Did you know West Virginia's state fossil is the skull of a giant ground sloth? (2023)

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  • Beth Christian Broschart
  • March 9, 2019

TENNERTON – Make no bones about it: Buckhannon-Upshur High School students were ‘digging’ learning about Ice Age mammals and artifacts from that era Tuesday and Wednesday during a presentation by Mark Lanham, curator of the Stirrup Gallery at Davis & Elkins College.

Lanham was invited by B-UHS Librarian Angie Snyder-Westfall, and science classes were invited to participate in the fun learning sessions, dubbed “Ice Age Mammals.”

The most recent Ice Age is referred to scientists as the Pleistocene Epoch and generally defined as the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago; glaciers covered huge sections of Earth.

During his presentation, Lanham shared facts about and fossils of narwhals (commonly referred to as “unicorns of the sea” because of a giant tusk that protrudes from their heads), woolly mammoths, sabre-tooth tigers, woolly rhinoceroses, Irish elk and a cave bear.

One of the collection’s prize artifacts is the skull of an extinct giant ground sloth.

“This is the West Virginia State fossil,” Lanham told students who gathered for his presentation Wednesday. “This is the skull of a giant ground sloth. Since 2008, West Virginia has had a state fossil. He was huge and his name is Megalonyx Jeffersonii.”

He said a farmer in western Virginia, which is now West Virginia, found the bones in a cave and took them to Thomas Jefferson, who was president at the time. “Some people say Jefferson is now the father of paleontology in the United States. He identified those bones as the giant ground sloth. They named it ‘Megalonyx’ for giant claw and Jeffersonii for Thomas Jefferson.”

Snyder-Westfall science classes attended the presentations.

“I sent out emails saying what Lanham was bringing, and checked what content standards these covered,” she said. “We have had ninth and 10th-graders in – yesterday was a packed house and today will be a packed house as well.”

Snyder-Westfall said the presentations were a hit, not only with the students, but with B-UHS instructors as well, and she said there were so many classes that wanted to see the Ice Age mammals, that one class had to be split up.

“We simply didn’t have the room for everyone to see this,” she said. “The kids are so excited. Not everyone can get to a museum – so the museum came to us. What a wonderful opportunity this is for our students. And in a museum, it’s hands-off. But he passes the artifacts around – it is very exciting.”

“We hope to work more with Mr. Lanham in the future,” Snyder-Westfall said.

B-UHS student Zack Mayle said he really enjoyed Lanham’s Ice Age mammal presentation.

“This really appealed to me,” Mayle said. “I really enjoyed this program and enjoy the hands-on aspect of the presentation.”

Lanham is the curator of special collections at the Stirrup Gallery at Davis & Elkins College.
“I graduated from D&E College in 2014 and was the oldest student at that time because I did 25 years in the Marine Corps first,” Lanham said. “I was a student, and I heard they were going to open the Stirrup Gallery. I grew up in Elkins and collected Native American artifacts. I knew they had a lot of Native American Artifacts.”

Lanham said he has taken his show on the road for the past few years and goes to schools in Randolph and the surrounding counties.

“A few months ago, I sent out letters to all of the schools in Randolph and surrounding counties detailing what I could do for them for free,” he said. “I let them know they could travel to the gallery or I could travel to them. I have been to five schools so far.”

Along with the Ice Age mammals, Lanham does presentations on Civil War artifacts.

“I try to make it a learning experience when I do this,” Lanham said. “There is always an educational aspect about it. For me, if one kids gets a spark in their eye and it inspires them, it is worth it.”

Lanham said the Stirrup Gallery houses 2 million years of history.

“The oldest thing we have is a Stegodon tooth that is 2 million years old. We have the largest collection of Ice Age mammals’ fossils in the state of West Virginia,” Lanham said. “We have one of the top 20 collections of Roman Coins in the United States, and we have the Darby Collection – the largest collection we have – with 10,000 artifacts, including 6,000 Native American artifacts dating back to the Paleo Indians, the first people on this continent. We have more than 200 guns dating from the 1600s up through the Civil War along with swords.”

The Stirrup Gallery is located on the campus of D&E College in Elkins. Visits to the gallery or for the gallery to come to schools may be scheduled by calling 304-637-1980.

Additional information is available online on Facebook or by visiting their website at https://www.dewv.edu/arts-entertainment/stirrup-gallery.

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FAQs

What is the name of West Virginia's state fossil? ›

Common fossils found in West Virginia. The state fossil, Megalonyx jeffersonii (and another page here) The state gemstone (which is really a fossil), Lithostrotionella sp.)

What president had the skull of an extinct giant sloth? ›

The first Megalonyx fossils were described by President Thomas Jefferson in 1797, which he thought originally belonged to a giant lion. Sometimes this sloth is referred to as “Jefferson's ground sloth.”

Could giant ground sloths still exist? ›

Ground sloths had been extinct on the mainland of North and South America for 10,000 years or more.
...
Ground sloth.
Ground sloths Temporal range: Late Eocene – Holocene
Suborder:Folivora (partim)
Families
9 more rows

How big is the largest sloth fossil? ›

Paleontologists have identified an amazing variety of fossils of at least 23 different kinds and sizes of prehistoric sloths. The largest and grandest of these was the Megatherium, the extinct genus of the family Bradypodidae. This giant stood seven meters tall and weighed seven tons.

Was there dinosaurs in WV? ›

For example, fossils of animals like Dimetrodon, Edaphosaurus, Eryops, Diploceraspis, and Greererpeton have been found in West Virginia. While dinosaurs have not been found in West Virginia rocks, we do have them on display at the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey (WVGES) Museum.

Are there sloths in West Virginia? ›

The scientific name for the giant West Virginia sloth is "Megalonyx jeffersonii." It's more casually referred to as "Jefferson's ground sloth" (even though he had nothing really to do with making the discovery).

What killed off giant sloths? ›

Hunted. Human activity may have caused giant sloths and other large mammals in North America to go extinct 11,000 years ago. Around 11,000 years ago, saber tooth cats, woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, and almost every other large mammal in North America went extinct.

Has a sloth ever attacked a human? ›

Due to their inherent lack of aggression, sloths are not a threat to humans. Sloths are solitary creatures who want to be left alone, thus unlike household animals, they do not like to be touched.

What killed the giant ground sloth? ›

Ground sloths were a group of mammals that lived in the Americas for millions of years. At one point found from Alaska to Argentina, all species of ground sloth on the mainland had died out by 10,000 years ago as a mix of climate change and human hunting took their toll.

How fast did the giant sloth go? ›

Hang tight. Sloths move incredibly slowly - less than three meters (9.8 feet) per minute.

How big was the giant ground sloth? ›

Over 100 species of giant ground sloths lived throughout North, Central, and South America, ranging in size from the formidable Megatherium americanum which towered 3.5 meters tall (12 feet), and weighed up to 4 tons, to the considerably smaller 90-kg (200-lb) Cuban Megalocnus.

Who found the giant ground sloth? ›

The first specimen of Mylodon darwinii, a ground sloth found by Charles Darwin in 1832, is now available online as a 3D model.

What is the biggest sloth ever found? ›

The title for the largest sloth that ever lived is currently shared between Eremotherium and Megatherium, two prehistoric giant ground sloths that weighed in at around 4 tonnes (4.4 tons), and when standing on two legs could tower to more than 3.5 m (11 ft 6 in) in height.

Did humans meet giant sloths? ›

Although it was on display for a long time at the Museum of La Plata, Argentina, its age was uncertain. A new study indicates that giant ground sloths lived 13,000 years ago and coexisted with the first humans of South America.

Did sloths used to be giants? ›

During the last ice age, a species of giant ground sloth lived in South America. Named Mylodon darwinii after the famous biologist who classified them, these sloths were nearly 10 feet tall when standing on their hind legs and weighed up to 4,400 pounds.

Has diamonds ever been found in West Virginia? ›

The Jones Diamond, also known as the Punch Jones Diamond, The Grover Jones Diamond, or The Horseshoe Diamond, was a 34.48 carat (6.896 g) alluvial diamond found in Peterstown, West Virginia by members of the Jones family. It remains the largest alluvial diamond ever discovered in North America.

Was West Virginia ever underwater? ›

About 500 million years ago during the Cambrian period, West Virginia was almost completely covered by a shallow sea. This sea was inhabited by graptolites, stromatolites, trilobites, and worms. The abundant fossils of the Cambrian Antietam Formation are the oldest evidence of life in the state.

Are diamonds found in West Virginia? ›

Diamonds don't exist naturally in West Virginia, yet one of the largest ever found was discovered accidentally in a horseshoe pit in Monroe County in 1928. Geologists are still at a loss to explain how it got there, though speculation has never died down.

Are there still mountain lions in WV? ›

Wildlife officials: No eastern mountain lions in West Virginia. Although locals swear they have seen mountain lions, the WV DNR says the creature no longer exists in the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also considers the mountain lion extinct in West Virginia.

Does WV have grizzly? ›

The American black bear is the only bear known to inhabit West Virginia, and they are not regarded as aggressive in comparison to polar bears and grizzly bears. Unlike polar bears and grizzlies, black bears are typically avoidant of humans rather than aggressive.

Do mountain lions exist in West Virginia? ›

Currently, three formerly occurring species of mammal no longer exist in West Virginia: the bison, mountain lion, and gray wolf. The last recorded bison in West Virginia was killed near Valley Head in Randolph County back in 1825.

Do sloths fall to their death? ›

On average, a sloth will fall out of a tree once a week for its entire life. But don't worry, all sloths are anatomically designed to fall and survive. They can plummet from over 100 feet without injury (that's the height of twelve double-decker buses).

What was the predator of the giant sloth? ›

Some exclusively herbivorous, some species also ate meat. See Diet & Feeding for details. Ground sloths juveniles would have been vulnerable to the large cat predators (Smilodon, Homotherium, Panthera atrox) and perhaps Dire Wolves.

What is the main predator of a sloth? ›

So, do sloths have predators? Jaguars and eagles are common predators of sloths.

What happens if a sloth touches you? ›

What happens if a sloth bites you? On the off chance that you do get bit by a sloth, do not be alarmed because they are not poisonous and neither are their fur or claws. Sloth bites can easily become infected, however.

Do sloths get angry? ›

Sloths are slow to anger. And equally slow to attack.

Can a sloth move fast if attacked? ›

Sloths' diet is mainly based on leaves, which grant a low intake of energy. They thus balance such low calorie intake with reduced energy waste. As a result, sloths can't move rapidly and run away if a predator attacks them.

Can a sloth explode? ›

Interesting and bizarre facts about sloths. Question: Do sloths explode? Answer: No. Sloths do not explode.

When was the last ground sloth alive? ›

When did the last of the ground sloths disappear? The standard answer is “about 10,000 years ago”. That's the oft-repeated cutoff date for when much of the world's Ice Age megafauna – from mastodons to Megatherium – faded away.

Did giant ground sloths dig tunnels? ›

That's the realization some scientists had when they stood in odd tunnels in southern Brazil. Rounded with smooth floors and claw marks along the wall, the caves may have been dug out by elephant-sized giant ground sloths or maybe a species of enormous armadillos, both now long extinct, Discover Magazine reports.

How long would it take a sloth to cross a road? ›

From a distance, the 10 long minutes it takes an average sloth to walk across the street might look more like the end of a yoga class. It's not their fault that sloths are so bad at crossing the street.

What did the giant ground sloth eat? ›

Diet. Ground sloths were herbivores, meaning they ate vegetation. Their peg-like teeth were ideal for this diet, but they also had other body parts that played a large part in their meals.

How do avocados still exist? ›

While the rise of the avocado's popularity now means bad news for the forests of Mexico being plowed down to plant avocado trees, its continued cultivation by farmers is the reason why it still exists today.

How was giant sloth discovered? ›

It turns out that nobody even knew giant ground sloths existed until a fellow named Manuel Torres found one in 1788 in Argentina. Its fossilized bones were sent to the Natural History Museum of Madrid where they were assembled to show what the creature might have looked like.

Which is bigger koala or sloth? ›

The koala lives exclusively in Australia, but the sloth lives in many countries in Central America and South America. Koalas are bigger than sloths, too. In fact, they can stand an entire head larger than the average sloth.

Do sloths eat meat? ›

Modern sloths hang out in trees, move at a slow pace and eat a vegetarian diet – but the same thing can't be said for their extinct relative, Mylodon. This ancient ground sloth, which lived in South America until about 10,000 years ago, chowed down on meat as well as plants, making it an omnivore.

What dinosaur did sloths evolve from? ›

The Megatherium fossils are two halves of the same skull, one held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England Museum and the other at Down House (looked after by English Heritage). The fossils confirmed that, despite weighing up to four tonnes, the extinct animals were indeed related to modern-day sloths.

Did sloths evolve from giant sloths? ›

Genetic analysis suggests today's three-toed sloths (top) are related to the giant ground sloths Megatherium (right) and Megalonyx (center), whereas modern two-toed sloths (upper right) are cousins of the South American Mylodon (left).

What fossils have been found in West Virginia? ›

West Virginia by the numbers

West Virginia has significant amphibian and tetrapod fossils dating back as far as 400 million years ago. The state also has a Megalonyx, which was described by President Thomas Jefferson as the Giant Ground Sloth and today serves as the state fossil.

Does Virginia have a state fossil? ›

Chesapecten jeffersonius is the state fossil of the State of Virginia in the United States. It is the fossilized form of an extinct scallop, which lived in the early Pliocene epoch between four and five million years ago on Virginia's coastal plain. In 1687, Martin Lister published a drawing of C.

What is your state's official state fossil? ›

What is the California State Fossil. California has chosen the Saber-Toothed Cat as its official state fossil and it's official state dinosaur. The Saber-Toothed Cat was very popular in California over 40 million years ago. There have been many Saber-Toothed Cat fossil bones found in Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles.

What fossils were found in Virginia? ›

Virginia's state fossil is Chesapecten jeffersonius, a scallop found in the Lower Yorktown Formation. Species in the genus Chesapecten swam in shallow Mid-Atlantic waters for 5 million years during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, between 8 million - 3 million years ago.

Can diamonds be found in West Virginia? ›

Have any diamonds or precious gems been found in West Virginia? The third-largest diamond ever found in the United States, the "Punch" Jones Diamond shown below, was found near Peterstown in Monroe County, within one-half mile of the Virginia state line.

Where can you find megalodon teeth in Virginia? ›

Three state parks – Chippokes Plantation in Surry, York River in Williamsburg and Westmoreland on Virginia's Northern Neck – are key spots to find megalodon teeth, said Nancy Heltman, visitor services director for Virginia State Parks.

Why are there no dinosaurs in Virginia? ›

Dry areas were a barrier to migration, and Virginia was in the middle of Pangea far from the moist coast. The distribution of dinosaurs was limited by climate and by their inability to exist in deserts.

Did Virginia have dinosaurs? ›

Dinosaurs lived in Virginia and left behind so many tracks at what is now the Culpeper Stone Quarry of Stevensburg that it has been compared to a ballroom. Another fossil site of similar age, the Solite Quarry, straddles the border between Virginia and North Carolina.

What US state has the most dinosaurs? ›

Humans' fascination with dinosaurs goes back at least 2,000 years to Chinese writings describing what were thought to be massive dragon bones. In the 17th century, an English museum curator discovered a large thigh bone he posited was from a human giant.

What state had the most dinosaurs? ›

Here are the top 15 states with the most dinosaur fossils:
  • California- 1,473.
  • Wyoming- 1,082.
  • Montana- 909.
  • Florida- 887.
  • New Mexico- 882.
  • Utah- 667.
  • Colorado- 556.
  • Texas- 447.
5 May 2022

Can diamonds be found in Virginia? ›

Four diamonds have been found within the current boundaries of Virginia: - at the Vaucluse Mine in Orange County (1836) - at Ninth and Perry streets in Manchester, now part of the City of Richmond (1854) - at the Whitehall Mine in Spotsylvania County (around 1878)

Can Rubies be found in Virginia? ›

The Blue Ridge Mountains are also a primary source of reddish-brown garnets, feldspar minerals, mica crystals, aquamarine, citrine, emeralds, peridot, rubies, sapphire, topaz, and tourmaline.

Can Obsidian be found in Virginia? ›

Obsidian can also be found in the eastern U.S. states of Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. There are only four major deposit areas in the central Mediterranean: Lipari, Pantelleria, Palmarola and Monte Arci (Sardinia).

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