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.
2. Mammoths and Mastodons
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
) and the Woolly Mammoth
) have been discovered in this state, the latter straying far from its accustomed chilly habitat!
3. Prehistoric Whales
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
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!
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.