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House passes state fossil bill

2/28/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

By an overwhelming margin, the Kansas House gave final approval Thursday to a bill naming the Tylosaurus and the Pteranodon as the state fossils.

Despite the 96-27 vote, the bill continued to be met with skepticism, especially among House members in the more urban parts of the state.

"Really?" a House clerk read from a statement from Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe. "I mean really? I'm going to have to vote no."

Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, championed the bill, introducing it, and urging fellow House members to vote for the bill.

His patience was wearing thin earlier this week when it was unclear when -- or if -- the bill would even make it to the floor of the House.

"It's time to do this," Hineman said. "It's a simple bill."

With the passage, the bill now will go across the hall to the Kansas Senate where it faces an uncertain future.

The three-paragraph bill names two state fossils -- a marine fossil and a flying fossil. Kansas is one of only 10 states without an official fossil, even though it is a state rich in fossils and in fossil history.

Some of the greatest names in the fossil collecting history traveled to Kansas, launching massive explorations and shipping thousands of crates of fossils back to Harvard and Yale, for example.

Kansas also was home to some of the greatest fossil collectors in history, not the least of whom was the famous Sternberg family, whose name now graces the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.

While George Sternberg served as director of the museum, his father, Charles H. Sternberg, and brothers Levi and Charles M., all were well known for their collecting skills.

The bill names the Tylosaurus, a giant mosasaur that inhabited what was a great inland sea of millions of years ago, grew to lengths of more than 40 feet.

The Pteranodon, sporting a wingspan of more than 24 feet, sailed the Kansas skies.

The idea of naming a state fossil has long languished until this year when collector Alan Detrich, Lawrence, offered to give up his fight to name the Xiphactinus as a state fossil and urge legislators to name the mosasaur instead. Detrich helped set up a display of a juvenile mosasaur near the rotunda in the Statehouse on Thursday.

Hineman chose to include two fossils in the bill.

In his testimony before committee about 10 days ago, Mike Everhart said the first known specimen of Tylosaurus was collected in 1868 near Monument Rocks.

It was quickly spirited away to Harvard, he told legislators.

The wing bones of the first Pteranodon were collected in 1870 in Logan County. It's now in the Yale Peabody Museum.