Georgia is located in the southeastern part of the United States. The paleontological research in the area led to multiple valuable discoveries. They are now significant archaeological records. Most of the discovered fossils belong to the Cretaceous period. At the time, Georgia was covered by water and remained so until the Paleogene and Neogene periods. Other discovered fossils belong to the Pleistocene epoch, when Georgia was covered in grasslands and forests, serving as a perfect environment for mammoths. There are some discoveries from the Paleozoic era, but there’s almost no record of the Triassic or Jurassic periods.
Nowadays, Georgia hosts numerous animal species: 160 species of birds, 79 species of reptiles, 63 species of amphibians, approximately 265 fish species, and many species of snails and insects. Unfortunately, many of them are now considered endangered or threatened. Some species are considered but haven’t been officially declared so yet, and two have already been declared extinct.
1. Carolina parakeet
The Carolina parakeet was a neotropical parrot. It had a bright yellow head, an orange face, and a green body. The parrot grew to approximately 13 inches long and weighed 3.5 oz. These parrots lived a long life, with their longest lifespan being over 35 years. The last Carolina parakeet lived at the Cincinnati Zoo and died in 1918.
The Carolina parakeet was native to the U.S. and inhabited old-growth forests along rivers. It was declared extinct in 1939. However, in 1937 and 1938, people spotted several parakeets resembling the Carolina parakeet in Georgia and South Carolina. Unfortunately, they were never confirmed as being Carolina parakeets.
The main reasons for their extinction are deforestation, hunting, and the pet trade. On the other hand, it is still a mystery how these birds disappeared so quickly – they were numerous in 1896 and almost extinct by 1904.
2. Passenger pigeon
The passenger pigeon was endemic to North America and largely distributed in the United States, including Georgia. Male passenger pigeons measured 15.4 to 16.1 inches long and had a gray-light-bronze-black coloration in their feathers. Female passenger pigeons were more brownish in shade and measured up to 15.7 inches long.
In the past, the passenger pigeon was North America’s most abundant bird, with their number going as high as 5 billion. This number started to decline between 1800 and 1870. Then, until 1890, the number declined drastically, which coincides with the major 180-million-acre deforestation between 1850 and 1910. The last passenger pigeon was spotted in the wild in 1901. The last passenger pigeon that lived in captivity was called Marth and died in 1914.
There’s still hope of seeing passenger pigeons alive again, as there are over 1,000 passenger pigeon skins and 16 exoskeletons worldwide. Scientists plan to revive them when the technology evolves enough to make this possible.
3. Ivory-billed woodpecker
The ivory-billed woodpecker is native to the Southern United States and Cuba. It measures around 20 inches long and 30 inches in wingspan, making it one of the largest of its kind worldwide. They inhabited the eastern and southeastern regions of the country, Georgia included.
The ivory-billed woodpecker hasn’t been officially declared extinct yet, but the last American ivory-billed woodpecker was spotted in 1944.
4. Columbian mammoth
The Columbian mammoth is a species of mammoth that inhabited the North and South American continents. Research says that Columbian mammoths were a hybrid species that appeared around 420,000 years ago. They weighed approximately 22,000 pounds and were 13 feet high, making them the largest mammoth species. It has been discovered that the Columbian mammoth ate grass. Unlike wooly mammoths and mastodons, it had no coat of hair.
Hamilton Cooper made the first Columbian mammoth fossil discovery during the Brunswick Canal construction. He discovered a partial molar. Then, the tooth arrived in Hugh Falconer’s hands, who eventually described and established a new species of mammoth called Elephas columbi or, as we now call it, Mammuthus columbi, after Christopher Columbus. Later, more fossils were found in Georgia, including tusk fragments, ribs, vertebrae, and long bones.