Ancient crocodile needs our support

Artist rendering of Terminonarus robusta

A local fossil needs your support. No, I’m not talking about an Iron Range politician. I’m referring to an ancient crocodile. This particular crocodile died in the muck near modern day Calumet, Minnesota, about 90 million years ago. 

You might think that it’s far too late to help this erstwhile reptile, but you’d be wrong. You can help its name live on in the annals of Minnesota scientific history. And that name is Terminonarus robusta. 

Let’s call it Termy. We don’t know if Termy was a male or female. We just know that it was 20 feet long and sported a long, narrow snout lined with a pointy assortment of sharp teeth.

Termy the Crocodile lived along the inlets of an ocean that once lapped the remains of the Laurentian Mountain Range. It didn’t know it was an Iron Ranger, but the croc certainly acted like one. Termy liked to catch fish and sometimes got in fights. It would also hunt just about anything that moved. It was real fast for the first hundred feet or so, but then got kinda huffy and said, screw it. I’ll get it next time. So, pretty much like my grandpa. 

Anyway, this croc croaked during the late Cretaceous leaving behind fossilized remains. One fossil, part of the jaw, was discovered in 1967 by brothers Vincent and Gary Garlough, along the Hill Annex Mine in Calumet. This is the same area where visitors at Hill Annex Mine State Park go on fossil hunts today.

People have been finding fossils in and around Iron Range mines since they first started digging here almost 140 years ago. A lot of the old timers stashed trilobites in their garages, passing them down to generations of confused descendants. 

Dr. Bruce Campbell of the Science Museum of Minnesota analyzed the crocodile fossil in 1969, declaring it a new species Teleorhinus mesabiensis. In subsequent years it was realized that the specimen was from a species that had already been named, and so Termy got its current name, Terminonarus robusta. Further discoveries might return the Mesabi Range reference to its name.

This year, the Science Museum of Minnesota thinks it’s about time that the Gopher State had an official state fossil. Apparently we’re one of only seven states that don’t. Considering that we have a state muffin (blueberry), mushroom (morel) and soil (Lester), this seems like something we could fix.

The Science Museum is conducting an online poll to determine which fossil to recommend to the Minnesota State Legislature. There are nine fossils to choose, all from some part of our state. The crocodile fossil found at Hill Annex is one of them.

Rylan Bachman, a volunteer with the Hill Annex Paleontology Project, alerted me to the croc’s candidacy for state fossil. The folks at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm are backing the effort as well. Why shouldn’t we all?

I voted recently, only to find out our local fossil — a totally awesome dinosaur-crushing crocodile — was in seventh place. And get this, the Iron Range crocodile was several hundred votes behind a super lame giant beaver that might only be 10,000 years old. Worse yet, that giant beaver was from the Twin Cities. Dam!

I think you know what needs to happen. Go to

Cast your ballot for Terminonarus robusta before the end of September. Teachers, you can get your whole classroom involved.

This ancient crocodile isn’t just a good local fossil, it’s one of the best and among the oldest fossils ever found in Minnesota. 

This croc is no crock. If you’re in the business of spending time on the internet, spend some on Terminonarus robusta. 

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Wow…Some fun…I will definitely vote. Thanks for the encouragement. Yep the trilobites are everywhere up there. Or at least were when I was a kid. But this is something spectacular. And fir more viewing pleasure.

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