Fossils index

Reptiles

Reptiles are animals that live on land and in water.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Sauropsida
Modern reptiles include snakes, lizards and crocodiles. Ancient reptiles include the dinosaurs and various marine reptiles.
Rib bone of Plesiosaur

It is not surprising that dinosaurs are popular as state fossils. Here they are: Colorado (Stegosaurus), Maryland (Astrodon johnstoni), Montana (Duck-billed Dinosaur), New Jersey (Hadrosaurus foulkii), New Mexico (Coelophysis), Oklahoma (Saurophaganax Maximus), South Dakota (Triceratops), Texas (Brachiosaur sauropod & Pleurocoelus), Utah (Allosaurus) and Wyoming (Triceratops). Massachusetts has Dinosaur Tracks and Connecticut has Eubrontes giganteus which are dinosaur footprints. Nevada has Ichthyosaur, which is a marine reptile rather than a dinosaur.

Timescale: Reptiles have been around for a long time, about 360 million years ago, and are still alive today. Dinosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurus became extinct during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, at the end of the Mesozoic period.

The most famous reptile fossils are the dinosaurs. Bones from dinosaurs and other large extinct animals have often puzzled people in the past. Robert Plot (1640-1696) was Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, and first Keeper of the Oxford Ashmolean Museum. He published Natural History of Oxfordshire in 1677, which contained descriptions and illustrations of a wide range of Oxfordshire fossils, rocks and minerals. It also included the first known illustration of a dinosaur bone, although he didn't realise this. He realised that it was a petrified bone. At first he thought it came from an elephant, but realised that it couldn't after seeing a living elephant. Eventually he decided that since it looked so much like a human bone, although gigantic, it must have come from a giant man!

He wasn't the only person to think this. Early Europeans also thought that dinosaur bones were the bones of giants. The early Chinese thought gigantic fossil bones were the bones of dragons. Australian aboriginals described animals called 'Kadimakara' that lived during the Dream Time.The legend says that these 'monsters' once lived in a huge forest that covered central Australia. When the trees disappeared, the Kadimakara wandered about in the desert until they died at Lake Eyre, where their bones can still be found.

Large dinosaurs and many marine reptiles died out at the end of the Cretaceous period. However, there are descendants of the dinosaurs alive today. These are the birds!

Unfortunately, you are very unlikely find complete dinosaur skeletons, either fossil-hunting yourself, or buying them from a shop. The best place to see them is in a museum, or on their websites, such as the Natural History Museum in London, Oxford University Museum of Natural History or the Chicago Field Museum.


You may be able to buy bones of marine reptiles. These are not dinosaurs, although they lived at the same time. These photos are of a rib bone of a Plesiosaur from the Jurassic Period, about 160 million years ago, found at Peterborough. Size: 36mm

Rib bone of Plesiosaur Rib bone of Plesiosaur

This is from a Plesiosaur shoulder blade. Size: 35mm

Rib bone of Plesiosaur



Tail vertebra of Ichthyosaurus

This is a tail vertebra (tailbone) of an Ichthyosaurus, another extinct marine reptile. Both Plesiosaurs and Ichthyosaurus became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, at the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. This Ichthyosaurus was found at Lyme Regis, Dorset. It comes from the Jurassic Period, about 190 Million years old. Size: 16mm



This is a tooth of a Mosasaur, another extinct marine reptile. It dates from the Cretaceous Period. It was related to modern reptiles, such as lizards and snakes. Size: 27mm

Mosasaur tooth


The next two bones are supposed to be from dinosaurs. The first is a slice of bone. Size: 45mm
Slice of dinosaur bone

This bone has its end polished to show its structure. Size: 70mm
Dinosaur bone



This is a tooth of a Spinosaurus, an enormous dinosaur. It dates from the Cretaceous Period. A Spinosaurus measured up to 15 metres in length. They are somtimes called "Spiny Lizard" due to a series of large spines which projected from its back vertebrae. These probably formed a sail-like structure along its spine, which may have been used to regulate its body temperature. Spinosaurus had a large head with sharp, smooth teeth in powereful crocodile-like jaws. It was a fierce predator.
Size: 29mm

Spinosaurus tooth


Dinosaurs laid eggs. Here is a piece of dinosaur egg shell. It is from the Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago. It was from the Côte d'Azur in Southern France. The photos show top and bottom of the piece of shell. Size: 20mm

Dinosaur egg shell Dinosaur egg shell


Another piece of shell, a bit thicker, showing top, bottom and side. Size: 15mm

Dinosaur egg shell Dinosaur egg shell Dinosaur egg shell



Coprolite is fossilised dung. Here is an example. I don't think it comes from a dinosaur! However, dinosaur coprolite does exist. In some places such as Cambridgeshire, coprolites were mined for fertiliser. Size: 32mm Coprolite