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10 States with Fossil-Hunting Sites for the Public

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Fossil hunters have always been a combination of professionals and amateurs, dating back to the 19th century when 12-year-old Mary Anning and her brother Joseph discovered an ichthyosaur skeleton near their home in Dorset, England.

Today, there are a number of well-known fossil beds within a few hours' drive of some of the country's largest cities. If you want to know what you're finding, companies like Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures offer fossil-hunting trips guided by real paleontologists.

You: I found this amazing fossil! What is it?

Paleontologist: That's just a rock.

But if you want to go it alone, we've put together a list of places you can go to look for evidence of prehistoric life. This list is far from exhaustive, and you can use Google to find out if there are good fossil sites near where you live.

1. New Jersey

Big Brook is a fossil site near Freehold, New Jersey, about an hour from New York City. Fossils at this site date to the late Cretaceous period, so they're between 66 and 75 million years old. You'll want a small shovel or trowel and a fossil screen, or a colander with small holes. You can find shark's teeth, Mosasaur teeth, and the teeth of an extinct fish with crazy fangs called an Enchodus.

2. Virginia

Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, is right up the road from Westmoreland State Park. Both sites have beaches along the Potomac River where you can find Miocene era fossils. There are many different kinds of shark teeth, but the big prize is the colossal Megalodon tooth. These monster teeth can be the size of your palm, and come from an extinct giant shark. You can also find fossilized crocodile teeth, dental plates from sting rays, porpoise teeth and whale bones.

3. Ohio

Caesar Creek State Park in Waynesville has an abundance of fossils from the Ordovician period. Fossils can be legally collected if you get a permit from the park's visitors' center. You can find a variety of fossils there, including trilobites, brachiopods and gastropods. The state also has a number of other quarries and rivers where marine fossils can be found.

4. Texas

Texas has a number of good fossil sites, like Post Oak Creek in the town of Sherman, where you can find fossilized shells and shark teeth. You can also check out the fossilized dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas.

5. Pennsylvania

There's a fern fossil site off Hancock Road in St. Clair, but it's reportedly hard to find unless you go with someone who knows where it is. The Montour Fossil Pit in Danville, PA is better marked—literally: There's a parking lot with a sign that says "Montour Fossil Pit." This site is Devonian, and you can find trilobites, snails, and brachiopods. You need rock hammers and chisels for this one; the fossils are embedded in shale.

6. California

The town of Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz, has Pliocene era fossils on the beach. You can find snails, clams and sand dollars, especially at low tide. San Francisco's Ocean Beach has Pleistocene-era marine fossils such as sand dollars. Other sites, like Sharktooth Hill near Bakersfield, are controlled by museums or parks and restrict collecting or charge a fee.

7. West Virginia

A quarry near the West Virginia town of Wardensville is a good place to find Devonian-era fossils such as trilobites. It's on Route 55, four miles west of Wardensville. The Fossil Guy can give you directions.

8. Colorado

Popular sites include the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the nearby Florissant Fossil Quarry. You can't carry anything out of the former, but the latter is a pay-to-dig site where you can find plant, insect, and the occasional bird fossils. The Creede Formation, outside Creede, Colorado, is also a good place to look, but I'll leave you to Google the coordinates for that one.

9. Florida

The Peace River has shark teeth, but also the teeth and bones of large mammals like camels and mastodons. (Mastodons!) You can hunt in the shallows with a snorkel and a sifter, or you can look in the banks on the edges of the river—but keep an eye out for alligators. You need a boat, preferably something small like a canoe or a kayak, so you can get into tight spaces. You don't need a permit to collect shark teeth, but you do need a permit for anything else, so you should probably get one just in case.

Many of Florida's beaches also have good fossils. Manasota Key has shark teeth, including Megalodon, and people have reported finding bison and giant sloth teeth on Jacksonville Beach.

10. Maryland

Purse State Park has a beach along the Potomac River where you can find Paleocene era shark teeth. You can also find beautiful fossil snail shells called Turritella. It's recommended to go at low tide, and the parking lot can be hard to find. Brownie's Beach, in the town of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, has Miocene-era shark teeth, including Mako and Megalodon teeth.

Sources: The Fossil Forum, Cathy Young of Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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