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Prehistoric Animals of South Dakota

Dinosaurs and mammoths are featured in this lesson. Check out two different games and a hands-on learning activity below to have some fun while learning more about South Dakota’s most famous fossils!

We know a lot about South Dakota’s ancient reptiles from their fossilized remains. These fossils give us clues to how prehistoric creatures lived millions of years ago. Thousands of these clues have been found in South Dakota in places like Badlands National Park.


Fossils: rock-like formations that develop when an animal dies and their bones are preserved in layers of hardened silt and mud.

PaleoAdventures, Belle Fourche
PaleoAdventures, Belle Fourche
Grand River Museum, Lemmon
Grand River Museum, Lemmon
Kirby Science Discovery Center, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls
Kirby Science Discovery Center, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Tyrannosaurus rex (T.rex, for short) is one of the largest predators (meat-eaters) ever to walk the planet. They lived in western North America around 65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period.

T. Rex

Scientists think T.rex could eat up to 500 pounds of meat in one bite. That’s more than 14,000 chicken nuggets!

They weighed up to 15,500 pounds, more than even the largest African elephants.  

Their name means “lizard king.”


Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Hill City
Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Hill City

The Story of Sue

The most complete T.rex skeleton ever found was discovered near Faith, South Dakota. In 1990, fossil collector Sue Hendrickson saw mysterious bones sticking out of a cliff on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. She brought the bones to Pete Larson, a paleontologist at the Black Hills Insitute of Geological Research in Hill City, who confirmed that they belonged to a T.rex. All told, Sue (named after Sue Hendricks) was more than 90% intact — incredibly rare for dinosaur bones.

Drawing with Dinosaurs

Meet Mama, the T.rex who stands guard at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota near downtown Brookings. Follow the numbers to bring her to life!

Dino dot to dot
The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs


How tall were mammoths? You’d have to reach out a second-floor window to touch their head. Mammoths are closely related to the modern elephant. Similarly, they ate a massive amount of grass and shrubs per day. Ancient humans of North America called Paleoamericans hunted mammoths as recently as 10,000 years ago.

Did You Know?

The oldest known musical instrument is a flute made from mammoth tusk.

The average mammoth weighed as much as five cars put together.

They could live to be 80 years old.

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs
The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs

The Mammoth Site

Hot Springs in the southern Black Hills is home to the world’s largest collection of Columbian mammoth fossils. But it was almost the site of an apartment building until a sharp-eyed bulldozer operator spotted a buried tusk when digging in 1974. Further exploration revealed a treasure trove of mammoth bones. Today, The Mammoth Site is the world’s largest mammoth research facility where you can tour an active paleontological dig site and view Ice Age fossils exhibited as they are found

Other places for paleontology

Most fossils are found in western South Dakota. However, fossils, bones and skeletons can be found at many museums and sites throughout the state.

Color your own dinos

Here are two dinosaurs that you can color any way you want.


Create Your Own Fossils

Not all living things become fossils — the conditions have to be just right. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock (rock formed by mixtures of sand, mud, and smaller rocks). Want to make your own? Ask for your parent’s help with the activity below!

Mammoth Bone
Things you’ll Need

• 1 cup salt
• 2 cups flour
• ¾ cup water
• Small plastic toys (the smaller the better)


Step 1: Mix salt, flour, and water in a small bowl or dish until a soft dough forms.

Step 2: Flatten small fistfuls of dough into round cookie shapes. Press your dinosaur or other toy into the dough to leave an imprint. The more evenly you press, the better the fossil will be.

Step 3: This amount of dough makes about six fossils. What can you create?

Step 4: Bake at 200 degrees on a cookie sheet until the fossil is dry. The fossils should take about 45-60 minutes, but thicker ones can take 2-3 hours. Let cool before you play.

Bonus: Use a marker and color the middle.
             Have your parents hide your fossils around the
            house and do your own hunt!

Fossil step 1
Step 1
Fossil - Step 2
Steps 2 & 3
Fossil - Step Four
Step 4
Fossil - Hide and Find
Hide and find your fossil!

What's a paleontologist?     

A paleontologist studies ancient history by examining fossil records. But digging up bones is only a small part of the job. They also do research and conduct tests using the scientific method. What classes should you study to become one? Science, biology, chemistry, and math are good places to start!

Meet the dinosaurs of South Dakota
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