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Legislator pushes two state fossils

2/13/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Legislators have shunned the idea of the hard-to-pronounce, and even harder-to-spell, xiphactinus as a state fossil.

But when the idea of naming the larger and more terrifying mosasaur as the state fossil emerged, there also happened to be a band of supporters in favor of the pteranodon.

Essentially, 80 million years ago, mosasaurs ruled the inland sea while the pteranodon ruled the skies.

With two divided camps, Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, forged ahead with the idea of drafting a bill naming both as state fossils -- the mosasaur as the official marine fossil, while the pteranodon would be the official flying fossil.

He's not sure if the idea will take flight or sink to the dark, dank depths of legislative history, but a public hearing on the issue is set for next week before the Vision 2020 committee he serves on.

In a telephone interview, Hineman said he just recently was contacted by a 4-H'er in Scott County urging support for the designation of a state fossil. The 4-H'er, coincidentally, supported the idea of naming the mosasaur as the state fossil.

"I'm going to get him involved, and I think he's going to help spread the word through 4-H," he said. "I think that will help."

In addition to support from Kansas 4-H, Hineman said he's expecting testimony from Alan Detrich, who long pushed for naming the xiphactinus as the state fossil.

Testimony also will be offered by Mike Everhart, adjunct curator of paleontology at Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays. He's a leading expert on mosasaurs and the author of "Oceans of Kansas," a history of the western inland sea.

No surprise, Everhart favors the mosasaur as the state fossil.

"I'd be very supportive of a mosasaur being a state fossil," he said at the time the mosasaur was suggested as a replacement for the xiphactinus. "It really is synonymous with fossil collecting in this part of the country."

Hineman hopes to attract professors from the University of Kansas to testify as well.

As the author of the bill, Hineman wants to "celebrate the natural history of the state."

Some of the finest fossils ever discovered have been found in the chalk outcroppings along the Smoky Hill River, he said.

As many as 40 states and the District of Columbia already have state fossils.

"We're kind of late to the party," Hineman said.