Why is Wyoming a Hotspot for Paleontology?

Wyoming is home to the famous Green River, a hotspot for paleontology and scientific research. The Green River is a tributary of the Colorado River, and runs through Wyoming and Colorado as well as Utah.

Those who are familiar with Colorado already know that the state’s great canyons have been the sites of many an archeological discovery. Wyoming is also home to the Rocky Mountains, where scientists have found many fossils, metamorphic rocks, and Precambrian sediments.

But what is it that makes the Green River and Wyoming so important to the paleontology circles? Is it just the Rocky Mountains or do we have bigger fish to fry?

We do Have Bigger Fish to Fry

The Diplomystus dentatus is an extinct fish that once swam in the waters of the Green River Formation in Wyoming. Fossils of the fish indicate that the fish is related to modern-day sardines and herrings. Another one of its close relatives, the Knightia, also roamed the Green River Formation—and people from Wyoming would actually know this one.

Every state in the United States has a state fossil designated for them. For Wyoming, it’s the Knightia—a.k.a. the world’s most widely excavated fish for fossils. These sardine and herring-related fish were smaller fish that once roamed these waters, and where there are smaller fish—there are bigger, predatory fish too.

For the Green River, this was the Lepisosteus, or the Longnose gar. The Longnose gar is an interesting fish for paleontologists—owing to the fact that fossils for this fish have been found as far as in South America and even in India. These statistics are greatly insightful for scientists who never tire of prodding the river formation for some relic from the past.

And Scientists are Still Searching

You’d think that with such an obvious and vast supply of fish fossil, the river formation is obviously no surprise as a fossil haven. However, the Green River Formation has been the site of fossil discoveries that have helped paleontologists many old puzzles.

New—technically, old—species are ever being discovered, such as the 2008 discovery of the Onychonycteris Finneyi—one of the most primitive bats to have roamed the earth. One of the most recent breakthroughs was the discovery of the feeding trace of the Notogoneus osculus, considered greatly significant for paleontology.

Is the Green River too Far for You?

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