Fossil champion gaining traction
By MIKE CORN
On the virtual eve of National Fossil Day, Alan Detrich is willing to give it one more shot -- the long-sought-after idea of Kansas naming a state fossil.
And bowing to pressure, he's finally changed his focus away from the hard-to-pronounce xiphactinus to the more popular, much larger and more terrifying mosasaur.
It's a shift Mike Everhart, adjunct curator of paleontology at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, can support. Everhart's specialty has been the mosasaur.
Sternberg director Reese Barrick also wouldn't object. He didn't object to the xiphactinus idea, either.
Of course, he'd rather see the pteranodon as the state fossil because that's just what it is, found only in Kansas.
As far as the mosasaur is concerned, his only worry is it should be more specific.
He pointed to the state reptile, an ornate box turtle, and the state amphibian, a barred tiger salamander.
"I hate to make it more complex," Barrick said. "I think we should have a state fossil. It would be very cool."
It likely would be the tylosaurus proriger, the dominant predator of the inland sea.
Both Barrick and Everhart have taken a hands-off approach as Detrich, a Lawrence resident who previously lived in Great Bend, sought the designation for the xiphactinus.
"I think that would be good," he said Wednesday while researching the famed Sternberg fossil-collecting family.
The xiphactinus was more of an also-ran for Everhart as a state fossil, behind the mosasaur and the pternanodon, both fossils of Kansas. He'd even prefer the elasmosaurus, a species of plesiosaur.
"Mosasaurs certainly would be a good one," Everhart said of being named the state's fossil.
They are essentially Kansas fossils, given the state has produced more mosasaur fossils than any other location in the world.
"I'd be very supportive of a mosasaur being a state fossil," Everhart said. "It really is synonymous with fossil collecting in this part of the country."
Detrich long has pushed for a state fossil, and last year convinced one Lawrence legislator to introduce a bill to get the task completed.
Supporters of the pteranodon immediately stepped forward while most members of the paleontology community stayed quiet on the issue.
Detrich got the hint and now is pushing the mosasaur.
He's hoping Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, won't display once-bitten, twice-shy symptoms and is willing once again to introduce legislation designating a state fossil.
Long a collector of mosasaurs from the western Kansas limestone of a long-ago inland sea, Detrich isn't at all shying away from the fossil's qualifications.
Mosasaurs, he said, grew to 35 feet in length.
"It's the biggest monster in this sea, the inland sea," he said, calling it the Tyrannosaurus rex of the sea. "I think a mosasaur could take down a T-rex if he was in the water.
"It would be our T-rex. It would be Kansas' T-rex."
When pressed, Detrich wouldn't say he's only willing to give the idea of adopting a state fossil another year.
"I'm 66," he said. "How much longer do you want me to keep carrying the baton?"
Detrich plans to approach Sloan to see if he's willing to reintroduce the fossil measure when the Legislature convenes in January.
"I'm going to approach every single senator and representative if I have to," he said. "I might even go to the state Capitol and knock on the governor's door."