The Dinosaurs of Connecticut
Excerpted from Great Day Trips in the Connecticut Valley of the Dinosaurs, by Brendan Hanrahan.
Copyright © Perry Heights Press, 2004
This material may not be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher Perry Heights Press.
WNPR Faith Middleton Show Interview
The dinosaurs of the Connecticut Valley are known from a sort of composite sketch. What is known has been learned mostly from footprints, relatively few skeletons and even fewer natural casts. The rest has been filled in by comparisons to dinosaurs that lived at about the same time elsewhere, and by more than a little bit of imagination.
Connecticut Valley fossils date from the earliest Jurassic, some 200 million years ago, and very early in the Age of Dinosaurs. “We know there were [carnivorous] theropod dinosaurs, similar to Podokesaurus and Dilophosaurus," says Columbia University paleontologist Paul Olsen. Podokesaurus may have made [the footprint] Grallator and Dilophosaurus may have made [the footprint] Eubrontes.
"Then you have herbivorous [plant-eating] dinosaurs, of which there are two flavors. There were small ornithischian dinosaurs that looked like Lesothosaurus that would have made [the footprint] Anomoepus. They were considerably smaller than the carnivores. The largest had a hip height of about three feet. Most were turkey sized. And then you had the prosauropods, Anchisaurus and Ammosaurus, and they made [the footprint] Otozoum.”
Dinosaurs were classified by the English paleontologist, Harry Seely, into two major groups, or orders, based on features of their hips. Early forms known from the Connecticut Valley included dinosaurs belonging to each of these orders, the saurischians and ornithischians.
The prosauropods and theropods were both early forms of saurischian dinosaurs. They are known from both fossil bone and footprint evidence. The footprint known as Anomoepus provides the only local evidence of ornithischian dinosaurs.
Connecticut Valley theropods were generalistsmeat-eaters that would sink their teeth into anythingperhaps similars to the way bears behave today. Footprints show theropods dominated the valley in the Early Jurassic and came in at least two sizes, small and medium, compared to more familiar theropod forms, such as Tyrannosaurus rex.
The theropods walked and ran on two feet. The larger version may have been able to run at seven to ten miles per hour. They had curved necks like modern-day herons and cranes, birds now thought to be their descendants and long tails. All had snouts filled with long, daggerlike teeth well suited for penetrating hides and tearing flesh.
Prosauropod dinosaurs were early forms of plant-eaters. They were among the first to feature long necks, long tails and capacious bellies. Two dinosarus known from the valley from bones, Anchisaurus and Ammosaurus, have been identified as prosauropods. A third of the animal was neck, so they could reach higher than ornithischians.
Ornithischian dinosaurs grew to be the most numerous and fantastic of the orders. Early ornithischians, likely represented by the footprint Anomoepus, were forerunners of many bizarre-looking dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Triceratops and the duckbill, Hadrosaurus, which thrived much later, in Late Jurassic and Cretaceous times.