Author Archives: Doug Mann

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.

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/

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!

graptolites

Enter The Graptolites!

Miraculously, life appeared on earth nearly 3.5 billion years ago in the form of microbes.  By the time of the Cambrian explosion, life forms were highly developed.

graptolites

graptolites

Consider the trilobite. (If you’ve been following my blog you know it’s one of my personal favorites!) It has a chitinous covering that was made of dozens of armor-like plates that allowed it to curl into a ball when stimulated and in need of protection. Trilobites had many legs, the three lobes that inspired its name, and a clear head, thorax and “tail” known as the pygidium. Its most highly developed organ was its eye, seen here on one of our favorite giant models. Yet, on the timeline of life, it’s one of the earliest noted species, living from approximately 520 mya until they died out at the great Permian mass extinction around 250 mya.

It is generally known that the most important remnants of the Cambrian animal explosion are found in the Burgess Shale, discovered in 1909 by Charles Wolcott of the Smithsonian Institution in the Canadian province of Alberta. Here, with the presence of more than 150 species, is the evidence of the Cambrian explosion of life. The Burgess Shale is notable not only for the number of species but also for the fossil remains that include rarely fossilized soft body parts. 

But I’ve often wondered about the simplest animal forms? What did they look like? How did they relate to the Cambrian fossils of the Burgess Shale? 

Enter the graptolite! When we first encountered this early colonial species, they didn’t visually impress. But the more we learned the more we thought our personal collection would be remiss without at least a few specimens of this animal group. For amateurs like ourselves, it took a while before we stumbled upon a place where the graptolites were plentiful enough that soon they will become part of our student collections! In the meantime, we are learning all we can about this early species and I’ll share bits and pieces of this learning over the next few blog posts.

As I began my research, the graptolite got my attention when I learned that it belongs to the phylum Hemichordata. Remembering my early days with the Montessori Chinese Box of the Animal Kingdom, I was excited to now have an animal I knew as part of this phylum. Scientists place it as an extinct subclass of the class Pterobranchia, a group of worm-like animals that live in tubes on the floor of the ocean. They are filter feeders. 

So far in my studies, the most interesting fact is how they got their name. Based on Greek root words, the name literally means “written on rocks” (graptos: “written” and lithos: “rocks”), aptly chosen because the fossil remains look a lot like hieroglyphs. They were discussed, drawn and labeled by Linneaus as possibly plant fossils or crusts formed on rocks that merely resembled fossils. The new fossils we’ve found are truly beautiful “pictures” of real, simple, early animals that got their start in the middle Cambrian period. 

Stay tuned for more photos and info as I lean-in to my own learning over the next few weeks or browse our collection of graptolite fossils! (Include photo of several graptolites. )

Snail Relatives

Snail Relatives…Who knows?

It’s been a “snail-y” summer here is SoCal. I have a new appreciation for the plight faced in Big Little Farm. (If you haven’t seen it, be sure you do. It’s inspiring and hope-producing!)

I guess it was just a matter of time when we’d have one of the modern little buggers show up in a box of fossil relatives. And here it was today! My mind began to fill with questions begging for answers.

The one made of stone is from the Cretaceous Period and came to us from Morocco. That was the first question and easily answered by Doug who keeps these things in his memory better than I.

Next up: I wonder if these are related species…what species is that fossil? What species the snail? If they aren’t the same species, then are they related? Then, “Is this an analogy or homology?” You get the picture…biological questions.

Next my mind flipped to geology and history. (Big History!) Fossil snails seem pretty common, I wonder if there are any around here. If so, were Africa and North America connected at one time? How were the continents connected during the Cretaceous? How many years ago was that? How can I figure that out? And now there’s some math learning/practice potential!

In the history of biology, did any of the scientists from the early days draw pictures of these cretaceous snails? Linnaeus drew pictures of hundreds, if not thousands, of species of fossils and even things he wasn’t sure were fossils. (See my post on Graptolites.) What sort of writing did these early biologists/paleontologists do on the topic of gastropods? How did they tell the story? Maybe I could write my own story of the gastropod…

The human mind is amazing! It’s inherently human to wonder and be curious. Experiences like this drives children to form questions, seek the answers, and trust their ability to find them.

Student questions lead to a need for skill-development, which leads to learning, resulting in a hunger for more. As Dr. Maria Montessori wrote inEducation for a New World, (in response to observing a young child spelling words with the moveable alphabet in an early Montessori classroom)“There was an inner urge for more and more knowledge.”

Will you inspire that hunger in a child?