesozoic Era, when the dinosaurs lived, the sediments in this state were steadily being eroded away by natural forces. (In other words, dinosaurs did live in Michigan 100 million years ago, but they didn't have a chance to fossilize.) Now, the good news: this state is still notable for its other forms of prehistoric life dating from the Paleozoic and Cenozoic eras, as detailed in the following slides. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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The Woolly Mammoth

woolly mammoth
The Woolly Mammoth, one of the prehistoric animals discovered in Michigan. Wikimedia Commons

Until very recently, very few megafauna mammals had been discovered in the state of Michigan (with the exception of various prehistoric whales, described in slide #4, and some scattered remains of giant Pleistocene mammals). That all changed in late September 2015, when a surprisingly extensive set of Woolly Mammoth bones were unearthed under a lima bean field in the town of Chelsea. This was a truly collaborative effort; various Chelsea residents joined in the dig when they heard the exciting news!  

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The American Mastodon

The American Mastodon, one of the prehistoric animals discovered in MIchigan. Wikimedia Commons

The official state fossil of Michigan, the American Mastodon was a common sight in this state during the Pleistocene epoch, from about two million to 10,000 years ago. Mastodons shared their territory with Woolly Mammoths (see previous slide), as well as a wide assortment of megafauna mammals, including plus-sized bears, beavers and deer. Sadly, these animals went extinct shortly after the last Ice Age, succumbing to a combination of climate change and hunting by early Native Americans.

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Various Prehistoric Whales

sperm whale
A modern Sperm Whale, the ancestors of which lived in Michigan. Wikimedia Commons

For the past three hundred million years, most of Michigan has been well above sea level--but not all of it, as evidenced by the discovery of various prehistoric whales, including early specimens of still-extant cetaceans like Physeter (better known as the Sperm Whale) and Balaenoptera (the Fin Whale). It's not exactly clear how these whales wound up in Michigan, but one clue may be that they're of extremely recent provenance, some specimens dating to less than 1,000 years ago,

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Small Marine Organisms

petosky stone
Michigan's famous "Petosky Stone" is made of ancient coral. Wikimedia Commons

Michigan may have been high and dry for the last 300 million years, but for over 200 million years before that (starting in the Cambrian period) this state was covered by a shallow ocean, as was much else of northern North America. That's why sediments dating to the Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian periods are rich in small marine organisms, including various species of algae, corals, brachiopods, trilobites and crinoids (tiny, tentacled creatures distantly related to starfish). Michigan's famous "Petosky Stone" is made of fossilized corals from this period.