Megalonyx jeffersonii

West Virginia State Fossil

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Giant prehistoric sloth Megalonyx jeffersonii

Model of giant prehistoric sloth Megalonyx jeffersonii; photo by Jim Brace-Thompson / American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (used by permission). 

Official State Fossil of West Virginia

West Virginia designated Jefferson’s ground sloth, or Megalonyx jeffersonii (a giant prehistoric ground sloth) as the official state fossil in 2008 to promote the earth sciences; "affording an opportunity for special studies in American, state and natural history for the students of the state" (SCR 28). West Virginia's state gem is also a fossil (fossilized coral). All State Fossils

President Thomas Jefferson obtained and described fossil bones from a limestone cave in what is now Monroe County in 1797, giving them the genus name "Megalonyx" ("great claw"). These bones were again described by Casper Wistar in 1799 as the bones of a giant extinct ground sloth and were named in honor of President Jefferson.

Megalonyx jeffersonii lived during the Ice Age, or Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from 10,000 to 1.8 million years ago. This extinct ground sloth grew 8 to 10 feet long and weighed up to 800 pounds.

House Concurrent Resolution NO. 29

WHEREAS, No fossil has been designated as the official state fossil for the State of West Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Interest in fossils and paleontology has become increasingly widespread throughout the citizenry of this state. There are currently fossil, rock and gem clubs already organized in the counties of Cabell, Harrison, Kanawha and Wood; and

WHEREAS, In 1797, President Thomas Jefferson obtained and described fossil bones from a limestone cave in what is now Monroe County; and

WHEREAS, These bones were again described by Casper Wistar in 1799 as the bones of a giant extinct ground sloth; and

WHEREAS, Wistar named the bones as a new species, Megalonyx Jeffersonii, in honor of President Jefferson; and

WHEREAS, The bones are from the Ice Age, or Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from 10,000 to 1.8 million years ago, and afford an opportunity for special studies in American, state and natural history for the students of the state; and

WHEREAS, The designation of a state fossil would aid in the promotion of interest in geology, paleontology and history; and

WHEREAS, Thirty-nine of the 50 states have an official state fossil; therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the Legislature of West Virginia:That Megalonyx Jeffersonii be designated as the official state fossil; and, be itFurther Resolved, That the Clerk of the Senate is hereby directed to forward copies of this resolution to the schools in the state.

West Virginia

Images

Jefferson's ground sloth; Megalonyx jeffersonii; the official state fossil of West Virginia.  Photo by Travis/Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution).

Jefferson's ground sloth fossil skeleton; Megalonyx jeffersonii

Skull cast of prehistoric ground sloth fossil; photo by Jim Brace-Thompson / American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (used by permission).  

Skull cast of prehistoric ground sloth

Megalonyx jeffersonii (Edentata: Jefferson's giant ground sloth); photo by S. Fitzpatrick on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / no derivative works).

Megalonyx jeffersoni -  Jefferson's giant ground sloth

Videos

Giant Ground Sloth - Museum of Life - BBC Two