After millions of years, California approves state dinosaur

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Augustynolophus morrisi, drawing courtesy of
Kristin Friedrich,
chief communications officer for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

During the hectic legislative session, when the gas tax was raised, single-payer health insurance was explored and a multi-billion-dollar state budget reviewed and passed, the California Legislature decided to designate a state dinosaur — the Augustynolophus morrisi.

This creature roamed the land now known as California during the Maastrichtian Age, nearly 66 to 72 million years ago, which makes it a contemporary of other well-known dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. However, unlike its distant cousins, this early resident apparently was one of the first herbivorous Californians.

Those who study fossils recognized its affection for the warmth and climate of the West Coast.  According to paleontologists, the Augustynolophus morrisi has only been found in California. The original discovery was first unearthed in 1939 in the Moreno Formation of Fresno County, said Assemblyman Richard Bloom.

Drawing courtesy of
Kristin Friedrich,
chief communications officer for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

He authored Assembly Bill 1540, designating the state dinosaur, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed Saturday, Sept. 23.

California is neither the only nor the first state to designate an ancient resident as a state symbol. According to the Senate Report on AB 1540, “Seven states, as well as the District of Columbia, have declared a state dinosaur to pay homage to the original creatures to walk the land.”

In response to Brown’s signature on the legislation, Bloom said in a press release, “Today is a great day for California and for paleontology. It’s not often that legislation gives us an opportunity to learn about California’s prehistoric past; over the past several months Augustynolophus morrisi has inspired and educated Californians across the state, including its students, policymakers and journalists.

“Its fossils are the most complete set of dinosaur fossils to be found in the state and include skull material, which allowed scientists to reconstruct a more accurate picture of its appearance,” Bloom wrote.

The enactment of this legislation is also a sign that bipartisanship, often considered a relic in contemporary American politics, is alive and well in California. Both State legislative chambers passed AB 1540 unanimously. The Assembly voted 57-0 and the Senate vote was 40-0.

Just a year ago, the Legislature designated denim as the state’s official fabric.

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