Official Kansas state smackdown: Pteranodon vs. Xiphactius audax

DWMiller X-Fish.jpg

Finally, a science debate in the Kansas state legislature that doesn't make me want to beat my head against a desk.

So, Kansas is apparently in the process of picking a state fossil. The original candidate, named in the House bill introduced on the 24th of January, was Xiphactius audax—best known for being the big fish of the famous little-fish-inside-a-big-fish fossil that resides at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays. Since the bill was introduced, however, there have been rumblings favoring a completely different fossil, the flying reptile Pteranodon.

Two fossils enter the statehouse. One leaves. But it's not entirely clear yet which will be the victor. Pteranodon has a much bigger public profile—it was in Jurassic Park, after all, and has featured prominently in many children's books about dinosaurs. Plus, according to the adjunct curator of paleontology at the Sternberg Museum, high-quality pteranodon fossils are almost exclusive to Kansas.

But, speaking as a former fossil-obsessed Kansan child, Pteranodon wasn't there to comfort me when I realized my state had been underwater for much of its deep pre-history and, thus, that I was unlikely to find a T. rex in my backyard. No. It was Xiphactius audax that dried my tears and made me hopeful again. Xiphactius audax that got me over my first bout with Midwestern inferiority complex. And it was Xiphactius audax—or, at least, its huge, pointy teeth—that gave me a wonderful, terrified thrill every time I went into the basement of KU's Dyche Museum.

Besides, as you can clearly see from the artistic rendering above, Xiphactius audax would totally kick Pteranodon's ass.

Detail of a painting of Xiphactius audax by D.W. Miller.