Meet the Animals

Majestic Giants and Ancient Wonders: Missouri’s Paleontology Revealed

Missouri’s Paleontology and Extinct Animals

Have you ever wondered what ancient creatures roamed the land we now call Missouri? The state’s rich geological history and abundance of fossils offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

From extinct animals that lived during different periods to the evidence of Native American hunting, Missouri’s paleontology is a treasure trove of knowledge. Missouri’s geological history and presence of fossils

Missouri’s geological history stretches back millions of years.

The state was once covered by a vast inland sea, creating the perfect conditions for the formation of fossils. Over time, the sea receded, leaving behind layers of sediment that preserved the remains of countless organisms.

Fossils can be found throughout Missouri, but some areas are particularly rich in these ancient treasures. In the northern part of the state, the Hannibal Shale formation offers a glimpse into the life of the sea creatures that inhabited the region during the middle Ordovician period, around 450 million years ago.

Fossils of trilobites, brachiopods, and other marine organisms can be found embedded in the ancient sediments. Moving further south, the Burlington Limestone formation near the town of Hannibal is home to a wide variety of fossils from the Mississippian period, around 350 million years ago.

This period saw the rise of various marine animals, including crinoids, corals, and mollusks. Fossils from this formation provide insights into the diverse ecosystems that once thrived in the ancient seas of Missouri.

In central Missouri, the Warsaw Shale formation is known for its well-preserved fossils from the Pennsylvanian period, around 300 million years ago. This period marked the emergence of reptiles and the decline of trilobites and other marine organisms.

Fossils from this formation include early reptiles, as well as plants and insects that provide clues about the terrestrial environment of the time.

Extinct animals in Missouri during different periods

Throughout Missouri’s history, various periods have witnessed the rise and fall of different groups of animals. From prehistoric fish to giant mammals, Missouri has been home to a diverse array of extinct creatures.

During the Pennsylvanian period, Missouri was teeming with ancient plants and insects. Fossils of giant dragonflies with wingspans of up to two feet have been found in the Warsaw Shale formation.

These insects, known as Meganeura, ruled the skies during this time, alongside other prehistoric insects that have long since vanished from the Earth. Fast forward to the Pleistocene epoch, which lasted from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago.

This period saw the arrival of large mammals, such as the American Mastodon. Standing up to ten feet tall, with impressive tusks and a massive build, the American Mastodon was an iconic creature of the time.

Description and characteristics of the American Mastodon

The American Mastodon was a distant relative of elephants, mammoths, and modern-day humans! With its curved tusks and shaggy coat of fur, it resembled a larger version of today’s elephants. However, unlike elephants, the American Mastodon had a sloping back, long, muscular limbs, and lived in forests rather than grasslands.

These magnificent creatures could weigh up to six tons, making them one of the largest land mammals to have ever walked the Earth. Their tusks, which could reach lengths of up to eight feet, were used for digging, stripping bark from trees, and battling for dominance.

Unlike the straight tusks of mammoths, the American Mastodon’s tusks curved back in a characteristic shape.

American Mastodon fossils in Missouri and evidence of Native American hunting

Missouri has been a hotbed of American Mastodon discoveries. Fossils of these magnificent beasts have been unearthed throughout the state, providing valuable insights into their biology and behavior.

In addition to their physical remains, evidence suggests that Native Americans hunted and utilized the American Mastodon for food, tools, and other resources. Artifacts found near Mastodon remains indicate that early human populations were present in Missouri when these majestic creatures roamed the land.

It is believed that Native Americans would stalk and ambush the Mastodon, using their sharp spears and stone tools to bring down the giant beast. The utilization of these resources demonstrates the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Missouri’s ancient inhabitants.


Missouri’s paleontology offers a fascinating journey through time. From ancient sea creatures to giant mammals, the state’s rich geological history and abundance of fossils provide invaluable insights into our planet’s past.

By studying these extinct animals, we gain a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit today. So next time you find yourself in Missouri, remember to take a moment and appreciate the incredible stories told by the fossils beneath your feet.

3) Falcatus

Description and characteristics of Falcatus

Falcatus, also known as the Falcatus falcatus, is an extinct species of shark-like fish that belonged to a group of primitive jawed fishes called Placodermi. It lived during the Devonian period, approximately 410 to 360 million years ago.

Falcatus had a distinctive appearance with a heavily armored head and a streamlined body, making it an efficient predator in its marine environment. One of the most striking features of Falcatus was its large, heavily reinforced head shield, or cephalothorax, which covered a significant portion of its body.

This shield was made up of thick, bony plates that provided protection and strength. Falcatus had two large, forward-pointing spines at the front of its head, resembling a pair of daggers, which earned it the nickname “dagger-toothed shark.”

The body of Falcatus was elongated and muscular, allowing it to swiftly maneuver through the waters.

Its tail was well-developed and possessed a heterocercal fin, meaning the upper lobe of the tail was longer than the lower lobe. This tail design helped Falcatus generate the necessary thrust to propel itself forward.

The jaws of Falcatus were equipped with sharp, pointed teeth, which suggested that it was an active predator. Its diet likely consisted of small fish, invertebrates, and possibly even other placoderms.

Falcatus possessed well-developed senses, including keen eyesight and a lateral line system that allowed it to detect movement and vibrations in the water.

Relationship of Falcatus to other chondrichthyans and paleontological findings

Falcatus belongs to the group of jawed fishes known as chondrichthyans, which includes sharks, rays, and chimaeras. Despite its superficial resemblance to sharks, Falcatus is not closely related to them.

However, its presence during the Devonian period provides valuable insights into the early evolution of jawed vertebrates. Paleontological findings of Falcatus fossils have contributed to our understanding of the Devonian ecosystem and the diversity of early marine life.

Fossils of Falcatus have been discovered in North America, Europe, and Australia, highlighting its broad geographical distribution during its time. In addition to the physical characteristics of Falcatus, studying its fossils has shed light on the evolution of placoderms and their role in ancient marine ecosystems.

Placoderms were the dominant group of vertebrates during the Devonian period, and Falcatus represented one of the many unique lineages within this group. Comparisons between Falcatus and other placoderms have revealed similarities and differences in their anatomical features, further illuminating the evolutionary relationships within this group.

These comparisons have also provided insight into the development of specialized adaptations, such as the head shield seen in Falcatus, which likely played a role in defense and territorial behavior. The study of Falcatus and its relatives has contributed to our understanding of the origins of jawed vertebrates and the subsequent diversification of fish during the Devonian period.

It showcases the many unique forms and strategies that life took during this crucial period in Earth’s history.

4) Hypsibema

Description and characteristics of Hypsibema

Hypsibema, the official state dinosaur of Missouri, roamed the region during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 75 to 66 million years ago. Belonging to a group of herbivorous dinosaurs called hadrosaurs, Hypsibema was a large, plant-eating dinosaur with a distinct appearance.

One of the defining characteristics of Hypsibema was its impressive size. It measured up to 35 feet in length and stood around 14 feet tall at the hips.

The body of Hypsibema was bulky, with a long, tapering tail, pillar-like legs, and a powerful set of jaws equipped with hundreds of interlocking teeth specialized for grinding plant material. Hypsibema had a unique cranial crest, which varied in shape and size depending on the species.

These ornate crests were likely used for display, species recognition, and sound production. The crest of Hypsibema was composed of a network of hollow chambers connected to its nasal passages, allowing it to produce loud, resonant calls to communicate with other members of its species.

The legs of Hypsibema were robust and heavily muscled, enabling it to support its massive weight and graze on abundant vegetation. It had a broad, duck-like beak at the front of its skull, which it used to strip leaves and twigs from plants.

Hypsibema, like other hadrosaurs, had sophisticated dental batteries that continually replaced worn or broken teeth, allowing for efficient plant consumption.

Hypsibema as the official state dinosaur and its fossil discoveries

In 2004, Hypsibema was officially designated as the state dinosaur of Missouri, honoring the rich paleontological heritage of the region. Fossils of Hypsibema have been discovered in various locations throughout Missouri, particularly in the eastern part of the state.

One notable Hypsibema discovery was made in the late 1940s near the town of Kansas City. A nearly complete skeleton, nicknamed “Charlie,” was excavated and is now housed in the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

This well-preserved specimen provided valuable insights into the anatomy and behavior of Hypsibema. The presence of Hypsibema fossils in Missouri has provided paleontologists with a better understanding of the late Cretaceous ecosystem in the region.

The identification of Hypsibema bones and associated fossils has allowed scientists to reconstruct the ancient environments and study the interactions between different dinosaur species. The discovery of Hypsibema fossils has also sparked public interest and appreciation for paleontology in Missouri.

Museums throughout the state feature displays showcasing the state dinosaur, educating visitors about the fascinating creatures that once inhabited the area. In conclusion, Falcatus and Hypsibema are two remarkable examples of Missouri’s paleontological treasures.

Falcatus provides insights into the early evolution of jawed fishes and the diversity of marine life during the Devonian period. Hypsibema, as the official state dinosaur, represents a fascinating window into the late Cretaceous ecosystem of Missouri and fuels public enthusiasm for paleontology.

These ancient creatures and their fossil discoveries continue to shape our understanding of Earth’s history, reminding us of the incredible diversity of life that existed long before us.

5) Woolly Mammoth

Description and key features of the Woolly Mammoth

The Woolly Mammoth, or Mammuthus primigenius, was an iconic Ice Age creature that roamed the Earth thousands of years ago. Known for its thick, shaggy coat, enormous curved tusks, and impressive size, the Woolly Mammoth was a fascinating species.

One of the most distinguishing features of the Woolly Mammoth was its long, coarse hair, which protected it from the harsh cold of the Ice Age. This hair ranged in color from dark brown to black and could reach a length of up to three feet.

Underneath its thick fur, the Woolly Mammoth had a layer of fat that acted as insulation, helping it survive in the frigid Arctic climate. The tusks of the Woolly Mammoth were another key feature that set it apart.

These elongated, curved ivory structures could grow up to 12 feet long and weigh several hundred pounds. The tusks were used for various purposes, including digging for food, stripping bark from trees, and potentially even defense and mate attraction.

In terms of size, the Woolly Mammoth rivaled modern-day elephants. It stood up to 11 feet tall at the shoulder and could weigh between 6,000 and 11,000 pounds.

Its stocky, robust build and broad, flat feet were adaptations that allowed it to navigate through snowy and icy environments with ease.

Presence of Woolly Mammoth fossils in Missouri

While Woolly Mammoths were primarily found in regions with colder climates, some evidence suggests that they once made their way into what is now modern-day Missouri. The retreating glaciers during the Ice Age would have exposed vast grasslands, attracting these herbivorous giants.

Woolly Mammoth fossils have been discovered in various parts of Missouri, particularly in river valleys and areas that were once part of ancient floodplains. These fossils provide valuable insights into the distribution of these magnificent creatures and their movement during this time.

In 1974, a significant find was made near the town of Mexico, Missouri. A nearly complete Woolly Mammoth skeleton was unearthed, showcasing the impressive size and unique features of these prehistoric mammals.

This discovery highlighted the presence of these Ice Age giants in the region and excited paleontologists and locals alike. The study of Woolly Mammoth fossils in Missouri has expanded our understanding of the ancient ecosystems of the area.

By analyzing the skeletal remains and associated plants and animals in the same geological layers, scientists have been able to piece together a more detailed picture of the environment and the interactions between species during the Ice Age.

6) Ancient Bison

Description and characteristics of Ancient Bison

Ancient Bison, or Bison antiquus, was a majestic creature that roamed North America during the Pleistocene epoch, about 200,000 to 10,000 years ago. Similar in appearance to modern-day bison, Ancient Bison had some distinct characteristics that set it apart.

Ancient Bison stood around seven feet tall at the shoulder, slightly larger than its modern counterpart, the American Bison. It had a bulky, muscular build with a deep chest and a stocky frame.

Its head was massive, with a pronounced hump atop its shoulders and long, curving horns that could reach lengths of up to three feet. One of the key features of Ancient Bison was its prominent shoulder hump, which was formed by a series of powerful muscles that allowed it to use its head as a battering ram during fights with other males.

The hump also housed large amounts of fat, which would have served as a valuable energy reserve during harsh winters and times of scarcity. Ancient Bison had a robust skull with a wide muzzle and broad, high-crowned teeth that were specialized for eating tough, fibrous vegetation.

Its strong neck muscles and well-developed legs enabled it to graze on grasses and other tough plants, even in challenging environments.

Fossil discoveries of Ancient Bison in Missouri

Fossil discoveries of Ancient Bison in Missouri have provided significant insights into the distribution and paleoecology of these magnificent creatures. Remains of Ancient Bison have been found in various parts of the state, indicating their presence during the Pleistocene epoch.

In the 1980s, an impressive find was made in Phelps County, Missouri, where the partial skeleton of an Ancient Bison was uncovered. This discovery revealed important details about the anatomy and adaptations of these prehistoric herbivores and their ability to survive in different environments.

Additionally, ancient Native American artifacts found in association with Ancient Bison remains suggest the cultural significance and potential hunting of these animals by early human populations in Missouri. These artifacts provide clues about the interactions between humans and Ancient Bison, shedding light on the ancient history of the state.

Paleontological research in Missouri has expanded our understanding of Ancient Bison and its ecological role during the Pleistocene epoch. By studying the bones and teeth of these ancient creatures, scientists have reconstructed their diet, migration patterns, and adaptations to various environments.


Missouri’s rich paleontological record provides glimpses into the prehistoric past, including the magnificent Woolly Mammoths and Ancient Bison that once roamed the region. These iconic Ice Age creatures captivate our imagination and deepen our understanding of the dynamic ecosystems that existed thousands of years ago.

The presence of their fossils in Missouri exemplifies the state’s importance in the study of Earth’s history, reminding us of the rich natural heritage hidden beneath the surface.

7) Giant Beaver

Description and distinct features of the Giant Beaver

The Giant Beaver, or Castoroides ohioensis, was an impressive Ice Age mammal that inhabited North America. Despite its name, the Giant Beaver was not closely related to the beavers we know today.

It was a distinct species that stood apart with its massive size and unique characteristics. The Giant Beaver was a colossal creature, roughly the size of a modern black bear.

Standing at about three to six feet tall on its hind legs, it could reach lengths of up to eight feet from its snout to the tip of its tail. This impressive size made it one of the largest rodents to have ever lived.

Its most distinguishing feature was its enormous incisors. The front teeth of the Giant Beaver were curved, robust, and up to six inches long.

These impressive incisors were used for gnawing through trees and building dams, much like their smaller modern-day counterparts. The size and strength of the Giant Beaver’s incisors reflects its different lifestyle and the need to cut through larger vegetation.

The Giant Beaver had a compact, stocky body with strong limbs. Its hind limbs were especially powerful, enabling it to move both on land and in water.

Its large, webbed feet were ideal for swimming and propelled it through rivers and lakes with ease. The tail of the Giant Beaver was wide and flattened, assisting in balance and swimming.

Fossil findings and locations of Giant Beaver remains, including Missouri

Fossil remains of the Giant Beaver have been discovered in various parts of North America, including Missouri. This Ice Age giant left behind an extensive paleontological record that has provided valuable insights into its distribution and adaptation.

In Missouri, fossil findings of the Giant Beaver have been reported in several locations. One notable discovery was made near the Current River in the southeastern part of the state.

Here, fossilized Giant Beaver remains, including teeth and bone fragments, were found, highlighting the presence of these impressive rodents in the region during the Pleistocene epoch. The Giant Beaver was primarily associated with wetland and riverine environments, making its fossils commonly found near ancient waterways and lakes.

These habitats provided the Giant Beaver with ample resources, including a variety of vegetation and abundant building materials for their dams and lodges. The presence of Giant Beaver fossils in Missouri, as well as in other parts of North America, indicates their broad distribution and successful adaptation to different environments.

Their remains have been found in areas spanning from the Arctic regions of Canada down to the central United States, suggesting a once-widespread range in the continent. Studying the fossilized remains of the Giant Beaver has allowed scientists to gain a better understanding of its paleoecology and behavior.

By analyzing the structure and wear patterns of the teeth, scientists have inferred the Giant Beaver’s diet, which consisted primarily of aquatic plants such as water lilies, sedges, and other herbaceous vegetation. The construction of dams and lodges by the Giant Beaver is evidenced by the preserved remains of these structures, as well as the occurrence of fossils in distinct sedimentary deposits associated with water bodies.

The ecological impacts of the Giant Beaver, including the creation of wetland habitats and the modification of river systems, have been assessed through paleontological studies. Conclusion:

The Giant Beaver was a remarkable Ice Age mammal with its impressive size, strong incisors, and adaptations for aquatic life.

Its fossils, including those found in Missouri, provide clues to its distribution, diet, and ecological role during the Pleistocene epoch. These fascinating Ice Age giants continue to capture our imagination and enhance our understanding of the prehistoric world that once existed on our planet.

The article explores the fascinating world of Missouri’s paleontology, highlighting the unique and diverse extinct animals that once roamed the region. From the mighty American Mastodon and the fierce Falcatus to the grand Woolly Mammoth, Ancient Bison, and Giant Beaver, these ancient creatures provide valuable insights into Earth’s history and the intricacies of past ecosystems.

Fossils discovered in Missouri have contributed to our understanding of geological history, evolutionary relationships, and the interactions between early humans and these magnificent beings. Missouri’s paleontological heritage serves as a window into the past, reminding us of the incredible diversity of life that once thrived and leaving a lasting impression of the wonders that can be found beneath our feet.

Popular Posts