In 1998, Tennessee designated an official State Fossil, the bivalve Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) age Coon Creek Formation. "Ptero," as it is affectionately known, inhabited the floor of an ocean that covered West Tennessee about 70 million years ago.
The campaign to have Ptero named as the State Fossil began in 1996 at The University of Tennessee at Martin. Spearheading the effort was UT Martin's GeoClub , a student organization dedicated to geological and geographic studies. Between 1996 and 1998, GeoClub members and geology professor Michael A. Gibson worked on determining a suitable nominee for state fossilhood and laying the groundwork for legislative action. With the supportive sponsorship of State Senator Roy Herron (D-Dresden), Ptero was named State Fossil in 1998 by the Tennessee legislature.
Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica is just one small part of Tennessee' rich geological history. With one of the US' first geologic survey offices and having produced one of the first state geologic maps, Tennessee has been a leader in the study of geologic phenomena. Indeed, the many formations found in the state have attracted many of the world's most influential scientists over the years.
As the "spokesfossil" for Tennessee, Ptero is working hard to promote greater awareness of and respect for the entire state's geologic resources. On Ptero's agenda are the following issues:
Increasing public awareness of geology and paleontology
Increasing public awareness that fossils represent important natural resources that must be carefully protected and preserved
Helping educators who teach earth sciences and biology use fossils as a way to show students key ideas about the natural history of the state and other regions