TOPEKA, Kansas — Two ancient giants that once roamed the area now known as Kansas would become the state's official fossils in a proposal that a dinosaur hunter believes would boost education and tourism.
The Kansas House on Thursday voted 96-27 to name the tylosaurus and the pteranodon as the official fossils. The creatures would join the western meadowlark, ornate box turtle and bison as official state animals and reptiles.
The bill goes to the Senate for consideration. Kansas would join some 40 states that have designated an official state fossil.
Alan Detrich, a Kansas dinosaur hunter whose fossil finds are in museums around the world, brought a juvenile platecarpus to the Statehouse to hang in the governor's office. Within minutes of putting the 17-foot fossil on the wall, dozens of children swarmed to get a look at the cousin of the tylosaurus.
"Today, we're pretty much launching a new era of tourism," Detrich said. "You can see what kind of interest we are getting."
The tylosaurus was a large sea creature that hunted the ocean that covered Kansas more than 80 million years ago. While it patrolled the waters, the pteranodon roamed the skies. Fossils have been found in the chalk hills in western Kansas. Examples of the tylosaurus are on display at museums in Hays, Lawrence and Austria.
Detrich found the fossil more than a decade ago in Gove County. The fossil is mounted in a curled "death pose" with the contents of three fish in its stomach.
He said promoting the state's fossil history will spark interest in schools and attract tourists. He noted that fossils of sea creatures are popular in Asian countries where they are believed to be linked to mythical dragons.
"If we've got something in common with the Asians with dragons in our background, it's got to be good for tourism and trade," Detrich said.
Gov. Sam Brownback, who got a quick paleontology lesson from Detrich, said he wonders if students would be more interested in the dinosaur or the large bison head in his ceremonial office.
"That's the thing about this state — that there are so many interesting tidbits that people don't think about," Brownback said.
Some House members who are opposed to the fossil bill say there are more pressing issues for legislators to address.
Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, questioned why the fossil measure wasn't in a resolution form instead of making it a state law. He wasn't against the intent of the measure, just the method chosen.
"I don't see a sixth grader deciding to read statutes, finding out what the state fossil is and deciding to be a paleontologist," Schwab said.