The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Rhode Island

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in Rhode Island?

Wikimedia Commons

The smallest state in the union, Rhode Island has an equally small selection of fossil animals, for the simple reason that vast stretches of geologic time are missing from its geologic record. (The sediments in Rhode Island were actively being eroded away, rather than deposited, during the Mesozoic Era, which explains why no dinosaurs have ever been discovered in the Ocean State.) Still, even though Rhode Island has little to offer in the way of large vertebrates, that doesn't mean this state was entirely devoid 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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Prehistoric Amphibians

Gerobatrachus, a typical fossil amphibian. Wikimedia Commons

It may not be much consolation, compared to the dinosaurs discovered in other states, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that small, prehistoric amphibians roamed Rhode Island during the later Paleozoic Era. Preserved amphibian footprints have been discovered in the Rhode Island Formation, which is actually located in eastern Massachusetts rather than Rhode Island itself. Still, it's likely that the creatures that left these trackmarks also scurried across the swamps of the Ocean State.

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Prehistoric Insects

A prehistoric cockroach. Wikimedia Commons

Rhode Island's sparse fossil deposits contain an unusual amount of prehistoric insects, mostly consisting of cockroaches (which, with their impressive defenses, can be considered the land-dwelling cousins of the armored trilobites described in the next slide). It didn't quite have the impact of excavating a full-grown Tyrannosaurus Rex, but in 1892, teeny-tiny headlines were generated in Rhode Island when a Providence clergyman discovered a fossilized cockroach wing in Pawtucket!

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A typical trilobite. Wikimedia Commons

Trilobites--small, three-lobed, hard-shelled arthropods--are some of the most common animals in the fossil record, dating back hundreds of millions of years. If you hunt carefully, you can still find some preserved trilobites in Rhode Island sediments, which are otherwise almost completely lacking in either vertebrates or invertebrates. (This isn't exactly a feather in Rhode Island's cap, however; trilobite fossils are plentiful all over the world, including many other states in the U.S.)