Hunting for Fossils in the Great Lakes

Hundreds of millions of years ago and long before glaciers carved the Great Lakes as we recognize them today they were once a shallow saltwater sea full of ocean life. Gastropods, trilobites, sponges, and corals covered the ocean floor. Whales, walruses, and giant fish swam in this ancient ocean and the giant short faced bear hunted in the woodlands. Now, millions of years later, all but their fossils are gone.

Today many of these fossils have been uncovered from the continuous movement of the sand and sea. Here are a few awesome examples of what can be found in and around the great lakes.

Dunkleosteus is one of the largest predatory placoderm fish known in the fossil record. An apex predator capable of taking down pretty much anything it could clasp its jaws around. With a concentrated force of up to 8,000 pounds per square inch at the tip of its mouth, this placed Dunkleosteus in the league of Tyrannosaurus Rex. By Devonian standards, Dunkleosteus was one of the most highly evolved animals and was one of the earliest jawed fishes. Instead of actual teeth, Dunkleosteus possessed two long, bony blades that were extensions of its jaw and could slice through flesh and snap and crush the bones of almost anything.

Considered one of the largest known terrestrial mammalian carnivores, the short faced bear existed until about 11,000 years ago which put in direct contact with early man. Coming in at 2000 pounds 12 feet tall on its hind legs and an arm span of 14 feet, this beast was something to be reckoned with. Despite that gargantuan proportions of this mega bear its fossils have revealed that its skeleton was actually not designed for fighting but built for efficient, long-distance travel which has lead many to predict this bear was a scavenger instead of a hunter.

Trilobites are hard-shelled, segmented organisms that existed over 520 million years ago in the Earth’s ancient seas. Theses are the single most diverse extinct organism found around the world with all types of shapes and sizes.

The Great Lakes are a great place to find some of these fossils. Digging through the layers of shale that line the lakeside and rivers can reveal one of these ancient creatures if you have a little luck and a lot of patience. Of all the lakes, Lake Michigan seems to be the most famous for fossil hunting. Every year residents and tourists comb the beaches which are filled with fossil fragments and collect these ancient souvenirs.

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