Volcanic Iceland

The first thing to hit my senses was the unfamiliar birdsong slipping through the open window. Too rested to move, I made a mental note to try to identify it another day.

Iceland is a volcano. Black basalt is everywhere. Instead of concrete sidewalks, the tiles are carved of basalt. Curbs:scultped basalt. Souvenirs: basalt candleholders!

While fresh Icelandic water is some of the cleanest, clearest, tastiest we’ve had, the water coming through the shower was yet another reminder of the ever-present volcano:sulphur! You know, the smell of a freshly lit match or leaking gas? Yep, coming out with the shower water.

First stop on arrivel in thei beautiful country was for dinner. We chose the Icelandic Fish & Chips restaurant and felt guided by Providence. Attached to the restaurant for our pre-table wait: The Volcano House! It was just a small museum, but was chock-full of beautiful specimens and volcano souvenirs.

Is There a Living Trilobite? A Look at Some Modern Imposters

moroccan trilobites

First appearing in the early Cambrian Period (some 542 million years ago), the now-extinct Trilobite is one of the earliest-known arthropods. The name, meaning ‘three lobes’, is aptly descriptive of the marine animal’s distinctive 3-lobed, 3-segmented body type.

Does a Living Trilobite Exist Today?

Science tells us that Trilobites made their last appearance around 251 million years ago. For reference, this period was well before the age of the dinosaurs.

However, among the general public, there remains some confusion about whether or not Trilobite’s are in fact still living and thriving in marine environments. And this confusion is not without merit. There are, in fact, several ‘imposters’ that look eerily similar to the Trilobite, leading some to think that they are still among us.

Want a little piece of trilobite history? Check out selection of authentic trilobite fossils

For example, aquatic insects (such as water pennies), segmented mollusks (chitons), and a myriad of marine crustaceans (usually isopods), bear resemblance to creatures of times long past.

In this guide, we’ll explore what makes people look twice at these creatures, sometimes mistaking them for the extinct Trilobite.

1. The Water Penny

Of the Phylum Arthropoda (Class Insecta), water pennies are occasionally reported as the potential find of the century: an actual living descendant of the Trilobite.

However, upon closer inspection, these aquatic larvae of the Mataeopsephus (a type of beetle), quickly reveal it’s true nature. A simple flip of the creature on its back reveals several pairs of limbs typical of insects.

Why all the fuss over the water penny? It is postulated that there could be potential for the Trilobite to have survived and evolved over 100+ million years, finding their way into freshwater habitats. However, this is an assertion that currently has no scientific merit beyond conjecture.

2. Chitons

Of the Phylum Mollusca (Class Amphinerura), Chitons represent a common inhabitant of intertidal zones around the world.

What makes these a sometimes-mistaken candidate as a Trilobite? Chitons are notable for their distinctive armored plate outer shell (initially resembling segments similar to those of an arthropod).

Similar to the Water Penny, an inspection of its underside reveals its true nature, displaying a broad, muscular foot (similar to a snail). This is in stark contrast to the multiple jointed walking legs of a Trilobite.

3. Isopods

These hard-shelled, segmented, multi-legged creatures are a pretty convincing trilobite imposter. Under the Phylum Arthropoda (Class Crustacea), these marine dwellers are one of the closest resembling creatures to the Trilobite. This is especially true of the species Serolis Trilobitoides (the name even has ‘trilobit’ in it!).   

4. Tadpole Shrimps

Of the Class Crustacea (Order Notostraca), this group of branchiopod crustaceans is sometimes referred to as “living fossils”, and with good reason. Featuring a cephalon-like head shield and multiple body segments, we can see how they are quite reminiscent of the trilobites of the past.

Exciting, but Not as Exciting as a Living Trilobite

Unfortunately, trilobites have gone the way of the dinosaurs, having become extinct some 251 million years ago. Despite the hope of some scientists, to date, there have been no confirmed discoveries of living trilobites during the time of man. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy these ancient creatures in fossilized form, in books, and in museums.

So the next time you think you may have made the discovery of a lifetime, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Learn More About Trilobites

 

Elrathia Kingii

10 Trilobite Facts for The Fossil Lover in All of Us

Trilobite of Wheeler Shale

Across the vastness of our ocean floors, Trilobites, recognized by their distinctive 3-lobed, 3-segmented form, roamed for nearly 300 million years.

These ancient marine animals made their debut on earth around the beginning of the Cambrian Period (some 542 million years ago). During that time they dominated the seas, surviving and thriving beneath the waves. In the succeeding geologic periods we would see their numbers decline, although some were able to persist well into the Permian Period (ending around 251 million years ago).

Today, these now-extinct marine animals are highly sought out by collectors, as fossilized creatures from the deep.

Trilobite Facts

1. More than 20,000 Unique Species of Trilobites Have Been Discovered

Found on every continent, to date we have discovered no less than 20,000 species of this marine animal, ranging in size from 28 inches long (Isotelus rex) to those less than a millimeter in length. Notable features include rounded shells (some smooth some with defensive spines), with many deep-sea species being blind.

2. Making Their Debut: 540 million years ago

Our best estimations from carbon dating place the Trilobite appearing at the start of the Cambrian Period. Noted for explosive diversity and the emergence of new creatures, this period included a wide range of arthropods, mollusks, and some species that are hard to classify. Taking full advantage of conditions at that time, Trilobites quickly expanded to become one of the most common and diverse animals at the time.

3. Unique Defensive Mechanism

At the first sign of danger, these creatures would ball up similar to modern-day pill bugs. Flexing their posterior end under their head, this defensive position effectively utilized their hard outer shell/exoskeleton to provide superior protection against predators.

4. Confusion Amongst the Scientific Community

These little sea creatures gave the scientific community a bit of a head-scratcher at first. Naturalist and linguist Edward lhuyd (1679) first misidentified it as “the skeleton of some Flat-fish”. Later, in 1750, Bishop Charles Lyttleton wrote to London’s Royal Society describing what he believed to be a “petrified Insect”.

5. Not Actually a Fossil in the Traditional Sense

The majority of Trilobite fossils are the remnants of molted exoskeletons. Similar to a hermit crab, these creatures would periodically outgrow their own shells. When this happened, a molting process would ensue and the discarded ‘husks’ would often become preserved. In fact, most ‘fossils’ of trilobites are not the creature itself (which are comparatively rare), but rather the discarded shell.

6. Not One, but THREE States in the USA Have Made the Trilobite It’s Official Fossil

In 1985, Ohio marked the first state to adopt the entire Isotelus genus as its state fossil, with Wisconsin opting to choose Calymene celebra as theirs. Three short years later, in 1988, Pennsylvania adopted Phacops rana as its official state fossil, in large part thanks to the lobbying of an elementary school class.

7. Diverse Food Sources

It is thought that early trilobites were hunters, seeking out aquatic worms that were eaten live. However, some theorize that other species may have evolved to survive on algae and plankton, utilizing a filter-feeding system for nourishment. Many researchers believe that there were trilobite species that occupied every possible feeding niche, hunters, plant eaters, scavengers, and filter feeders.

8. A Victim of Mass Extinction

Over 250 million years ago, a mass extinction event occurred. Sometimes referred to as the “Great Dying”, this catastrophic event resulted in some 90% of all species on earth perishing.

Possible causes range from exploding supernovas, to increased volcanic activity. Regardless of the catalyst, the event, known by the scientific community as the “Permian Extinction” resulted in trilobites meeting their ultimate demise.

9. An Unlikely Use: Native American Amulets

A lesser-known tribe from what is now defined as the state of Utah once collected these Cambrian trilobites for an unlikely use. The Pahyant Ute people believed that the fossils had supernatural powers, leading them to make amulets and protective charms from the fossils. Interestingly, the tribe called them “Timpe-Konitza-Pachuee”, roughly translated to “little water bug living in a house of stone”.

10. A Connection to the Star Wars Trilogy!!!

Samuel Turvey, a paleontologist, discovered several unique species of trilobites during his explorations in China. One such species he opted to name “Han”. Conveniently enough, “Han” also represents China’s largest ethnic group. Given the opportunity, Turvey couldn’t resist naming one particular species “Han solo”.

Great Ways for Kids to Learn Through Exploration

 

In the classroom, your little one practices learning through reading, listening, and following directions. These are extremely useful tools, but they only represent one way to learn. It’s important that kids are also given the chance to learn in other ways. For example, exploratory learning is one of the most effective ways for kids to gain new knowledge. This capitalizes on kids’ natural curiosity and lets them make their way to the answer for themselves. 

Not only is exploratory learning naturally fun, but it’s also often more likely to stick. When kids discover something for themselves, they’re able to understand it more completely. You can also supplement their discoveries with more structured learning; for example, Fossilicious offers tons of great books and educational material for kids learning about fossils. Here are some more ways your little ones can harness their curiosity and explore the world together. 

Start a Fossil Collection 

We’d be remiss not to highlight the benefits of fossil research, collection, and study. Kids have a lot to learn from fossils, and they’re not too hard to find out in nature. Pay close attention to the rocks in your yard or on a hike; you might be surprised how many fossils you find on the rocks’ surface! Bring along a bag your child can use to collect small fossils to investigate later on. 

You can also help your child create a spreadsheet or collection catalog on their laptop. This is especially useful for fossils you can’t take home with you. Some are on rocks that are much too big to take home, or you might find them in an area that prohibits taking things home. In this case, you can just snap a pic then organize it within your digital collection. As they learn more and more about fossils, they can come back and expand on the information in their catalog; in time, they’ll have quite the chunk of scientific research under their belt! 

Dive Into Family History 

If your child has an interest in history, take some time to fill out your family tree together. Genealogy is a great hobby for kids because it gives them a way to learn about their personal history as well as a chance to contextualize what they’ve learned in school. For example, if your child is learning about the Second World War, you can bring it to life with a picture of Great-Grandma and her Victory Garden. 

You can often find family records going surprisingly far back. This gives you the chance to discuss immigration, settlement, and cultural practices as well. If your family history goes back to Ireland, you could dive into the legend of Stingy Jack and discover the origins of pumpkin carving. Work together to learn about your family’s history and how it fits into the wider world. 

Try Out Birdwatching 

Kids can learn a lot about the natural world through bird watching. This is a great way to enhance a trip to the park as well as find fun right in your own backyard. Invest in a child-friendly pair of binoculars they can use to get a closer look at feathered friends out in the wild. Help them to identify birds they find, and then together you can look up more about those kinds of birds. 

This is an especially fun way to learn about the world during migratory seasons. Spot a bird on its migration journey, then take some time to learn about where it’s coming from, and where it’s going. From there, you can learn more about geography, climate, and more! 

Ultimately, it’s all about figuring out what captures your child’s curiosity, and following that path to as much information as you can. Once your little one is the habit of learning through exploring, you can let them take the lead. Soon, they might just be the ones teaching you! 

Support your little one’s passions with books, tools, and specimens from Fossilicious!

Photo Credit: Pexels

 

Basilisaurus

A Few of my Favorite Natural History Museums

At the top of my list is the French National Museum’s Gallery of Paleontology or ( galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie comparée)     This is the first museum I’ve ever explored where I got tired from looking before I was finished looking! There were so many fossils it would take pages to list them all.

The museum is housed in a three story building with the ground floor dedicated to comparative anatomy. It’s a brilliant arrangement because this floor lays the groundwork for understanding what you’ll see and read about on all the other floors. The Comparative Anatomy floor is filled with skeletons of all species of modern animals. I didn’t spend much time there because all of the fossils were on the upper two floors: second floor vertebrate fossils and third floor invertebrate fossils.

To touch on the highlights: TONS of infrequently displayed dinosaurs: Hadrosaur, Triceratops,  Carnotasaur, Pachycephalosaurus, a sauropod, and many skulls

Mammals: Whales, including Basilosaurus, Red Deer, gliptodonts, wooly rhino, Lucy (a replica I think), Saber tooth cat, and some elephant relatives,

Reptiles: Sarcosuchus, mosasaurs

Fish: ostracoderms, pterapsids, placoderms. Best part: more species were lined up in a display that laid out the evolution of fish from the earliest species through the modern.

There were birds as well; sadly my memory and my notebook have lost their names!

Then there are the invertebrates! In many museums, these creatures often fail to get much attention. Not so here! Trilobites, ammonites, gastropods, brachiopods, and more than 50 of each so one can examine details and variations galore! Plus crinoids, graptolites, and way to many more to get to in a single day’s visit.

While I’ve left out much of what is available, if you are ever in Paris (and you love fossils) make sure you get a multi-day pass and enjoy this museum over several days. It’s not far from Notre Dame and the subway system is easy to navigate, even if you don’t speak a lick of French!

Next on my list are two smaller and privately run museums that are mostly showcases of fossils for sale. These museums are where the big museums go when they need a t-rex or a dunkleostus or anything in between! They are both worth getting off the beaten path to see.

Dinosaur Resource Center- Woodland Park, CO
The Black Hills Institute- Hill City, SD

While these establishments lack the spit-and-polish of the large-scale and well-funded museums, they offer views of species less prominent in larger collections that center around the more famous fossils. The Dinosaur Resources Center was where we encountered our first Edmontosaurus before it was shipped off to a lareger, more popular home.

Finally, these last museums round out my top ten list, not necessarily in order of preference.

Utah Field House Of Natural History – Vernal, Ut
 
Dinosaur National Monument – Northwest Colorado
 
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – Washington, DC
 
The American Museum of Natural History – NYC, NY
 
The Houston Museum of Natural Science – Houston, TX
 
LaBrea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, CA
 
Denver Museum of Nature and Science – Denver, CO

Yeah, I’ve also got a bucket list! This group deserves mention, because they are on the Top Ten of many other fossil reviewers, but since I can’t recommend first-hand, I can only put them on my wish list!

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology – Alberta, Canada
 
The Chicago Field Museum – Chicago, IL
 
Harvard Museum of Natural History – Boston, MA
 
Peabody Museum of Natural History – New Haven, CT
 
Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum), Vienna – Vienna, Austria

What does global warming, Siberia, and the Permian Mass extinction have in common?

What does global warming, siberia, and the Permian Mass extinction have in common?

A scientific expedition has uncovered a key ingredient: COAL!

In 2008, Planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, of Arizona State University lead an epedition into the frozen tundra of Siberia looking for the cause of the Great Dying that took place at the end of the Permian Period about 250 million years ago. At that time on earth there was massive volcanic activity in the area we now call Siberia. Through many scientists theorized that this event was the trigger for the extinction event, the evidence did not match the conditions needed to cause the extinction of 70% of life on land and 96 % of marine life. The 2008 expedition found the missing ingredient, coal! They fond explosive volcanic rocks that had both coal and charcoal imbedded in it. It is a great story. You can read all about it here https://www.wired.com/story/the-epic-siberian-journey-to-solve-a-mass-extinction-mystery/

Dinosaur Fossil Hunting

Best Places in the US to Find Dinosaur Fossils

Did you know that the USA has the biggest variety of dinosaur remains in the world? Scientists and archaeologists are still regularly unearthing complete skeletons all across the Western and South-western parts of the country, and the best part is, you can join them!

So if youre feeling like channeling your inner Jeff Goldblum and heading out on a dig, heres a list of some of the very best hot spots to find a dinosaur fossil in the US.

The North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck, North Dakota.

This 67 million-year-old site sits inside the famous Hell Creek Formation. Back in the Mesozoic era, the area was a huge stretch of shoreline, making it a pretty unique location to study the differences between inland and coastal dwelling animals and foliage of that period.

Today the North Dakota Geological Survey invites members of the public to join them on full day digs to help unearth the many remains that still lie under the surface. Everyone can get involved, from beginners to more seasoned fossil hunters. The most commonly found bones here in Bismarck are from species like the Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Dromeosaurus, Didelphodon, and the Brachychampsa.

PaleoAdventures, Belle Fourche, South Dakota

This privately owned dig site in the Black Hills of South Dakota is also part of the Hell Creek Formation and sees visitors from around the world who come to unearth the bounty of dinosaur fossils.

The site is run by paleontologist Walter W. Stein who has been digging the area for over 20 years. He even has a dinosaur named after him, the  Dakotaraptor Steini, which was discovered in 2015 by a team from Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

One of the coolest things about digging here at PaleoAdventures is that you can take home some of your discoveries, like Triceratops teeth, plant fossils and other more commonly found objects. If you find anything truly remarkable, Stein will hold it back to be studied by experts in universities and museums across the country.

These super popular digs last a whole day, from 8 am to 8 pm, and they tend to book up quickly. If you’re lucky, you might discover fossils from species like the Anzu, otherwise known as ‘The Chicken From Hell’, the Dakotaraptor, known as ‘Silky’ and  Ankylosaurus, the ‘Armed Lizard Dinosaur”.

The Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana

There are various types of digs you can get involved with here – from simple half-day sessions, perfect for beginners who want a little insight into the process of unearthing dinosaur fossils, to full-day sessions, all the way up to a 6-day camping and digging expeditions up by the Canadian border.

The longer expeditions take place in the Judith River Formation, where you can help archaeologists on their mission to uncover, reassemble and preserve two full dinosaurs.

The shorter day-long sessions usually involve a training session at an inactive/mock-up dig site in the morning, followed by a fully hands-on dig in the afternoon to find yet undiscovered remains.

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is in the heart of the Morrison Formation which is thought to be around 155 million years old.  The center opened in the mid-’90s, and since then over 10,000 bones have been discovered here, mainly from Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Apatosaurus dinosaurs.

There are half-day and full-day packages available, but if you’re keen to get the most out of your dig, shoot for the full-day option, as you’ll also get a guided tour of the center’s museum. If you’re lucky enough to find a dinosaur fossil, you’ll be added to their official register and hall of fame, and the item will be stored on-site for further research.

Gear Up and Get Ready to Find Dinosaur Fossils Across the USA

These are just a few of the places across the US where you can practice some hands-on dinosaur fossil discovery. The best sites for finding fossils are usually in the desert, where there arent many trees and other types of plant matter to get in the way of a dig. Most sites that offer great digging potential are made up of sedimentary rock, which does an awesome job of preserving fossils of all types.

Dinosaur fossils have been found in 35 states across the country; not just in the most famous fossil sites of the West and Southwest, but also way up in Alaska and as far south as Alabama. You never know what you might find, even in your own backyard.

Sandbox fossil dig

The Excitement of Discovery in the Sandbox

 

 

When we had our school in Colorado, our students loved the boulder-rimmed sandbox.  The giant rocks were great for little bodies to begin their first bouldering escapades, there was a deep indentation that felt like a cave for pretending so many historical scenarios, and then there were the fossils. 

You see, about four times a year, my husband and I, both teachers at the school, would bring in a giant bucket of sandbox fossils and scatter them throughout the area, burying them in layers all around the giant sand area. We’d take the elementary students out to the sandbox at various times and pretend we’d taken a trip to the sand dunes in southern Colorado, or the Burgess Shale in Alberta, Canada where so many of the same early fossils had been discovered: crinoids, brachiopods, orthoceras, clams, gastropods, and even the occasional trilobite. As the students grew more sophisticated in their understanding of what it took to dig fossils, we’d sometimes layout a grid and practice the excavation in the style of the true paleontologist. 

Once the fossils were found, we had a number of activities to choose from: making plaster casts, re-burying in a sawdust/plaster mixture to be dug out and discovered by another student, and testing with acid to see if there was any organic material remaining. 

At times we made mini-digs with a material we lovingly called Fossil Pie. These were put together around the time of our big annual fundraiser Pie-a-Palooza. Most of the pies sold here were sweet and delicious, but the fossil pie often brought the highest bid at our auction because it was filled with fossils, gems, teeth, and other earthly treasures that spanned the millennia. With up to 100 specimens to be found in the space of a pie tin, these Fossil Pies, were popular among the younger set who’d searched for hours in the school sandbox to find a few treasures.  

There are so many things you can do with Sandbox Fossils to help your children experience the joy of discovery that leads to learning. This lesson plan  will connect your child to ancient sea beds and demonstrate how long-ago animals turned to modern-day stone fossils. And if you’ve got a hankerin’ for Fossil Pie, there’s a version of it for sale here: https://www.fossilicious.com/fossil-pie-12-specimen-fossil-hunt.html

Sandbox fossils- Just add water!

Sandbox fossils- Just add water!