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Fossil, and Forum, Friday

I’m sorry, but I forgot to post the Mystery Monday fossil on the blog. I posted the fossil on the Facebook page, but somehow failed to get it posted here, for which I apologize. Here is the fossil I posted, including the identifying portion cropped from the original picture. This image was taken from, a great website for all things trilobite.


Here is Bristolia for comparison. This image is also from

Here is Bristolia for comparison. This image is also from

It was correctly identified as a trilobite, although this one is the species Irvingella, not Bristolia as was guessed. Irvingella is very similar, but lacks the tail spine and the second set of spines is a little farther down the body. They are both listed as “fast-moving low-level epifaunal” feeders by the Paleobiology Database, which means they scurried quickly about over the ocean floor. But whereas Bristolia is thought to have been a deposit feeder, much like a crawfish, Irvingella was a carnivore, preying on worms, bugs, and such. They both lived in offshore marine environments, but whereas Bristolia has been found mostly in shallower waters, Irvingella has been found widespread from offshore throughout the continental shelf and even deeper water. This may have more to do with Bristolia having only been found in a few places in the southwestern United States while Irvingella has a much broader range throughout much of North America and Asia. They both lived in the Cambrian Period, although Bristolia seems to have lived a little earlier than Irvingella (there are some discrepancies in the published records making it difficult to compare exactly, this is partly due to revisions of the time scale and refinements in age estimates over the decades making detailed comparisons problematic).

Since our last Forum Friday recap, we have started a new year. We have reviewed the Walking with Dinosaurs movie. We identified an Exogyra ponderosa oyster,  Archimedes bryozoan, Aetobatus eagle ray, and this Irvingella trilobite.

Over on the Facebook page so far this year, we have seen some amazing animals, including sharks that glow in the dark, a fish that walks on land, and a caterpillar who’s tobacco breath repulses spiders. We even learned why sharks don’t make bone, but polygamous mice have big penis bones and an organism that changes its genetic structure seasonally.

A green biofluorescent chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer). Credit: ©J. Sparks, D. Gruber, and V. Pieribone

A green biofluorescent chain catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer). Credit: ©J. Sparks, D. Gruber, and V. Pieribone

We saw two articles on fighting dinosaurs. We learned how they took over the planet and discussed scaly dinosaurs for a change. We found out some ancient marine reptiles were black and Tiktaalik had legs.

A lot of articles hit the press on human evolution in 2013. We also found out (some) humans developed the ability to tolerate lactose to not starve and how we smell sickness in others. We also found a great book on Evolution & Medicine. We also saw evidence of how our actions affect the evolution of other animals and someone who thinks they can understand dog language.

We read that plants may have caused the Devonian extinction event, a genetic study saying placental mammals originated before the end-Cretaceous extinction event despite no fossils ever having been found, and that small mammals with flexible schedules handle climate change better than big mammals that keep a stricter schedule.

We found a great , concise explanation of evolution and three different short videos on the history of life on earth, two of them animated and set to music. We also heard Neal DeGrasse Tyson urge more scientists to do more science outreach (and how to cook a pizza in 3 seconds). Unfortunately, we also heard about the deplorable conditions during filming on Animal Planet and creationism in Texas public schools, as well as how the failure to take evolution into account can screw up conservation efforts.

So what did you like? Did you guess the fossil? Is there anything you want to see? Let us know.

Fossil and Forum Friday, Holiday edition

We began the week with our first Mystery Monday for with the picture of an interesting Arkansas fossil. Today, Forum Friday will become Fossil Friday as well as we identify the fossil. Did you guess what it was? See if you were right below the picture.

part 2 (2)Congratulations go to Allie Valtakis, who correctly identified it as a nautiloid cephalopod. This particular one is Rayonnoceras solidiforme. It has traditionally been placed within the Order Actinocerida, although some workers have placed them into the Order Pseudorthocerida, which is known for their resemblance to the more commonly recognized orthocerid cephalopods.

What are cephalopods, much less nautiloid cephalopods, you ask? Cephalopods are the group of molluscs that include squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish. There are three major groups: Coleoidia, which includes almost all the modern cephalopods; Ammonoidea, which includes almost all the extinct ones and are known for their complexly sutured shells; and the Nautiloidea, which are mostly extinct, the only living form is the Nautilus. The ammonoids and the nautiloids both formed shells. What differs between them is how they made them. Some of those in Coleoidia also form shells, but they have been greatly reduced and internalized, such as in squids, or lost altogether, such as octopuses. For those with external shells, they have the problem that shells don’t get bigger once the mineral is laid down, so they quickly grow out of their shells. They solve this by adding mineral to the front of the opening in an ever-increasing funnel, periodically walling off the back of the living chamber (leaving a small opening for the siphuncle that goes all the way through the shell, creating a series of gradually increasing sections.

The ammonoids are well known in the fossil record, particularly the subgroup called ammonites, having a diverse array of straight, curved, and coiled shells. What makes them unique from the nautiloids is the sutures between sections are wavy, sometimes showing astoundingly complicated patterns. The nautiloids, on the other hand, sport very simple, smooth curves. It is this group in which Rayonnoceras belongs.

Rayonnoceras lived about 325 million years ago in the Mississipian Period, although nautiloids as a group have been around since the Cambrian Period over 500 million years ago. What makes this particular species so interesting to Arkansans is that the largest nautiloid cephalopod ever found (update: largest pseudorthocerid nautiloid, not largest nautiloid) was discovered near Fayetteville, AR. It was 2.4 m (8 feet) and found in a rock unit named, appropriately enough, the Fayetteville Shale, a unit of dark gray to black shale and limestone, indicative of a warm, shallow marine environment without a lot of sediment input, much like many areas within the Bahamas today.

To recap what we’ve covered over on the Facebook page, we recommended a book discussing misunderstandings in human evolution and another in how evolution affects our health. We saw a hominid fossil hand bone that helped to show how we differed from australopithecines and genetics work that showed us how we didn’t differ from Neanderthals.

We learned how malaria is evolving and why you shouldn’t take medical advice from celebrities. We also bemoaned the airing of a another horrid false documentary about mermaids on Animal Planet.

Emily Willough. Wikimedia commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Emily Willoughby. Wikimedia commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

We learned about a new dinosaur named Archeroraptor and new work on dinosaurian growth rates. We also read how the largest volcanic eruption ever caused the greatest mass extinction ever.

We read about genetics work that informed us how flowering plants evolved by doubling their own genes and stealing genomes from other plants.  We learned about a “second code” within DNA and why the hype was bigger than the story, but may help us rethink our DNA analogies.

We saw how birds defend themselves against cheaters and learned the first lizards and snakes may have given live birth. We also got some information on how teaching and testing will need to change under the Next Generation Science Standards.

On a final note, this will be the last post this year on Enjoy the holidays and join us in January, when we will be embarking on discussion of the Ordovician rocks and fossils in Arkansas. Over the spring, we plan on discussing several vertebrate fossils found in the state. There are several books and online resource reviews coming up as well. We will be adding to our Scientists in the Classroom and adding several new resources to the links pages. As always, we will be posting a plethora of current news items on Facebook, so stay tuned! In the meantime, tell us what you liked, didn’t like, want to see more of, and any questions you may have.

Forum Fridays and Mystery Mondays

Likely thanks to upgrading computer systems and the joys of trying to figure out new setups and operating systems, there seems to have been a small glitch deleting the post that was supposed to go up Friday, so it is getting posted today. So let’s see if we can make lemonade from the lemon.

On Facebook, I started a new set of posts, in which I post a picture of a fossil found in or could be found in Arkansas and see if anyone can identify it. The first one I put up was of a mosasaur, a huge aquatic reptile that swam around Arkansas seas during the Cretaceous Period. People seemed to enjoy it, so I will be doing this on a regular basis. However, it has come to my attention that many places block Facebook, including a lot of schools. So I will be posting them on the blog. I will try to post a new picture every Monday and will then provide the answer on Friday, giving people the week to see if they can come up with the answer. Don’t worry about being wrong, we learn more from our failures than our successes anyway. You can’t win if you don’t play. So with that, let’s play! here is today’s pic. Can you tell me what it is?
part 2 (2)

In the meantime, if you missed out on all the stuff we covered on Facebook, here is a brief summary of most of hte stories.

Of the many new fossils and work on fossils that were reported on this month, we saw a new fossil primate that may have been ancestral to lemurs and lorises and giant, terrestrial pterosaurs of doom. We learned about the earliest flowering plant in north America, new crests for old dinosaurs and the promise and perils of resurrecting dinosaurs and other extinct animals..

The poor platypus, he has no stomach (but at least he has poison spurs). John Gould. 1863. Wikimedia.

The poor platypus, he has no stomach (but at least he has poison spurs). John Gould. 1863. Wikimedia.

We learned about some amazing animals, from snakes that shrink their own heart and intestines between meals (and the genetic switches that allow them to do it), to animals with no stomachs. We learned about tool-using crocodiles and flower-mimicking insect predators. We learned that unidirectional breathing occurs in lizards as well as crocodiles and birds and why dinosaurs developed beaks.

We learned about evolutionary ghosts, how animals colonize new territory, and how unmasking latent variation within a population can lead to rapid evolution.

Photo by Jonathan Blair.

Photo by Jonathan Blair.

We learned about the end-Cretaceous extinction and how the Siberian Traps caused the largest extinction event of all time.

We learned how evolution made it easier for people to believe in God than accept evolution and why fanaticism of any stripe can lead one astray. We read a discussion about the importance of scientists in science communication, and why we shouldn’t ignore Youtube. We found help in teaching controversial subjects in hostile environments and apps to help teach hard-to-grasp subjects like astronomical distance.

We learned about how bacteria avoid the immune system to cause disease, how they form an important part of breast milk, and the four billion year history of vitamins. We learned even bacteria have a hard time living deep inside the earth and how viruses can kill even antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We also read a review of a book on evolutionary medicine.

Comb jelly. Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.

Comb jelly. Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.

Genetics work played a big role in the above stories, but it also gave us the discovery of a second code within DNA and more support for comb jellies being the first animals. We learned why protein incompatibilities make hybrids sterile and how early hominids interbred to form modern humans.

So, what were the stories you liked? Did it spark any thoughts, either good or bad? Was there anything that you saw that we didn’t mention? Share your thoughts and don’t forget to try your luck with identifying today’s Arkansas fossil!

Forum Friday, or, hrm, Monday Meetings?

http___vertpaleoIt’s the beginning of December and more than a month since we’ve had a Forum Friday, but since most people were either still enjoying their Thanksgiving dinners or fighting through crowds of shoppers, I opted for a Monday meeting.  October was a busy month and November followed suit. Most of what we posted on Paleoaerie since the last Forum was a rundown of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting in Los Angeles. A huge amount of material was presented at the meeting, of which we barely scratched the surface. We also reviewed The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, a great book for elementary kids.

We covered a lot on the Facebook page. Evolution in medicine got a lot of attention, including a whole online, open-access journal about it. We learned about evolutionary theory being used in the fight against the flu, malaria, HIV, and cancer, twice, no three times! We even learned why we have allergies, and if that isn’t enough for you, we found a whole series of papers on evolutionary theory in medicine for you.

Studies of human evolution had a good showing this month, starting with a new skull of Homo erectus changing our views of our ancestors and a book called “Shaping Humanity: how science, art, and imagination help us understand our origins.” We learned how women compete with other women and how natural selection can be tracked through human populations.

Homo erectus skulls. Courtesy of the University of Zurich

Homo erectus skulls. Courtesy of the University of Zurich

Modern experimentation has demonstrated how life may have gotten started chemically and how clay hydrogels may have helped. We watched the evolution of bacteria in a lab over 25 years. We also learned how evolution can evolve evolvability.

Evolution outdid itself with deep sea animals eating land plants and an amazing mimicry display. We learned why bigger isn’t necessarily better, why monkeys have colorful faces, and that large canines can be sexy.

In addition to all the news from SVP, we learned about two new giant theropods, the tyrannosaur Lythronax and the allosauroid Siats. We also learned about the toothed bird, Pelagornis and pachycephalosaurs. We also learned about research on what modern animals tell us about dinosaur brains. We also saw evidence that the Mesozoic may not have had as much oxygen as we thought.

Dinosaurs weren’t the only fossils of interest to be announced. A new unicellular organism is providing insights into the evolution of multicellularity. The oldest fossil of a big cat and a suction-feeding turtle were found, as well as the oldest known fossil ever, providing evidence of life almost 3.5 billion years ago. We read the beginning of a series on the evolution of whales and how the first tetrapods crawled onto the land. We learned about fossil giant mushrooms and watched the Red Queen drive mammals to extinction.

Putting 3D images of fossils on paleoaerie has always been one of the goals of the site and the potential for this to revolutionize geology has not gone unnoticed. The Smithsonian has taken up the challenge. If you want to learn how to do it, here is the paper for you.

We celebrated Alfred Russell Wallace and American Education Week. Along the way, we listened to the great David Attenborough describe the history of life and Zach Kopplin tell us about his efforts to keep creationism out of public schools in Louisiana.

For educational techniques and resources, we looked at BrainU and a website by the ADE and AETN. We examined the usefulness and pitfalls of gamification. We saw how to build your own sensors and use them in class. We discussed how to change people’s idea of change through business concepts the truth about climate change. We even saw doctoral dissertations via interpretive dance.

Finally, the holidays are fast approaching, so if you are looking for gifts, we looked at a rap music guide to evolution and Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants.

Do you have any gift ideas to share? Any of the stories particularly pique your interest? Let us know. Don’t just talk amongst yourselves, talk to us.

Forum Friday, winging our way to LA

http___vertpaleoPaleoaerie is off to Los Angeles next week to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. If it has a backbone, it will be discussed there (if it is still alive, the discussion will be linked to fossil relatives, but I didn’t want to unnecessarily limit it, because I’ve seen gators, chickens, dogs, sharks, and everything in between discussed there in relation to their fossil ancestors; I’ve even heard and presented on bacteria, insofar as they help make fossils).

As a result, I’ve only done one blog post on Paleoaerie since last Forum Friday and I won’t be able to post anything other than maybe comments about the meeting next week, so I wanted to get a forum post out before I go, although I realize that some of you reading this may not see it before Monday, what with the lateness of the hour this got posted.scalybook

So without further ado, here we go. On Paleoaerie, we talked about the book, Scaly spotted feathered frilled: how do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?” by Catherine Thimmesh, a great book for any budding paleoartist you know.

Over on Facebook, we celebrated Member Night at Mid-America Museum and their new dinosaur exhibit, Reptile Awareness Day, and Geologic Map Day. We learned about the Backfire Effect and why telling people facts is not always convincing and ways to frame your arguments that may work better.  We warned against the ResponsiveEd curriculum, as well as Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, with some interesting new studies on the preCambrian life leading up to the Cambrian explosion.

We learned more about Tyrannosaurus rex and what we still have to learn, and we met Joe the dinosaur, the most open-access dinosaur ever. We learned how rapid evolution in one organism can cause a cascade of reactions throughout the ecosystem.

Majungasaurus_FMNH-PR2100_sinuses_movie_thumb_yawWe saw a whole host of dinosaurs in 3D, as well as horses and a lot of cool videos from the Science Studio. We saw a new animation explaining how the evolution of life affected the early atmosphere, oceans, and which rocks were formed.

We learned about the usefulness of evolution in medicine, how allergies can save your life, and that sharks, contrary to popular opinion, suffer from cancer just like the rest of us. We also saw a robot made completely out of prosthetics made for humans. Where will we go from here and how much farther can we go?

May your Halloween be filled with spooky fun!

Forum Friday, October 18 Edition

eswLogoVertical2013_smallTime for another Forum Friday! As always, please leave comments about what you liked and what you would like to see more about. What did you think about our stories? Do you have a book or show you want reviewed? Have any resources you would like to see discussed? Have you made an interactive or other resource that you think might be beneficial to others? Let us know.

In the meantime, we have discussed different maps showing the world through geologic time (including some great apps) and ways of showing the tree of life.

On Facebook we celebrated National Fossil Day and Earth Science Week, looking at fossilized arthropod brains, new skulls of Homo erectus and what that means to our understanding of human evolution, how cartilage helped dinosaurs get so big, and learned about the origin of flowering plants. We learned a website letting you make your own geologic time chart. We found a great video discussing what phylogenetic trees are and how to interpret them.

Going along with Earth Science Week, we found special Earth Science Week resources and a STEM Student Research Handbook put out by the NSTA, as well as resources available at Scitable. We discussed the pros and cons of the NGSS and the benefits of preschool education.

We learned about unusual deep sea creatures off the East Coast, more ways to tell moths and butterflies apart, how Black Skimmer birds can skim, and how the arapaima’s armor protects them from piranha. We saw how color evolved and its role in mimicry, how hands came before bipedalism, and how epigenetics affects evolution (it’s not just about mutations).

It’s your turn. What do you want to talk about?

Forum Friday

Time again for another Forum Friday!Image

To recap, since last time, we have given a positive review of Nic Bishop and his book, Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar, and looked at several ways you can present geological time.

Over on our Facebook page, we looked at the books Dinosaur Art; All Yesterdays; Scaly, Spotted, Feathered, Frilled; and The Smile of a Dolphin. We learned about a science cafe on reconstructing dinosaurs, Thor helping to get girls excited about science, how to study, and how to interpret evidence to avoid Bigfoot and pseudoscientific thinking.

We found a fascinating, interactive tree of life, and a new STEM education database. Sadly, the database is closed due to government shutdown, and Charlie’s Playhouse, maker of the great Giant Timeline Mat, also closed, but they have opened an educational site to introduce kids to evolution.

We learned dinosaurs did not have bunny hands, clues to the origin of multicellular life, photosynthesis, flowering plants, and how the evolution of mammals correlated with the rise of flowers. We are learning to use our knowledge of evolution to outwit viruses and the predictive power of evolutionary theory.

ImageFinally, don’t forget that Earth Science Week (October 13-19) and National Fossil Day (October 17) are coming up.

What stories did you find interesting? Join the conversation, tell us what you think and what you’ve found.

Time for Another Forum Friday

Time for another Forum Friday. Since last time, we learned that our grants did not come through, so our search for funding to expand the site continues and the teacher training programs and other events remain in the planning stages. We hope to see those ideas come to fruition, but for now, this site will continue to expand, just not at the rate we hoped.

Since the last Forum Friday, we have reviewed Dr. Holtz’s Dinosaurs: the most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, and Dr. Sampson’s Dinosaur Odyssey, both of which come highly recommended. We also learned about the Cambrian rocks of Arkansas and the dinosaurs of Arkansas. We also learned how scientists really define dinosaurs and why most people’s conceptions about what dinosaurs are is incorrect.

Over on our Facebook page, we watched bacteria evolve, why saying they are still bacteria is silly, and how understanding bacterial evolution can help us clean up toxic waste.

We learned about dinosaur egg-laying, how pterosaurs could fly and be so big, and Arkansas trace fossils. We saw pictures of dinosaur feathers in amber and how to identify a fossil. We learned the Cambrian Explosion was caused by multiple factors and what the earth in the paleozoic looked like, along with how to visualize geologic time.

Evolution, by Matt Bonnan.

Evolution, by Matt Bonnan.

Speaking of new ways to look at things, we saw an evolution cartoon by paleontologist Matt Bonnan and art in science. We heard about Using rap music to teach the history of science and a song about evidence-based medicine. But we also saw why good intentions to help the oceans don’t help when you don’t know what you are talking about. Among problems in science education, we learned about unicorns and the dragons of inaction. Biology textbooks are written for pre-meds, providing short shrift for evolution and ecology. On the plus side, we also saw students fighting bad science and why generosity beats greed in the long run.

We found free tech, iPad apps for the classroom, an iTunes earthviewer,  online modules to teach ecology and evolution, among other topics, and educational videos for the classroom, as well as brain-training to cut through bias. We found Citizen science opportunities for the classroom. Although we had to warn against the Exploring the Environment website. We also saw why simply asking students to write scientists without oversight is wrong and some resources to help.

We learned about the evolution of the avian flu, insects evolving gears, why asexual populations fare poorly, and how to breed a better cat. We saw  how fish survive icy water by evolving antifreeze, adapt to puddles, and learned to walk on land. Finally, we saw that humans are still evolving and why being smart is cool.

So what was your favorite story? Did you have any questions, comments, complaints? Feel free to share.

Forum Friday

Our first few posts here on Paleoaerie have discussed what we are about, why and what we are planning.  Over on Facebook, we’ve discussed a lot of things that may be of interest to readers.  We have discussed how to reach kids, why teaching how science works matters to everyone and certain TV shows and books that don’t think so or do it badly, as well as some that do it well. We noted interesting goings-on at the Museum of Discovery.

We found informative videos and free online courses on dinosaurs, evolution, the genetics of evolution, and human evolution. We found fossil databases, museum collections, and maps of the earth through time. We examined software available to teach science methods and concepts, use 3D modeling in class, upcoming TV shows, Next Generation Science Standards apps, as well as discussing the use of iPads in class. We found a request for scientists willing to work with classes. We even found card games of interest and the Whirlpool of Life.

We’ve discussed the role of evolution in pathogen virulence in disease, antibiotics and cancer, and how it can help manage fisheries .  

We’ve covered the evolution of weird sharks, giant viruses, early mammals, and the earliest eukaryote. We learned about tyrannosaurs and why they weren’t scavengers, how dinosaurs grew feathers,  lost their tails evolving into birds, what is and is not a dinosaur, and using dinosaurs to teach anatomy. We learned about exhibiting extinctions and what they mean to ecosystem health, surviving them, as well as de-extinctions. We learned when teeth evolved, the use of half a sucker, how carnivores become herbivores, and the evolution (or not) of intelligence. We learned about the role of chance in evolution and the haphazard way evolution builds things. We met Mouseunculus and found out just how big a billion really is.

We saw science art, art and science, and art in technology. We talked about Darwin and Wallace, asking scientists about their research, and the process of science correcting itself. And that’s not all.

Roman forum. Image from Wikipedia

We’ve said a lot, but a communication is not a one-way street. I’ve referred to Paleoaerie as “we” many times. Thus far, it’s mostly been “I” that has done the communicating. But let’s change that dynamic. Every couple of weeks or so, we will have Forum Friday. What’s a forum, you ask? Forums were originally a “marketplace or public square of an ancient Roman city” (Merriam-Webster). But more importantly, they were places people gathered to discuss things of interest to them, or simply just to converse and connect with others. Paleoaerie is more than what I bring to it. To really work, others need to contribute. Forum Fridays is a designated space for you to tell me what you want to see, what you want discussed, provide feedback and discussion on topics presented during the week. So let’s talk. I have one simple question: What do you want? (I promise, my name is not Morden, it will turn out better that it did for Ambassador Mollari).