The discovery of fossils has been an integral part of the natural history of Kansas. Through a new bill, the Kansas Senate seeks to order a new terrestrial fossil to join pre-existing marine and flying fossils.
The bill, SB 3, was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 18 under the sponsorship of Senator Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, and would designate Silvisaurus condrayi as the state’s official terrestrial fossil.
At nearly 1.5 million years old, this fossil, consisting of a skull and an incomplete skeleton, has significance to Bowers because it was discovered in Wells in his home county of Ottawa.
Silvisaurus condrayi, a part of the Ankylosaur family, were four-legged herbivorous armored dinosaurs that were 13 feet long and weighed up to 2,000 pounds. Its name, meaning “forest lizard,” alludes to the beach and adjacent woods where it resided when much of Kansas was covered in water.
The bill was brought to Bowers’ attention before the COVID-19 pandemic by Joel Condray, a sixth-grade math teacher and grandson of the Kansas rancher who discovered the fossil.
“I first learned of this fossil – Silvisaurus condrayi – from Jettie Condray, Joel’s father,” Bowers said at the Jan. 18 hearing. “It was his father, Warren Condray, who discovered the fossil in a pasture on his land in 1955.”
A teacher at Goddard’s Challenger Intermediate School, Condray took his class to see how a bill became law. Condray and her class attended the hearing, and two students shared facts about the dinosaur with the audience.
This particular ankylosaurus fossil, named after Warren Condray, is currently housed in the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History and was officially recognized as a species by Theodore Eaton of the University of Kansas Paleontological Institute in 1960.
Dr. David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum was the university’s representative at the hearing.
“Silvisaurus represents the only known dinosaur from the Dakota Formation in Kansas,” Burnham said in explaining the fossil’s significance.
In a Feb. 9 interview, Burnham further explained the importance of this specimen.
“It has been established that it was found in Kansas at the mouth of a river, [and] so they presumably walked on dry land,” he said. “They were probably one of the first Kansas-dwelling dinosaurs that were discovered.”
According to Burnham, the species has since been studied by researchers from around the world. “This discovery has opened a window into the past by uncovering a previously unknown dinosaur,” Burnham said.
As for why this specimen was selected, Burnham described how the fossil is unique in that the animal likely died in Kansas, with its bones preserved in the same spot. This differs from the state’s pre-existing marine and flying fossils. he said. “There have been other dinosaurs found in Kansas, but they’ve been found in the sea and so have they [likely] died and fell [and] they floated in the middle of the sea where they were discovered.
Burnham credits Condray for his monumental discovery and believes he should be a source of pride for the Kansans.
“We owe Warren Condray a debt of gratitude for bringing his find to our attention, and all Kansans can be proud that this rare find is unique to our state,” Burnham said in closing the hearing.
A January 19 report recommended that the bill be approved by the Federal and State Affairs Committee.