Extinct critter, distinct honor Symbol: General Assembly close to approving legislation that will make Astrodon johnstoni Maryland's official dinosaur.

March 31, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Move over, Chesapeake Bay retriever. Maryland is about to get another official state creature: the Astrodon johnstoni dinosaur.

Astrodon, a long-necked, long-tailed sauropod that lived in Maryland between 130 million and 95 million years ago, is poised to become the state dinosaur under legislation headed toward General Assembly passage.

The dinosaur would be the 16th state symbol, joining the retriever (state dog), Baltimore oriole (state bird) and black-eyed Susan (state flower).

The House approved the dinosaur designation 117-12 yesterday. The Senate has endorsed an identical measure, virtually guaranteeing Astrodon's prospects of official recognition.

House and Senate members credited persuasive lobbying by more than a dozen schoolchildren, who spent weeks knocking on doors and passing out fliers championing the dinosaur cause.

"This bill was lobbied by a bunch of children, not by a bunch of lobbyists with cigars and flowers," said Del. Marsha G. Perry, an Anne Arundel Democrat.

A similar attempt to make Astrodon the state dinosaur failed narrowly in 1992. Perry, who was among the dissenters then, said the children helped persuade her to change her mind this year.

Supporters included the Maryland Science Center; Peter Kranz, a free-lance scientist and popularizer of Maryland's dinosaur heritage; and students from Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties.

They promoted the educational benefits and tourism potential of having a state dinosaur. New Jersey, which made the Hadrosaurus foulki its state dinosaur in 1991, has built a life-sized statue and sold stuffed animals, T-shirts and other items featuring a caricature.

"Dinosaurs are a way of getting children interested in science and history and all of those other good things," Kranz said yesterday while standing in the marble State House lobby with a mascot from the Maryland Science Center -- a man dressed in a green dinosaur outfit.

Kranz recently discovered what appears to be the first dinosaur zTC footprint reported in Maryland in more than a century -- a three-toed, duck-like print on a slab of sandstone in Emmitsburg in Frederick County. He guesses it was made by another kind of dinosaur, a small prosauropod -- ancestors of the long-necked, plant-eating giants of later ages -- about 4 or 5 feet long.

The geologist, who organizes dinosaur field trips and school programs, worked to get 22 acres in Prince George's County reserved for a planned "dinosaur park" in 1995. Two Astrodon teeth were found there in 1858, and later the bones of the plant-eating dinosaur, the first long-necked sauropod formally described in North America.

The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore hopes to create a permanent exhibit on the state's dinosaur findings, including Astrodon. The science museum also plans to display the footprint Kranz found in Emmitsburg.

Having a state dinosaur will "provide more of a focus on science education and provide new opportunities for tourism and economic development," said Barbara Brocato, a lobbyist for the science museum.

Besides, she added, "It's a resource -- a fun resource."

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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