When we think of paleontologists, we think of people hunkered down with bones, teeth, and shells studying the preserved body parts of dead organisms. But animals leave behind more than just their skeletons. As they walk they can leave behind footprints, as they eat they can leave behind bite marks, and as they finish eating they leave behind…well…what comes from the behind. The study of the traces of past behavior is called ichnology and Dr. Tony Martin (@Ichnologist) and author of Dinosaurs Without Bones is with us to reveal all the amazing insights a paleontologist can learn from the fossil record, even when there aren’t any bones! He takes us through a wandering heard of sauropod dinosaurs, into the burrow of the dinosaur Oryctodromeus, and across the mudflats of an amphibian-dominated Alabama. These animals may be extinct, but their traces bring them back to thundering life in this episode of Past Time!
When we think of iconic dinosaurs, like T. rex with its massive head full of teeth, and Parasaurolophus crowned with a gigantic, tube-like crest, we’re thinking of the features of adult dinosaurs. But we know from looking around today that animals change a lot from birth to adulthood. Did T. rex always have a massive maw and Parasaurolophus a huge crest? How quickly did they grow in? What were they used for? To really understand the biology of these titans, paleontologists need to study baby dinosaurs to connect the dots from tiny hatchling to adult dinosaur. Unfortunately, the fossils of dino-toddlers are few and far between because their skeletons are usually pretty delicate. Plus, it can be very hard to tell what species of baby dinosaur you’ve discovered. In this episode we discuss the improbable discovery of a baby Parasaurolophus with Dr. Andy Farke, a paleontologist from the Raymond Alf Museum and Webb Schools in Clermont, California. Dubbed “Dinosaur Joe”, the young dinosaur was found and studied by young, high school scientists from the Webb School. The high school scientists were part of the team that revealed the six-foot-long animal was only one-year-old and had a little nubbin of a what would become that spectacular Parasaurolophus crest. Listen to the episode to learn more about growing up dinosaur!
The best way to listen to the episode is to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or you can download or stream the episode by following this link. For images and more details about the discovery of Dinosaur Joe and the science behind the early years of dinosaurs, click below!
On May 21, 1811 Mary Anning, one of the first great fossil hunters, got started! Enjoy this video tribute to the woman who spent her life searching for ancient sea monsters!
Google chose to honor one of the greatest fossil hunters of all time for her birthday on May 21st, so we decided to honor her with our first Past Time video!
Check out the monsters she found along the southwest coast of England and subscribe to get more Past Time videos and don’t forget to check out the podcast at www.pasttime.org!
A fun fact that didn’t make it into the video: The tongue twister “She sells sea shells down by the sea shore” may be a reference to Mary’s vast trove of fossil shells collected along the shore while on the hunt for ancient marine reptiles.
She sells sea shells down by the sea shore…while hunting for MONSTERS!
Marine mammals are fascinating beasts and the subject of our latest Quick Bite episode! Whales, manatees, seals, otters…they’ve all gone back to the water and evolved all kinds of spectacular adaptations to making a living in a soggy setting. Toothed whales evolved an ability to “see” the underwater world around them using echolocation – basically sonar – to track prey with high-pitched sounds and echoes. A 28 million year-old fossil from South Carolina called Cotylocara shows toothed whales could echolocate early in their evolutionary history. A more surprising adaptation to life in the water was preserved with another new whale fossil called Semirostrum. The new whale has a long chin which was probably used as a sensitive probe to track down buried prey on the seafloor. Our final study examines how a SLOTH adapted to life in the ocean. Thalassocnus was a relative of giant ground sloths, a land-dwelling group of animals. A recent study showed how Thalassocnus gradually acquired thickened bones, a trait that has been observed in nearly every mammal that has gone back to the water. Even if it’s a weird animal to imagine clawing through the water, it adapted to that lifestyle in exactly the way paleontologists expected!
Take a deep dive into the biology of these seafaring mammals by subscribing to the podcast through iTunes, or by downloading the episode here, or by streaming it on your computer here.
Click below for images of these incredible creatures and for more discussion of the science behind these discoveries!