Carboniferous Period: From Swamps to Shallow Seas KU Natural History Museum

At various times during the Carboniferous, Kansas was covered by forested swamps, river channels, and shallow seas. Scroll down to explore specimens and learn more.

Giant Dragonflies and Scuttling Cockroaches

Ancient tropical forests of Kansas were filled with insect life including seagull-sized dragonfly ancestors with 26-inch (66 cm) wingspans and early relatives of cockroaches.

Outline of Meganeura an early dragonfly relative.

Outline of Archimylacris sp. an early cockroach relative.

Abundant Amphibians and the First Reptiles

300 million years ago, early amphibian groups thrived in forested areas near shallow seas in Kansas. Reptiles with eggs that did not need water evolved and diversified during this time as the climate became drier and cooler.

Traces in the Shallow Sea

Trilobites and other invertebrate animals scuttled across the shallow sea floor of Kansas millions of years ago. Trace fossils tell us about the life and movement of ancient animals.

Flourishing Sharks and the Decline of Lobe-fins

New groups of sharks and bony fish evolved during the Carboniferous, while the once abundant lobe-finned fishes—the group that includes our distant ancestors—began to decline.

Collection History

This fossil lungfish, collected from Hamilton quarry in 1984, was the first complete Sagenodus copeanus specimen found.

Lungfish (lobe-finned)

Skull roof fragment of Sagenodus from Robinson County, Kansas

Sponges, Corals and Crinoids

The warm shallow seas that regularly flooded the continent were home to a host of invertebrate life. These groups disappeared when sea levels dropped as the climate became cooler and drier.