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The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Kansas


For much of the Mesozoic Era, Kansas was submerged under water--which explains why so many fish, sharks and marine reptiles have been discovered in this state, as listed below. (See an interactive map of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in the United States.)

1. Prehistoric Sharks

Dmitri Bogdanov

Kansas' portion of the Western Interior Sea was an extremely crowded ecosystem. You might not be surprised to learn that, in addition to plesiosaurs, mosasaurs and giant fish (below), this state has yielded the fossils of two important prehistoric sharks: Cretoxyrhina, also known as the "Ginsu Shark," and the huge, plankton-gobbling Ptychodus. More about prehistoric sharks

2. Mosasaurs

Dmitri Bogdanov

During the late Cretaceous period, much of the North American interior, including Kansas, was covered by the Western Interior Sea--and no denizens of this sea were more feared than the mosasaurs, sleek, toothy, 20- to 30-foot-long marine reptiles. Among the most notable mosasaurs of prehistoric Kansas were Clidastes, Tylosaurus and Platecarpus. More about mosasaurs

3. Claosaurus

Yale Peabody Museum

The only dinosaur ever to be discovered in Kansas (by the famous paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh, in 1873), Claosaurus was an extremely primitive hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, of the late Cretaceous period. Its unusual name, Greek for "broken lizard," refers to the fragmentary nature of its remains. More about Claosaurus

4. Plesiosaurs

Nobu Tamura

Before they were supplanted by the sleeker, deadlier mosasaurs (above), plesiosaurs were the most common marine reptiles of Cretaceous Kansas. Among the genera that roamed the Western Interior Sea about 90 million years ago were Elasmosaurus, Styxosaurus and Trinacromerum, not to mention the poster genus of the breed, Plesiosaurus. More about plesiosaurs

5. Pterosaurs

Dmitri Bogdanov

The rivers, lakes and oceans of the Mesozoic Era were prowled by pterosaurs, which dived down from the sky and plucked out tasty fish and mollusks, much like modern seagulls. During the late Cretaceous period, Kansas was home to at least two major pterosaur genera, the long-crested Pteranodon and the big-sailed Nyctosaurus. More about pterosaurs

6. Prehistoric Birds

Nobu Tamura

Many people are unaware that the earliest birds lived alongside the latest pterosaurs. Late Cretaceous Kansas was no exception; this state has yielded the remains of two important prehistoric birds, Hesperornis and Ichthyornis, that competed with their flying reptile cousins for fish, mollusks and other sea-dwelling creatures. More about prehistoric birds

7. Prehistoric Fish

Dmitri Bogdanov

Just as prehistoric birds competed with pterosaurs over the oceans of Kansas, so did prehistoric fish compete with marine reptiles. This state is famous for two plus-sized, late-Cretaceous fish: the 20-foot-long Xiphactinus (one specimen of which contains the remains of a fish called Gillicus) and the comparably sized, plankton-feeding Bonnerichthys. More about prehistoric fish

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