Appalachia (Mesozoic)

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For other uses of Appalachia, see Appalachia (disambiguation).
Appalachia, circa 100 mya

In the Mesozoic Era (252 to 66 million years ago) Appalachia, named for the Appalachian Mountains, was an island land mass separated from Laramidia to the west by the Western Interior Seaway. The seaway eventually shrank, divided across the Dakotas, and retreated towards the Gulf of Mexico and the Hudson Bay. This left the island masses joined in the continent of North America as the Rocky Mountains rose.



From the Turonian age of the Late Cretaceous to the very beginning of the Paleocene, Appalachia was separated from the rest of North America. Because of this, its fauna was isolated, and developed very differently from the tyrannosaur, ceratopsian and ankylosaur dominated fauna of the western part of North America, the geologist's "Laramidia". Due to numerous undiscovered fossiliferous deposits and due the fact that half of Appalachia's fossil formations being destroyed by the Pleistocene ice age, little is known about Appalachia, with exception of plant life. In addition, due to a lack of interest in Appalachia, many fossils that have been found in Appalachia lie unstudied and remain in the inaccurate genera to which they were assigned in the days of E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh. Many of the various fossil formations not destroyed by the Pleistocene ice age still remain elusive to the field of paleontological study. However, some fossil sites, such as Ellisdale in New Jersey and the Demopolis Chalk Formation in Alabama, have given us a glimpse into this forgotten world of paleontology.

In Cretaceous North America, the dominant predators were the tyrannosaurs, huge predatory theropods with proportionately massive heads built for ripping flesh from their prey. Tyrannosaurs were the dominant predators in Appalachia too, but rather than the massive Tyrannosaurinae, like Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus, the smaller dryptosaurs were the top predators of Appalachia. Rather than developing the huge heads and massive bodies of their kin, dryptosaurs had more in common with the basal tyrannosaurs like Dilong and Eotyrannus, having long arms with three fingers, a more lithe skull and body, and were not as large as the largest tyrannosaurids. Three genera of Appalachian tyrannosaurs are known, Dryptosaurus, Diplotomodon and Appalachiosaurus while other indeterminate fossil lie scattered throughout most of the southern states. Various ornithomimid bones, such as Coelosaurus, have also been reported from Appalachia, but it is now believed that some of these are the bones of juvenile dryptosaurs. The case of Arkansaurus is such an example of indeterminate fossils being discovered. Indeterminate dromeaosaurine fossils have also been unearthed in Appalachia as well; mostly in the southern states like Alabama.

Another common group of Appalachian dinosaurs were the Hadrosauroidea. While the fossil record shows a staggering variety of hadrosaur forms in Laramidia, hadrosaur remains for Appalachia show less diversity due to the relative uncommon number of fossil beds. However, many hadrosaurs are known from Appalachia, such as Eotrachodon, Lophorhothon, Hypsibema, and Hadrosaurus. These hadrosaurs from Appalachia seem to be closely related to the crestless hadrosaurs of Laramidia like Gryposaurus and Edmontosaurus. The hadrosaur Claosaurus, known from a specimen which floated into the Interior Seaway and was found in Kansas, might also be from Appalachia, since it was found closer to the Appalachia side of the seaway and is unknown from Western North America. Hypsibema, over fifty feet long, was one of the largest eastern hadrosaurs, outgrowing some of the more larger and more derived western hadrosaurs like Lambeosaurus and Saurolophus. The genus likely took the environmental niche occupied by large sauropods in other areas, possibly grown to colossal sizes to that of Shantungosaurus. Indeterminate lambeosaurinae remains, mostly similar to Corythosaurus, have been reported from New Jersey's Navesink Formation and Nova Scotia, Canada. It cannot yet be explained how lambeosaurines might have reached Appalachia though some have theorized that a land bridge must have formed some time during the Campanian.

The nodosaurids, a group of large, herbivorous armored dinosaurs resembling armadillos, are another testament to Appalachia's difference from Laramidia. By the latest Cretaceous, nodosaurids were scarce in western North America, limited to forms like Edmontonia, Denversaurus and Panoplosaurus; perhaps due to competition from the Ankylosauridae. Nodosaurid scutes have been commonly found in eastern North America. Often the findings are not diagnostic enough to identify the species, but the remains attest to a greater number of these armored dinosaurs in Appalachia. Five undescribed specimens have been earthed in Alabama. Three possible and best known examples of Appalachian nodosaurids include Hierosaurus, Niobrarasaurus and Silvisaurus. Just like the Claosaurus specimen, it is possible that these specimens floated into the Interior Seaway from the east, since these two species of nodosaurids were discovered in the famous chalk formations of Kansas and are not known from any location from Western North America. Kansas was also apart of Appalachia when the other parts were covered by oceans.

A Campanian-era leptoceratopsid ceratopsian has been found in the Tar Heel Formation, marking the first discovery of a ceratopsian dinosaur in the Appalachian zone. This specimen bears a uniquely long, slender and downcurved upper jaw, suggesting that it was an animal with a specialised feeding strategy, yet another example of speciation on an island environment.[1]

Several bird remains are known from appalachian sites, most of them sea birds like Hesperornithes, Ichthyornis, and Enantiornithes like Halimornis. Of particular interest are possible lithornithid remains in New Jersey,[2][3] which would represent a clear example of palaeognath Neornithes in the Late Cretaceous.


Through the Ellisdale Fossil Site, a good picture of Appalachia's non-dinosaurian fauna is present. Amidst lissamphibians, there is evidence for sirenids (including the large Habrosaurus), the batrachosauroidid salamander Parrisia, hylids, possible representatives of Eopelobates and Discoglossus, showing close similarities to European faunas, but aside from Habrosaurus (which is also found on Laramidia) there is a high degree of endemism, suggesting no interchanges with other landmasses throughout the Late Cretaceous.[4] There is also a high degree of endemism in regards for its reptilian fauna: among squamates, the teiid Prototeius is exclusive to the landmass, and native representatives of Iguanidae, Helodermatidae, and Necrosauridae. Amidst turtles, Adocus, Apalone, and Bothremys are well represented, the latter in particular more common in appalachian sites than laramidian ones. The two local crocodilian genera, Deinosuchus and Borealosaurus, are well established in Laramidia as well, probably indicative of their ocean crossing capacities. It should be noted that no fossilized remains of snakes have been discovered in Appalachia.

Several mammals are also present on Ellisdale. The most common are ptilodontoidean multituberculates, such as Mesodma, Cimolodon and a massively sized species. The sheer diversity of species on the landmass, as well as the earlier appearance compared to other Late Cretaceous locales, suggests that ptilodontoideans evolved in Appalachia.[5][6] Metatherian are also known, including an alphadontid,[7] a stagodontid,[8] and an herpetotheriid.[9] Unlike ptilodontoideans, metatherians show a lesser degree of endemism, implying a degree of interchange with Laramidia and Europe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicholas R. Longrich, A ceratopsian dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of eastern North America, and implications for dinosaur biogeography, Cretaceous Research Volume 57, January 2016, Pages 199–207
  2. ^ Palaeogene Fossil Birds
  3. ^ A lithornithid (Aves: Palaeognathae) from the Paleocene (Tiffanian) of southern California
  4. ^ Le Loeuff, J., 1991, The Campano-Maastrichtian vertebrate faunas of southern Europe and their relationship with other faunas in the world; paleobiogeographic implications. Cretaceous Res., 12(2), pp:93-114.
  6. ^ B. S. Grandstaff, D. C. Parris, R. K. Denton, Jr. and W. B. Gallagher. 1992. Alphadon (Marsupialia) and Multituberculata (Allotheria) in the Cretaceous of eastern North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 12(2):217-222
  7. ^ B. S. Grandstaff, D. C. Parris, R. K. Denton, Jr. and W. B. Gallagher. 1992. Alphadon (Marsupialia) and Multituberculata (Allotheria) in the Cretaceous of eastern North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 12(2):217-222
  8. ^ Denton, R. K. Jr., & O’Neill, R. C., 2010, A New Stagodontid Metatherian from the Campanian of New Jersey and its implications for a lack of east-west dispersal routes in the Late Cretaceous of North America. Jour. Vert. Paleo. 30(3) supp.
  9. ^ Martin JE, Case JA, Jagt JWM, Schulp AS, Mulder EWA (2005) A new European marsupial indicates a Late Cretaceous high latitude dispersal route. Mammal. Evol. 12:495-511.