An exhibit 73 million years in the making is coming to Rolling Hills Zoo. While construction continues on Rolling Hills Zoo’s new Bamboo Bay renovation (formerly the Reptile Building) which will include a 3,000 gallon cylinder shark tank, its “sister” exhibit is now open in the Wildlife Museum’s Earl Bane Gallery.
According to the zoo, Bamboo Bay: Uncovering the Mysteries of the Deep takes guests on a deep dive into prehistoric Kansas, 73 million years ago, when it was once covered by an ancient inland sea.
The waters of the Western Interior Seaway covering Kansas and much of the United States were warm, shallow, and inhabited by a plethora of marine animals, including bony fish like the monstrous Xiphactinus, sharks, mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pteranodon, mollusks (including ammonites), protophyraenas, and winged pterosaurs, which patrolled the skies overhead.
Fossils from these long extinct species are now on display courtesy of Ramo and Pam Decker and their three children, Kerstin, Kelsey and Ray. Over the last 20 years this family of avid paleontologists has been collecting fossils throughout Kansas, focusing much of their efforts on a specific layer of rock in north central Kansas known as Codell Stone. The fossils found by the Decker family over the years include 22 shark species, 13 fish and 3 reptiles, including the plesiosaur and mosasaur.
One of the shark species discovered was previously unknown, and the first of its kind to ever be found! This newly unearthed species of extinct shark would later be named Squalicorax deckeri in honor of the Deckers.
As they await their new home, Rolling Hills Zoo’s baby cat chain sharks can be seen in the gallery exhibit’s salt water aquarium along with a skate embryo (a developing baby cat shark), still in the tough leathery pouch known as a mermaid’s purse, which is protecting the embryo.