The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Nebraska

Side profile of a teleoceras standing in a field


Somewhat surprisingly, given its proximity to dinosaur-rich Utah and South Dakota, no dinosaurs have ever been discovered in Nebraska — though there's no doubt that hadrosaurs, raptors, and tyrannosaurs roamed this state during the later Mesozoic Era. Making up for this shortfall, though, Nebraska is famous for the diversity of its mammalian life during the Cenozoic Era, after the dinosaurs went extinct, as you can learn about by perusing the following slides.

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Prehistoric Camels

Aepycamelus giraffinus, camel, Miocene of Colorado

 Nobumichi Tamura / Stocktrek Images

Believe it or not, until a few million years ago, camels plodded across the northern plains of North America. More of these ancient ungulates have been discovered in Nebraska than in any other state: Aepycamelus, Procamelus, and Protolabis in the northeast, and Stenomylus in the northwest. A few of these ancestral camels managed to migrate down to South America but most wound up in Eurasia (via the Bering land bridge), progenitors of the modern camels of Arabia and central Asia.

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Prehistoric Horses

The ancestral horse Miohippus

 Encyclopaedia Britannica / UIG

The vast, flat, grassy plains of Miocene Nebraska were the perfect environment for the first, pint-sized, multiple-toed prehistoric horses. Specimens of Miohippus, Pliohippus, and less well-known "hippi" like Cormohipparion and Neohipparion have all been discovered in this state and were likely preyed on by the prehistoric dogs described in the next slide. Like camels, horses had disappeared from North America by the end of the Pleistocene epoch, only to be reintroduced in historical times by European settlers.

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Prehistoric Dogs

Amphicyon, a prehistoric dog of Nebraska. Sergio Perez

Cenozoic Nebraska was as rich in ancestral dogs as it was in prehistoric horses and camels. The distant canine ancestors Aelurodon, Cynarctus, and Leptocyon have all been discovered in this state, as have the remains of Amphicyon, better known as the Bear Dog, which looked (you guessed it) like a small bear with the head of a dog. Once again, though, it was up to the early humans of late Pleistocene Eurasia to domesticate the Grey Wolf, from which all modern North American dogs are descended.

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Prehistoric Rhinos

Menoceras exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum

Daderot / Wikimedia Commons

Weird-looking rhinoceros ancestors coexisted alongside the prehistoric dogs and camels of Miocene Nebraska. Two notable genera native to this state were Menoceras and Teleoceras; a slightly more distant forebear was the bizarre Moropus, a "stupid-footed" megafauna mammal closely related to the even bigger Chalicotherium. (And after reading the previous slides, would it surprise you to learn that rhinos went extinct in North America even as they prospered in Eurasia?)

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Mammoths and Mastodons

Columbian mammoth, based on the AMNH specimen

Charles R. Knight / Wikimedia Commons

More Mammoth remains have been discovered in Nebraska than in any other state — not only the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) but also the lesser-known Columbian Mammoth and Imperial Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi and Mammuthus imperator). Unsurprisingly, this large, lumbering, prehistoric elephant is Nebraska's official state fossil, notwithstanding the prevalence, in lesser numbers, of another notable ancestral proboscid, the American Mastodon.

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This is a Daeodon, also known as Dinohyus, an ancient relative of the wild boar

Daniel Eskridge / Getty Images 

Formerly known by the more evocative name Dinohyus — Greek for "terrible pig" — the 12-foot-long, one-ton Daeodon resembled a hippopotamus more than it did a modern porker. Like most of Nebraska's fossil mammals, Daeodon prospered during the Miocene epoch, from about 23 to 5 million years ago. And like virtually all of Nebraska's mammalian megafauna, Daeodon, and other ancestral pigs eventually vanished from North America, only to be reintroduced thousands of years later by European settlers.

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palaeocastor fossil

Claire H. / Wikimedia Commons


One of the strangest mammals ever to be discovered in Nebraska, Palaeocastor was a prehistoric beaver that didn't build dams — rather, this tiny, furry animal burrowed seven or eight feet into the ground using its oversized front teeth. The preserved results are known across the American West as "devil's corkscrews," and were a mystery to naturalists (some thought they were created by insects or plants) until a fossilized Palaeocastor was found nestled inside one specimen.

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Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Nebraska." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 29). The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Nebraska. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Nebraska." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).