Carolina Query: What Kind of Dinosaurs Roamed North Carolina?

Carolina Query is our series based on your questions about science in North Carolina. Dave Estes asked "What dinosaurs first roamed North Carolina?” 


What we know about dinosaurs in North Carolina
June 22, 2018

North Carolina's Jurassic Park

As part of our series answering your questions about science in North Carolina, Dave Estes emailed this question: "What dinosaurs first roamed North Carolina?" Thanks for your question, Dave! Dinosaurs dominated the planet roughly 240 million years ago. Back then, North Carolina bordered what is now modern day Mauritania and Morrocco, as part of the supercontinent Pangea. At the time,  North Carolina was much swampier and likely home to many species of dinosaurs, but it’s difficult to say with certainty which ones.

According to Christian Kammerer Ph.D., the research curator of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, our state’s unique geology makes discovering fossils difficult.

“The deserts and mountains of the West expose vast amounts of rock,” said Kammerer. "This makes for plentiful opportunities for fossil-finding. In eastern states, most of the land is covered with either vegetation or asphalt, so it is rare to see a vertebrate fossil at the surface. But paleontologists still try.”

A few dinosaur fossils have been found in our state. There’s Hypsibema, a giant plant-eating, duck-billed dinosaur, found in Sampson county in 1869. According to Kammerer this dinosaur, which may have been 40-feet-tall, is the only verified species of North Carolina dinosaur.

However, fossilized teeth from the Megalodon, our state dinosaur, have been found off the coast, and other fossils have been discovered throughout the state. According to the Asheville Museum of Science, despite the few fossils found in North Carolina due to the limited amount of sedimentary rock, there is evidence that a distant cousin of the T. Curriei, a tyrannosaurus, once lived here.Fossilized teeth point to other types of dinosaurs that probably used to live here in the late Cretaceous period, or approximately 66 million years ago, including carnivorous relatives of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.

However, the lack of fossil evidence that doesn’t mean that many other types of dinosaurs didn’t thrive in North Carolina. Dinosaurs found in other parts of the east coast with similar ecosystems may have made their home here. The Appalachiosaurus may have ambled through the Appalachians. The Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Apatosaurus may have lived in the region, as well as Grallator, a three- toed bipedal carnivore. Birds are also ancestors dinosaurs, says Kammerer, so there are technically modern-day dinosaurs in our ecosystem right now.

—Nathan Katzin 

Nathan Katzin is a writer on the UNC-TV Science Team

This article is part of a series called Carolina Query, in which the UNC-TV science teams answers your questions about science in North Carolina. Email your questions here: rizlar@unctv.org