Arizona Dino Fight Club: Sonorasaurus vs Dilophosaurus

By JOE GIDDENS

Fundamental forces are on display in the state dinosaur of Arizona. Squabbling regionalism, inability to compromise and screwing Native people. 

In an Aztec Press first, let’s start a scientific debate with the state of Delaware. Somewhere along Interstate 20 several months back, I was driving through West Texas going down both the road and my own wandering thoughts. 

When, after attempting to draw parallels between the Bob Seger lyrics coming through my car stereo and my own life, I thought that since the Dilophosaurus of poison spitting Hollywood fame was originally discovered in Arizona that should be elevated to an official state symbol. 

I didn’t do anything with that idea, so kudos to 11-year-old Jax Weldon for showing more initiative with his proposal to the state legislature to make the Sonorasaurus the “official state dinosaur.” 

“Dinosaurs” had their run of the planet from 230 million to 65 million years ago. Those earlier years are documented in Arizona within the Chinle rock formation that makes up most of Petrified Forest National Park. Those earlier periods of dinosaur evolution looked quite different than what most may imagine, because dinosaurs themselves hadn’t arisen to ecological dominance. Instead, most of the ecological niches of those early years were filled with animals more closely related to crocodiles the “Pseudosuchia.” Let your imagination be filled with crocodile-like animals on two legs in Arizona and let your dreams be sweet. 

During that span of time, “the Mesozoic Era” in Arizona, is mostly documented in Arizona within the Colorado Plateau, a geographic and geological area that is centered on the Four Corners. There are exceptions to that concentration, as seen with Sonorasaurus being about 90 million years old and being uncovered in Southern Arizona’s Whetstone Mountains. 

That 90-million-year point of time is within the Cretaceous Period and is a bit of an outlier on Southern Arizona’s geological record. It best can be summed up as the rocks tend to be very old metamorphic. Sonorasaurus is way younger than most of the dinosaurs that have been found within Arizona. Sonorasaurus is closer in time to us than most of the other species of dinosaurs found within this state. 

Now my road trip desire: Dilophosaurus. It was uncovered near Tuba City on the Navajo Nation in the 1940s. Unfortunately, a recurring theme with many such discoveries on reservation land is that tribal sovereignty and property rights are ignored. Sam Welles from the University of California, Berkeley, excavated the remains in a mere 10 days and hauled it to central California. The Navajo have made attempts over the years to have the remains repatriated.  

But naming Dilophosaurus the state dinosaur would help highlight the mistakes of the past and hopefully help us learn from them. Further, naming Dilophosaurus would help highlight the Navajo, a move that could help their economy, which will have huge changes once the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine close. Highlighting Navajo attractions like “Naasho’illbahitsho Biikee” or “Big Lizard Tracks,” a Jurassic dinosaur trackway on the reservation, is a minor way to try to ease the economic changes coming to Northern Arizona.   

Turns out I wasn’t the only one to have designs on Dilophosaurus. In the ’90s, former state Sen. John Huppenthal pushed at the behest of a 9-year-old boy to name Dilophosaurus the state dinosaur. Those plans fell through, and in 2017 Connecticut named Dilophosaurus its state dino using a lobby group of grade-schoolers.   

“The Connecticut state fossil is a track found in abundance, known as Eubrontes. These tracks are thought to belong to a genus of dinosaur similar to the Dilophosaurus,” according to “Dinosaurs and the Connecticut Valley” by Katherine Mortensen and Daniel Scollan. 

I haven’t found any excavations of the skeletal remains of Dilophosaurus in the state of Connecticut. Connecticut’s operating under the assumption that Dilophosaurus made tracksways found within their state park system. 

Scientifically, the state has made a faulty assumption that the Ichnospecies “eubrontes” IS my favorite child of Arizona Dilophosaurus. It’s akin to saying that “LeBron James made this set of footprints in my driveway because LeBron was alive around the same time that the footprints were made and they’re generally the same size of LeBron’s feet.”   

Considering Connecticut decided to name Dilophosaurus its state dinosaur in the same legislation that required their governor to name: “May 1 of each year to be Purebred Dog Day to honor purebred dogs and their breeders.”

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