California Gets its Own Official State Dinosaur: Augustynolophus morrisi

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Augustynolophus morrisi

A year after adopting a state fabric, California is the latest state to get its own official dinosaur, although the honor comes about 66 million years too late to directly benefit the honoree.

The designated creature is Augustynolophus morrisi, which, according to a bill signed Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown, is “a unique dinosaur that has only been found in California.”

This species is a type of hadrosaur, plant eaters known for their mouths shaped like duck bills. Because of geological and geographical factors, the record of dinosaurs within California is slim, but scientists report that this hadrosaur was contemporary to such other well-known dinosaurs as Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus — and perhaps an occasion meal for the latter.

The bill, put forward by state Sen. Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), states that a state dinosaur “is essential to California’s society because it nurtures an educational opportunity for the youngest Californians to become interested in paleontology,” and scientific fields in general.

Augustynolophus by cisiopurple on DeviantArt

Crews from the California Institute of Technology discovered specimens of Augustynolophus in 1939 and 1940 in the Moreno Shale Formation in the Panoche Hills of Fresno County.

It was originally presumed that these animals belonged to an already-known species, but careful study revealed a “vastly different” cranial structure, according to Assembly Bill 1540.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has timed this weekend’s Dino Fest with the governor’s bill signing. Visitors can meet paleontologists as they discuss historic and ongoing fossil discoveries and view rare specimens from the collection. There’s also a live science-themed band, life-size dinosaur puppets and a talk about the creation and interpretation of dinosaurs in film.

Like some other famous figures from the past, including Shakespeare, there is some confusion about the correct spelling of Augustynolophus. A post from the county has the hadrosaur’s second name as “Morris.” Another, with the second word spelled “morissi,” appears in the legislative analysis. A third version is in materials from the Natural History Museum, south of downtown, which has a specimen.

And, embarrassingly, seven states as well as the District of Columbia designated an official dinosaur ahead of California.

Yet at least this dino doesn’t have to share its laurels within state boundaries. Another bill that became California law this year makes the almond, walnut, pistachio and pecan each the official state nut.

Other official flora and fauna include: the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon californicus (state fossil); the California red-legged frog (state amphibian); the California desert tortoise (state reptile); and the golden poppy, Eschscholzia californica (state flower).