Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On State Fossils

I was goofing around Wikipedia today and somehow wandered onto the state fossil page. There's the usual: A bunch of dinosaurs. For some reason, Pennsylvania took a trilobite as its state fossil. While I applaud their daring, one has to admit that trilobites are not very sexy state fossils. Also, at least two other states chose it as well (each one clarifies by choosing a specific species).

But I found something amazing:

According to the State of Vermont, the Beluga whale is the super special and distinct preserved remains symbol of Vermont. What the...? Shouldn't that be the state whale or something? How desperate were they for fossils that they chose the Beluga? And even more amazing: Wikipedia chose a 'in-the-flesh' picture of a beluga in subtle mockery of Vermont.

I know fossils do not necessarily mean that the species or genus is extinct and that fossils are merely preserved remains in and of themselves, but everyone in the public assumes that if something is a fossil, it's not around anymore (except, of course, in the fossil form). There is the potential that children doing papers on Vermont will claim the Beluga is extinct! Talk about confusion.

As it turns out, however, there's a fairly legit reason for Vermont's decision. A beluga fossil was found in Lake Campaign and it became quite the hit down there. So big that their legislature decided the time was ripe to honor it and thus the beluga became the state fossil. Oddly enough, they did not appoint a state whale and the state mammal is a horse.

My home state of Pennsylvania has a state electric AND steam locomotive, state beautification plant (Crown Vetch), state beverage (it's not an alcoholic drink), and a state soil (Hazelton). So in the grand scheme of things, perhaps Vermont isn't so weird. I'll bet other states have some real gems as well.

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