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‘A family-oriented dinosaur’: Idaho governor signs new prehistoric emblem into law

March 31, 2023 Updated Fri., March 31, 2023 at 7:09 p.m.

A sketch of a full-grown oryctodromeus with its young.  (Courtesy of L.J. Krumenacker)
A sketch of a full-grown oryctodromeus with its young. (Courtesy of L.J. Krumenacker)
By Mia Maldonado Idaho Capital Sun

Found in the Wayan Formation of Bonneville County’s Caribou Mountains, the oryctodromeus will soon become Idaho’s newest state emblem after Gov. Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1127 – a bill designating the prehistoric herbivore as Idaho’s first state dinosaur.

After passing both chambers nearly unanimously, Gov. Little signed the bill Thursday afternoon, adding the oryctodromeus as Idaho’s second prehistoric emblem along with the Hagerman horse fossil.

On March 24, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, introduced the legislation to the House. She said that before the end of the 2022 legislative session, she received a packet of letters from students at White Pine Charter School urging her to visit the school along with Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Kevin Cook for a legislative proposal.

During a visit to the school, Horman said fourth grade students had prepared a presentation explaining the traits of the dinosaur.

“I was blown away by the knowledge that came from their heart, their mind and things they had created with their hands to make this case for us,” she said on the House floor.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, spoke in support of the bill, recalling when she sponsored a bill to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian.

“It has been a wonderful learning experience and brought great enthusiasm among kids everywhere across the state,” Rubel said. “I think the Idaho giant salamander would be very excited to get a new dinosaur friend.”

Blackfoot paleontologist explains oryctodromeus, fossil discovery

Only found in eastern Idaho and the southwest corner of Montana, the oryctodromeus is the dinosaur version of a prairie dog, educator and paleontologist L.J. Krumenacker told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Born in Blackfoot, Krumenacker helped discover oryctodromeus fossils in 2006 and worked with elementary school students to recommend the dinosaur become a state emblem. He now conducts research at Idaho State University and the Idaho Museum of Natural History.

Krumenacker said in a phone interview that he has gathered hundreds of oryctodromeus bones, including between 10 to 12 skeletons and dozens of isolated bone pieces from young to full-grown dinosaurs.

“One reason we chose it for the state dinosaur is because it’s easily the most common one we have,” he said.

Oryctodromeus, which means “digging runner,” was a small herbivore that lived during the Cretaceous Period. It is the first known burrowing dinosaur, Krumenacker said.

Smaller than a golden retriever, Krumenacker said the dinosaur was about 11 feet long, with two-thirds of its length consisting of its tail.

“In the boroughs, you’ll actually sometimes find kids buried with adults, presumably moms and dads,” he said. “These animals lived together as family groups and stuck together underground – probably hiding from predators or super hot weather. Sometimes you don’t get kids in the boroughs, but you get multiple grownups too. It was a family-oriented dinosaur.”

Krumenacker said when digging for fossils, he has the goal in mind for the kind of dinosaur he hopes to find. Using a geologic map – a map that shows rock types and ages – Krumenacker said he goes to places where other researchers have described rocks of the same age as the dinosaur he hopes to discover.

Krumenacker discovered the oryctodromeus fossils in the Caribou Mountains, a mountain range in Idaho’s Rocky Mountains with little rock exposure. To find fossils there, he has to walk along a well-vegetated area with many creeks and streams.

“It’s pretty as far as mountains, but if you’re a dinosaur nerd, it’s frustrating because it’s sagebrush and pine trees and so there’s not nearly as much rock to look at,” he said. “If we had good rock exposures out there, we’d probably have a lot more dinosaurs.”

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence.

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