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The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Virginia


No dinosaurs have ever been discovered in Virginia, but this state was home to a respectable number of prehistoric mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, as listed below. (See an interactive map of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in the United States.)

1. Tanytrachelos

Karen Carr
The closest the state of Virginia has ever gotten to an actual dinosaur, Tanytrachelos was a tiny, long-necked reptile of the middle Triassic period, about 225 million years ago. Like an amphibian, Tanytrachelos was equally comfortable moving about in water or on land, and it probably subsisted on insects and small marine organisms.

2. Chesapecten

Wikimedia Commons
The official state fossil of Virginia, Chesapecten was (don't laugh) a prehistoric scallop of the Miocene through early Pleistocene epochs (about 20 to two million years ago). If the name Chesapecten sounds vaguely familiar, that's because this bivalve pays homage to Chesapeake Bay, where numerous specimens have been discovered.

3. Mammoths and Mastodons

woolly mammoth
Heinrich Harder
Like many states in the U.S., Virginia was once traversed by thundering herds of prehistoric elephants, which left behind scattered teeth, tusks and small bones. Both the American Mastodon (Mammut americanum) and the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) have been discovered in this state, the latter straying far from its accustomed chilly habitat!

4. Prehistoric Whales

Nobu Tamura
As you might guess, given this state's twisting bays and inlets, numerous prehistoric whales have been discovered in Virginia. The two most important genera were Diorocetus and Cetotherium (literally, "whale beast"), the latter of which resembled a small, sleek grey whale that filtered plankton from the water with primitive baleen plates. More about prehistoric whales

5. Stromatolites

Wikimedia Commons
A stromatolite isn't technically a living organism, but a large, heavy mound of fossilized mud left behind by colonies of prehistoric algae (one-celled marine organisms). In 2008, researchers in Roanoke, Virginia discovered a five-foot-wide, two-ton stromatolite dating all the way back to the Cambrian period, about 500 million years ago!
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