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Nevada State Fossil
Adopted in 1977.
NRS 235.080 State fossil. The prehistoric marine reptile known as the Ichthyosaur, genus Shonisaurus, now extinct, is hereby designated as the official state fossil of the State of Nevada.
Ichthyosaurs swam through prehistoric seas for more than 150 million years, almost as long as their dinosaur cousins ruled the land. While some of the creatures retained the lizard like proportions of their ancestors, others were as sleek as porpoises and probably had a lifestyle similar to that of those modern mammals. Analyses of ichthyosaur fossils are shedding new light not only on their body structure, but also on what they ate and how they may have homed in on their prey. Fossils still being teased from the rock strongly hint that the largest predator ever on our planet may well have been an ocean-dwelling ichthyosaur.
The Ichthyosaurus shonisaurus popularis was the name given to a species discovered in Nevada in 1928. (Although reports state the discovery was in 1928, the expedition to the Humboldt region is referred to as: The Saurian Expedition of 1905). Some 37 of these reptiles became stranded in mud flats from a receding equatorial sea which once covered the state. The longest specimen found at this site, located at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the Shoshone Mountain Range near the town of Berlin in northwestern Nye County, Nevada, was 55 feet long and represented the only complete fossilized skeleton of the species ever found in the United States.
At the turn of the century, the Berlin mine and mill processed silver and gold ore from nearby Union Canyon. When miners discovered ichthyosaur fossils in Union Canyon, they used them as decorations in their fireplace hearths. The large disc-shaped vertebrae were used as dinner plates.
Ichthyosaurs were stream-lined marine reptiles that ranged in size from 7-30 feet long (4.5-9 m). They had sharp teeth in long jaws, and big eyes. They had four crescent-shaped fins, a stabilizing dorsal fin, and a fish-like tail with two lobes. They breathed air with lungs through nostrils which were close to the eyes near the top of the snout. They gave birth to live young; fossils have been found with baby Ichthyosaurs in the abdomen.
A reinterpretation of the Upper Triassic ichthyosaur Shonisaurus
Most US states have made a state fossil designation, in many cases during the 1980s. It is common to designate one species in which fossilization has occurred, rather than a single specimen, or a category of fossils not limited to a single species.
Some states that lack a "state fossil" have nevertheless singled out a fossil for formal designation such as a state dinosaur, rock, gem or stone.
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