Adventures in Florida Fossiling

Spend A Day Unearthing Pieces of Florida’s Prehistoric Past

By Heather Bossowski

Millions of years ago, Florida as we know it today was submerged under a shallow sea of blue. Dugongs, mako and the massive megalodon, which grew to 60 feet in length, reigned supreme, patrolling the ancient depths. As they hunted, they dropped thousands of teeth in their lifetime, much like our modern-day sharks. When the oceans receded, the rise of the land dwellers, such as saber-toothed cats, mastodon and mammoth, began. Many met their demise in those shallow waterways that remained, and some in sinkholes, with the mud perfectly preserving its skeleton as it hardened over time. Today, the waterways of the Sunshine State are a treasure trove of fossils just waiting to be discovered. Imagine holding something in your hand that has not seen daylight in millions of years and belonged to one of these ferocious creatures. It’s easier than you think, and the best part is that it is fun for the whole family regardless of age or ability.

Although fossils can be found anywhere in Florida, there are certain areas that are known to produce consistently for those willing to take the journey. The first is the Peace River. Considered the “hotspot” for fossil enthusiasts, this 106-mile-long river and its tributaries have turned up everything from massive 7-inch megalodon teeth to complete mammoth skeletons. Easily accessible by wading, canoeing or kayaking for those wanting to try it on their own, there is also the option of hiring a guide who will supply you with everything you need and take you to an area rich in matrix. Digging or sifting in this black gravel phosphate material is known to produce fossils and means you are in the right place. All you need to bring is your sense of adventure. For those looking for something less committal, it’s as simple as a day at the beach. Take a ride to the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” That’s right, it’s here in our own backyard. Caspersen Beach, 90 minutes south of Tampa, not only boasts the beautiful beaches Florida is known for, but its shores are littered with small, tumbled shark teeth. If you are hoping to find more than what can be found wandering along the sand, take a sifter and hit the surf or grab your snorkel gear and go for a swim. We have had many occasions where we left with 500 teeth or more. If you are scuba certified, hire a local excursion company to take you to “The Boneyard” located about one mile offshore. Many large megalodon teeth have been recovered in that area.

So now you know where to go, but you may be wondering what tools you need for hunting success. A Florida snow shovel, or sifter on a stick, is helpful and can be found at local shops in the Venice area. If you are handy, you can make your own out of chicken wire, wood and pool noodles. Just Google the “how to.” Most importantly, the state of Florida requires a five-dollar annual permit, available online, for collecting bones or vertebrae, and is not necessary for teeth or fossilized shells.

Take your family on a trip back in time to Florida’s past and bring home a piece of its rich history.

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