Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mammoth roundup

A couple of new publications concerning mammoths in National Park Service units have crossed my desk recently, so it seemed like a good opportunity to say a few further words on behalf of extinct proboscideans in the National Parks. I present to you first the finely wrought map below, which shows the various parks where body fossils of mammoths, mastodons, and their friends have been reported. At press time, there were 37 parks, monuments, and so forth with confirmed records, and another six with possible records (cases where the locality is not clear). This map has the novelty of differently colored and shaped symbols, which aside from providing a splash of color, show a preponderance of mastodons in the northeast and mammoths in the southwest. I've relied on the literature and such, so there's definitely the chance that some of the "mammoths" are mastodons, and vice-versa. Most of these records are from the Pleistocene, but there are a few that are older; notably, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and Niobrara National Scenic River have both gomphotheres and mastodons of pre-Pleistocene age. The great majority of the mammoth reports in the lower 48 are likely Columbian mammoths, Mammuthus columbi (M. exilis of Channel Islands National Park being a notable exception), but given the ambiguities in North American mammoth taxonomy, I figured it wasn't worth the time to try to split them up.

I use the base map a lot, don't I? Definitely a "click to embiggen" this time, to enjoy the various colored symbols. Inventory of points: 1) Nez Perce National Historical Park, multiple states; 2) John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon; 3) Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Idaho; 4) Lava Beds National Monument, California; 5) Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California; 6) Death Valley National Park, California–Nevada; 7) Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Nevada; 8) Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona–Nevada; 9) Mojave National Preserve, California; 10) Channel Islands National Park, California; 11) Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California; 12) Joshua Tree National Park, California; 13) Noatak National Preserve, Alaska; 14) Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska; 15) Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska; 16) Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska; 17) Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve; 18) Arches National Park, Utah; 19) Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona–Utah; 20) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; 21) Wupatki National Monument, Arizona; 22) Colorado National Monument, Colorado; 23) Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado; 24) Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado; 25) Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado; 26) Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico; 27) White Sands National Monument, New Mexico; 28) Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas; 29) Big Bend National Park, Texas; 30) Amistad National Recreation Area, Texas; 31) Waco Mammoth National Monument, Texas; 32) Padre Island National Seashore, Texas; 33) Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas; 34) Buffalo National River, Arkansas; 35) Vicksburg National Military Park, Louisiana–Mississippi; 36) Niobrara National Scenic River, Nebraska; 37) Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Minnesota; 38) Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky; 39) Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, multiple states; 40) Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania; 41) New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve (affiliated), New Jersey; 42) Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland; 43) Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hyoliths II: The Hyolithening

Sorry, but I don't seem to have a better picture of local hyoliths, unless the things mentioned in this post or this post are hyoliths.

This week, the big paleontological news had nothing to do with dinosaurs, or mammals, or anything with bones at all for that matter. Instead, hyoliths got to be the subject of dozens of news articles, for the happy reason that their relationships are no longer quite so enigmatic. Undergrad Joseph Moysiuk of the University of Toronto and colleagues have presented research on the little guys showing that they were equipped with a tentacle-laden feeding apparatus, making them next cousins to...

[drum roll]

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Crystal Ball for 2017

Making predictions about paleontology is kind of awkward, at least if your predictions are based on what is published. Because there's usually five to ten years between a discovery and its publication, there's often a sense of what is out there, just not when it will appear. After all, we've got abstracts, press releases, photos on social media, etc... But what the hey? We're just having fun (hopefully). Lots of links to names are included in case you're mostly here for the Ordovician and aren't familiar with the lingo. Below are my predictions for dinosaur paleontology in the year 2017, after the photo of actual dinosaurs taken at much expense and personal risk via a secret and unfortunately now-lost technology.

Actual photo from the late Campanian of Canada. Things were surprisingly geometric then. Note that dinosaurs in their natural environment kind of hang around as if they are on coffee break, instead of constantly being on murderous rampages.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review

And so we close 2016, having gone from Death Valley, to Chickasaw National Recreation Area, to Fort Union Trading Post, to Interstate State Park, and back home. We contemplated paracrinoids, waded through 19th century shenanigans, got locked in a hadrosaur, withstood earthquakes and volcanoes, and were swarmed with crocodiles. (And occasionally I filled space with a random dinosaur or some photos.)

And in honor of that, an interesting triangular fossil in Platteville building stone on the St. Paul campus of the U of M. A hyolith?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Club Late Ordovician

As I write this, it is about 10 degrees F below zero, with a windchill about 20 below. It's a good time to think about warmer things, like, well, equatorial Minnesota. When I work with the paleontology of the National Park Service, one thing I like to do is to compare fossil records across different parks. Several years ago, we combed through our various records and compiled a sort of database (okay, it's functionally almost nothing like a database, but that's the simplest way to describe it) on NPS paleontology. This compilation is such that now we can say, "Give us a rundown on all of our records for Middle Triassic park fossils," and the computer will do nothing because it isn't programmed to respond to verbal commands, but you can rest assured that we can very quickly find that information. It is therefore simple for me to pick out, say, the Late Ordovician records and make some thumbnail observations. I can thus present to you the exclusive Club Late Ordovician, as shown in the following map. (I could have called it Club Upper Ordovician, but it just didn't have the same ring.)

One of my famous giant captions. 1. Death Valley National Park (DEVA), California–Nevada; 2. Great Basin National Park (GRBA), Nevada; 3. Yellowstone National Park (YELL), Idaho–Montana–Wyoming; 4. Grand Teton National Park (GRTE), Wyoming; 5. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (BICA), Montana–Wyoming; 6. Big Bend National Park (BIBE), Texas; 7. Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CHIC), Oklahoma; 8. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MISS), Minnesota; 9. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (PIRO), Michigan; 10. Effigy Mounds National Monument (EFMO), Iowa; 11. Buffalo National River (BUFF), Arkansas; 12. Hot Springs National Park (HOSP), Arkansas; 13. Stones River National Battlefield (STRI), Tennessee; 14. Natchez Trace Parkway (NATR), Alabama–Mississippi–Tennessee; 15. Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument (KAWW), Maine; 16. Saratoga National Historical Park (SARA), New York; 17. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA), New Jersey–Pennsylvania; 18. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (CHOH), Maryland–Virginia–West Virginia; 19. Denali National Park & Preserve (DENA), Alaska. The gray blob over much of the eastern half of the US is the distribution of Late Ordovician bentonite beds as per Kolata et al. 1996 (also the source for the discussion of correlations below); the beds may also go somewhat farther to the west in the subsurface.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fossil Crocs of the Science Museum

Although the dinosaurs get the most press, the Science Museum of Minnesota's paleontology department has a strongly diversified portfolio of ancient reptiles. In particular, champsosaurs and crocodyliforms (modern crocodilians and their closest extinct relatives) are well-represented in the collections and on exhibit. The Science Museum features mounts of four fossil crocs, each one filling different places in their ecosystems: an apex terrestrial/freshwater croc (Borealosuchus formidabilis), a large estuarine croc with elongate jaws living alongside whales (Gavialosuchus carolinensis), a medium-sized terrestrial/freshwater croc from a dinosaur-dominated setting ("Goniopholis"), and a house-pet-sized terrestrial/freshwater generalist (Wannaganosuchus brachymanus). This diversity shouldn't be too surprising. Crocodylomorphs, with around 225 million years of time on their hands, have done quite a bit of experimentation, including truly marine thalattosuchians and small, terrestrial, occasionally dinosaur-like "sphenosuchians".

Sunday, December 4, 2016


For a small herbivorous dinosaur with no crest, horns, etc., Thescelosaurus has managed to sweep through a respectable number of species. There's the type species (T. neglectus), T. assiniboiensis, T. edmontonensis, T. garbanii, Bugenasaura infernalis, and the subject of today's entry, which entered science as Thescelosaurus warreni but which is better known as Parksosaurus (warreni or warrenae, depending on how you feel about far-after-the-fact emendations).