Texas May Replace Official State Dinosaur

Pleurocoelus has served ably as the official dinosaur of Texas. Sure, it was a plant-noshing herbivore in a fiercely barbecue-proud state, but the sauropod dwarfed most other dinos and lumbered with a 20-ton swagger.

Then he was exposed as an East Coaster.

The discovery in 2007 led a Fort Worth lawmaker to file a resolution in the legislature last month that seeks to send pleurocoelus packing and transfer the state dinosaur title to a very similar but more uniquely Texas species, newly dubbed Paluxysaurus jonesi.

That's paluxysaurus as in the Paluxy River in central Texas, where a graduate student found the dinosaur crowned by state lawmakers in 1997 was really a 112-million-year-old impostor.

"It's important to get things right," said Aaron Pan, curator of science for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. "If it's not the same thing, you can't really call it that."

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Passage of the measure is a virtual guarantee, while lawmakers struggle with the recession, shortfalls in tax revenue and paying for hurricane damage.

The resolution repairs what is largely a case of mistaken identity. Pleurocoelus and paluxysaurus were both giraffe-necked and enormous four-footed herbivores, with a close resemblance to the more widely known branchiosaurus.

A Detroit-area native uncovered that Texas backed the wrong dinosaur.

Peter Rose was studying at Southern Methodist University when he began scrutinizing fossils— thought to belong to pleurocoelus— that littered a Hood County ranch. The prevalence of the remains helped sell the sauropod as state's official dinosaur in the first place.

Paleontologists had long accepted the fossils belonged to pleurocoelus, whose bones were first dug up in Maryland. But Rose found the juvenile pleurocoelus specimens in Maryland didn't match the adult bones found in Texas.

Rose determined he had a whole new dinosaur on his hands. After tinkering with the name, he settled on incorporating Paluxy and stamped the species as jonesi, in a tribute to the Jones Ranch and its rich collection of fossils.

He then published a paper in 2007 explaining how Texas had been duped.

"I was more intimidated by throwing that out to my peers and the dinosaur community," said Rose, now at the University of Minnesota.

Rose said he's unaware of any challenges to his paper. And take heart, Texans: paluxysaurus hasn't been found anywhere else so far.