PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is one step closer to naming a state fossil.
The R.I. House approved legislation Wednesday that would designate the extinct ocean arthropod trilobite as the state’s fossil.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, is the brainchild of Narragansett High School student Gary Jennison.
Rhode Island is one of four states that has not named a state fossil, which is why Jennison made the designation his senior project.
“About half a billion years ago, the trilobites emerged and they’re basically the precursor to nearly all arthropods on the planet today,” Jennison told the House Special Legislation Committee during a recent hearing on the bill. “They died out about 250 million years ago during the Permian extinction event, but their evolutionary descendants continue to this day in the forms of thousands upon thousands of different species, really all across the Kingdom Animalia.”
Jennison testified that the trilobite provides information that is important to the students of plate tectonics, environmental science and oceanography.
While not unique to Rhode Island, the trilobite is one of the relatively few fossils that can be found in the state. That’s because the area was a “geological late bloomer,” according to Jennison.
Jennison said trilobites are most commonly found in Jamestown, though they can be uncovered anywhere in the state.
“It’s been a pleasure sponsoring this legislation on [Jennison’s] behalf,” Tanzi said. “He did an amazing job providing ample evidence and interesting information with a touch of humor that acknowledged the lighthearted nature of this bill.”
“His work is an excellent example of civic engagement being taught and encouraged in our public schools, and if it results in people looking up trilobites and learning a bit about early life forms or marine science, this designation is worthwhile,” she continued.
The legislation now heads to the R.I. Senate for consideration.
Both Connecticut and Massachusetts have designated dinosaur tracks as their state fossils, while Hawaii, Iowa and New Hampshire are the three other states that have yet to designate a state fossil.