Coweta 7 year-old discovers rare fossil in Dakota Badlands
It was a find that turned into something much bigger and much more significant than it first appeared. Seven year-old Sharpsburg resident Kylie Ferguson on a recent trip to Badlands National Park
It was a find that turned into something much bigger and much more significant than it first appeared. Seven year-old Sharpsburg resident Kylie Ferguson on a recent trip to Badlands National Park in South Dakota discovered what was soon determined to be a museum-quality fossilized skull of a saber tooth cat.
Kylie was visiting the park with her family on May 30 when she made the initial discovery that came while she was participating in the park’s junior ranger program. Park Education Specialist Julie Johndreau said the find came while Kylie was in the area behind the visitors’ center.
“Junior Ranger Kylie did the right thing. She reported her find to rangers,” Johndreau said. “Initially, paleontologists identified the bones as belonging to the oreodont Merycoidodon, an extinct sheep-like animal.”
But that initial determination would soon change. Park paleontologist Dr. Rachel Benton said what Kylie observed turned out to be a small portion of a skull along with a one-quarter-inch portion of a canine tooth.
“Heavy rain throughout the month of June exposed more of the skull and some vertebrae, and paleontologists soon realized that it was not from the sheep-like animal, but was from the extinct saber tooth cat, Dinictis,” Johndreau explained.
Paleontologists excavated the fossil and some of the surrounding rock the week of June 21, Johndreau said.
“We have found others here but we’re excited about this because the skull appears to be complete, which is unusual,” Benton said. She noted that the skull is indicative of the bobcat-sized saber tooth cats found in the Badlands area.
Johndreau, too, noted the significance of the find. She explained that all fossils are scientifically important, but this fossil find is of high importance.
“There was a lot of excitement here and in our regional and national offices,” Johndreau said. The enthusiasm in her voice was unmistakable. “This is huge because it’s a saber tooth, right here behind the visitors center and it was found by a junior ranger. Skulls from saber tooth cats are rare and usually fragmented or partially eroded away. In this case, however, the fossils were found in limestone which provided protection for millions of years, allowing the skull to remain in museum display quality.”
The fossilized skull will be fully prepared later this summer and added to the museum collection storage at Badlands National Park, Johndreau said.
Contacted Wednesday, Kylie’s mother Jackie said the whole family is thrilled about her daughter’s discovery, adding that Kylie is no stranger to hunting for fossils. With Kylie’s dad Tom a geologist, it is just something the family sometimes does on outings, Jackie said.
“We told the park ranger what Kylie found and he told us to fill out the form indicating where the fossil was located. She knows the characteristics of fossils because her dad is a geologist,” Jackie said. “Then a few days ago we got a call saying it was a nearly complete skull. Kylie is excited about it and can’t wait for school to start so she can tell everybody about how she spent her summer vacation.”
Jackie said the family is planning another trip to Badlands National Park to see the fossilized skull on display.