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Fossil Fish Festival Feb. 18 at UW in Honor of Wyoming State Fossil

February 9, 2017
photo of fossil fish
This fossil of Knightia eocaena -- the focus of a Fossil Fish Festival Saturday, Feb. 18 -- is among many curated in the UW fossil vertebrate collection housed in UW’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. (UW Photo)

The public is invited to attend a Fossil Fish Festival Saturday, Feb. 18, at the University of Wyoming in honor of Knightia, the extinct fossil fish that has served as Wyoming's state fossil for 30 years.

The event will run from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at UW’s Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center. The Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) is collaborating on the celebration with the UW Biodiversity Institute and the UW Geological Museum.

“The festival is a great opportunity for children and adults to interact with fossil fish that evolved roughly 50 million years ago,” says the Biodiversity Institute’s director of science programs, Brian Barber.

Attendees at the family-fun event will have the opportunity to see Knightia and other fossils from the WSGS collection; learn how to prepare a fossil fish; and tour the UW Geological Museum and wet collections of the UW Museum of Vertebrates located in the Berry Center. There will be fossil fish relief activities, face painting, raffles and presentations. Admission is free.

“Fossils, like Knightia, spark the imagination and curiosity of people of all ages,” says WSGS Director Tom Drean. “Just looking at them makes one think about how the Earth and Wyoming have changed over expansive periods of time.”

Knightia were the first fossils discovered in Wyoming and are a common fossil fish of the Eocene Green River formation. They are related to modern-day herring and once lived in an ancient lake system in southwestern Wyoming.

The fossil fish was named after Wilbur C. Knight, pioneer Wyoming geologist who served as the first Wyoming state geologist (1897-1902) and UW Geological Museum curator. According to the Wyoming State Museum, third-graders at Anderson Elementary School in Cheyenne started the Knightia Fossil Club and campaigned for their mascot to be the state fossil. The club achieved its goal Feb. 18, 1987, with a law enacted by the Wyoming Legislature.

“Wyoming’s fossil Knightia are perhaps some of the most widespread and well-known fossils in the world, because one can find this small piece of Wyoming in nearly all museums and rock shops today,” says Laura Vietti, Geological Museum and collections manager. “Through the Fossil Fish Festival, we hope to provide a fun, engaging and educational set of activities for Wyoming’s public to learn about this famous Wyoming fossil and celebrate its significance to science and to our state's heritage.”

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