It’s only taken around 66 million years, but California may soon have an official dinosaur. Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who represents Topanga and the Westside, has introduced legislation that would add Augustynolophus morissi, a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, to the list of state symbols.
California already has a state fossil, the saber-toothed cat, and a state reptile, the desert tortoise. It even has a state marine reptile, the leatherback sea turtle, but it doesn’t have a dinosaur. Bloom hopes to remedy that when his bill is voted on next week, after the Messenger Mountain News goes to press.
“Dinosaurs are cool and highlighting a dinosaur that has such a deep connection to our state will stimulate interest in paleontology and science overall, particularly with children,” said Bloom, in a press release. “Having an interest in one branch of science often leads a child to be interested in other areas of science so this bill aligns with the investment we have made in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, also known as S.T.E.M. programs.”
Dinosaur fossils are relatively scarce on the West Coast. Augustynolophus morrisi is a rare native California species. The two sets of fossils belonging to this dinosaur were found in the Moreno Formation of Fresno County in the 1930s and ’40s.
Even though Augustynolophus was a relative late-comer whose bones date to the tail end of the dinosaur epoch, it lived for millions of years as the Santa Monica Mountains emerged from the bottom of the ocean.
Paleontologist Richard Hilton’s 2003 book, “Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California,” indicates that the only competition Augustynolophus morrisi might have for official California dinosaur is an armored dinosaur called Aletopelta coombsi, discovered near San Diego in 1987. That dinosaur is thought to have washed into the ocean, where its bones, sans skull, were deposited in deep water.
According to Bloom, Augustynolophus morrisi is “the most complete dinosaur known from California, and includes skull material, making it easier for scientists to show an accurate picture of what the animal actually looked like.”
At first glance, that picture may appear somewhat unprepossessing compared to Augustynolophus’ more famous contemporaries, like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, but this hadrosaur would still have been bigger than an elephant and was able to move on two legs or four, which is more than T-Rex could say for itself.
The dinosaur was named for Los Angeles County Natural History patron Gretchen Augustyn, and 20th century California paleontologist William J. Morris, who was responsible for most of the dinosaur discoveries along the western coast of North America, according to the press release.
Anticipating his (or her) new celebrity status, Augustynolophus morrisi already has a Twitter account, @augustynolophus, and a new nickname—Morrissey, like the British rocker.
Augustynolophus’ Twitter profile states: “Native Californian, Los Angeles resident, older than Jerry Brown (barely), vegetarian, and firm believer in science.”
Bloom shares the dinosaur’s science advocacy: “With science disbelievers occupying key positions in our federal government, it is more important than ever to remind our children of the important role scientific discovery has had on our way of life and encourage them to continue to learn, discover, and innovate.”
California’s first state symbol was the golden poppy, designated as the state flower 1903. Since then, the Legislature has designated 33 additional state symbols. The push for a state dinosaur is being sponsored by the Southern California Paleontological Society and supported by the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.