Dinosaurs in North Carolina?  As promised, the South has indeed risen again - as a scientific hotbed for dinosaur discovery.

And local travel and business groups are looking to use the dinosaur to lure tourists and commerce.

Recently, an Appalachian State University professor made a discovery in Raleigh, N.C., that topped the list of the several ancient species discovered in the area.

Professor Andrew Heckert said the discovery of fossilized evidence of a new variety of aetosaur - a spiny-necked reptile that evolved into the crocodile - proves that the Southern plains are ripe with information.

Heckert told USA TODAY that paleontologists are pleasantly surprised about the discovery - and even more delighted that North Carolina may be a new source for discovery, because it's right in his backyard.

He said that while paleontologists have found fossils from the Triassic era in the area for the past 100 years, the findings have mainly been water-dwelling invertebrates and fish. North Carolina was never considered the top destination for dinosaur discovery.  

But paleontologists aren't the only ones happy about the new discovery.  North Carolina is using the dinosaur to bring tourists and businesses to the area. 

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro will open an exhibit on March 31, appropriately called "Dinosaurs," that corrals animatronic dinosaurs together, as announced by the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Zoo visitors will be able to walk a path through the moving and roaring dinosaurs and then watch an educational video at the end of their prehistoric stroll. 

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History both have dinosaur displays. The Museum of Natural Sciences is promotes dinosaur-themed exhibits and activities, including a "Dino-Sketch" promotion for kids.

The museums made the news last July when dinosaur items were stolen by a couple who later turned themselves in.

Also jumping aboard the trend is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which is teaming with Jim Henson's Dinosaur Train to bring the popular PBS Kids series to Bryson City, N.C.

But the excitement over future commercial opportunities is based in reality.

Fossils of prehistoric creatures that have been discovered in the southern rocks are abundant, according to About.com. They include a prehistoric whale, known as eocetus, a duck-billed dinosaur called hypsibema, and a lagoon-dwelling invertebrate known as pteridinium.