Swimming with Sea Monsters

Photo by Wagner da Silva Teixeira, Pixabay.com

Today we’re taking a walk among the great dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era courtesy of the Michigan State University Museum’s Hall of Evolution.  Spanning 185 million years (251 to 66 million years ago), the Mesozoic Era is divided into three time periods—Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.  This era begins with the fallout left behind by the Great Dying, when supercontinent Pangea began to break apart and our continents slowly drifted toward their current locations.  The Earth was warm, with little disparity in temperature between the equator and poles.  As the years rolled by, life once again began to flourish on a grand scale.  The majestic Brachiosaurus and fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the earth, Archaeopteryx and Pterodactyls soared through the sky, and a 17-foot sea monster named Xiphactinus prowled the shallow seas.

Xiphactinus – Michigan State University Museum, Photo by cjverb (2016)

This SUV-sized, prehistoric fish had a massive, bulldog-like jaw riddled with razor sharp teeth. Xiphactinus cruised the Western Interior Seaway at speeds of up to 37 mph.  He gobbled down whole unsuspecting fish, seabirds and other marine life, sometimes with fatal results.  The Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas confirms Xiphactinus’s dreadful table manners (chew your food!)

They have on display a fossil of a 14 foot Xiphactinus with a 6 foot Gillicus trapped inside.  Paleontologists believe the smaller fish tried to chomp its way free but instead ruptured a vital organ inside Xiphactinus.  The Mesozoic Era’s, “you bite me, I bite you” way of life eventually came to an end with you guessed it, another mass extinction.  This time the dinosaurs (except birds) were wiped out.  Scientists cite several possible causes, including continental shift, global tectonics, an increase in volcanic activity, an asteroid or some combination of these environmental events.  This latest round of extinction paved the way to the third and final act of our prehistoric timeline, the Cenozoic Era, which we’ll delve into next week.  In the meantime, have a fantastic Friday. J

Fun Kansas Facts:  Millions of years ago Kansas was covered by a shallow sea.  Following are a few facts about this fossil-rich state:

  • Became the 34th state on January 29, 1861.
  • Known as the sunflower state.
  • State motto is Ad astra per aspera, or To the stars through difficulties.
  • Topeka is the capital, but Wichita is the largest city.
  • Has not one, but two official state fossils, the Tylosaurus, a giant mosasaur (prehistoric lizard), and the Pteranodon (flying reptile).

Fun Musical Facts:  Kansas the rock band is from Topeka.  They released their aptly named debut album, Kansas in 1974.  They are best known for rock ballads, Carry on My Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind.




Kansas Band


Michigan State University Museum

National Geographic

Sternberg Museum of Natural History

University of California Museum of Paleontology

University of Kansas

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