Oklahoma: Saurophaganax maximus (state fossil)

Oklahoma, the most recent state to name an official fossil, has chosen a large, carnivorous dinosaur -- Saurophaganax maximus. This fierce theropod roamed the plains of the state during the Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago, preying on smaller dinosaurs. It grew to a length of 40 feet and probably stood around 16 feet high.

Saurophaganax comes from the Morrison Formation, a rock unit that is widely exposed in the western states and represents a lowland environment dotted with lakes and streams. Many different dinosaurs are found in this rock unit, including allosaurs, stegosaurs and apatosaurs, but as yet, Saurophaganax has only been found in Oklahoma. In fact, Saurophaganax so resembles a large Allosaurus that there is some debate about its proper taxonomic position.

The first bones of Saurophaganax were found in the late 1930s by a WPA crew under the supervision of a University of Oklahoma paleontologist. Since that time, discoveries have been rare and fragmentary. However, a very nice restoration is on display at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, which has an entire hall devoted to prehistoric life.

The governor signed Senate Bill 1185 on April 14, 2000 designating Saurophaganax maximus the state fossil.

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