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Posts tagged ‘dinosaurs’

The game of prehistoric life

EOP-cover

Evolve or Perish is a new board game – not from the makers of Monopoly, but from ETE, the Evolution of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Program, at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. UCMP Faculty Curators Cindy Looy and Ivo Duijnstee designed the game in collaboration with illustrator Hannah Bonner. Hannah is well-known for her cartoon paleobooks When Bugs Were Big and When Fish Got Feet. The three enjoy collaborating -- Hannah created the logo for Cindy's lab's web site, and she is currently consulting with her on a regular basis for her next book.

Evolve or Perish is similar to Chutes and Ladders. It begins 635 million years ago, with the first multi-celled organisms. Each square on the board represents 10 million years. On the path to the present, numerous fates await you: slip on an early animal and go back one square; land on the Cambrian Explosion and jump ahead; land on the largest extinction event the world has ever known and go back nine spaces. The game is populated by cute animals (the first four-legged animal wears a party hat!) and strange-looking plants (like Lycopods from the coal swamps of the Carboniferous). All of the beautifully drawn creatures represent real plants and animals, known from the fossil record; a taxa list helps you learn your Oxynoticeras from your Omeisaurus. As you move your game piece from the past to the present, Earth's major milestones appear along the way – you'll pass meteors, millipedes, and the rise of giant mammals. The first player to make it to the present day wins the game – but experiences a gross revelation about how some of Earth's first inhabitants inhabit us humans, too.

The game can be downloaded for free here.

Visit the UCMP on Cal Day!

Cal Day 2009Join us at the UCMP on Cal Day, Saturday April 17!  Events run from 9am to 4pm; check the schedule for a full listing of activities. Here are just a few of the Cal Day events at the UCMP:

~ Take a tour of the collections with a museum scientist. The collections are open to the public just one day a year, so this is your chance! Tours are held throughout the day, but tickets are first-come, first- served, and they go fast — come early to pick up your free tickets in advance.

~ Visit the special mini-exhibit, If You Build It They Will Come: New Construction Means New Fossils. See the bones of a short-faced bear found while digging the Alameda Tube. Check out a ground sloth discovered while building the Oakland Coliseum. Look at mammoth teeth found right here in Berkeley while excavating for the Downtown Berkeley BART station. And learn what might be uncovered in upcoming construction projects, like the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel and the construction of California's high-speed rail line. To learn more about fossils found during construction, see the recent blog post Fossils found fortuitously.

~ Search for fossils in the hands-on Fun with Fossils activity. You’ll find real fossilized fish scales and maybe even a dino tooth!

~ Enjoy a talk by a UCMP scientist.

  • Evolution's Big Bang: Explaining the Cambrian Explosion of Animals, with Charles Marshall, 11am.
  • The Sierra Nevada: Old or New? Higher or Lower? What Fossil Plants Tell Us, with Lenny Kouwenberg, 1pm.
  • The Life and Times of Triceratops, with Mark Goodwin, 2pm.

~  Think you've found a fossil? Bring it to the Biodiversity Road Show and expert paleontologists will help you identify it. Experts from botany, zoology, and entomology will be there too, so bring in any specimens you're curious about.

To get a taste of what's in store, check out this audio slide show, Cal Day at the UCMP, which shows highlights from Cal Day 2009.

Cal Day 2009 UCMP Tour UCMP T-shirts Glossotherium tibia Arctodus humerus

UPDATE!

Thank you for joining us for Cal Day 2010! To look at some photos from the day, check out Cal Day at the UCMP.

Collaborating, with the help of the collections

Triassic research group A few weeks ago, we blogged about the discovery of a new species of dinosaur, Tawa hallae. Two UCMP alums, Sterling Nesbitt and Randy Irmis, described this new dino in the journal Science. A few weeks ago, Sterling, Randy, and two of their Tawa co-authors, Nate Smith and Alan Turner, visited the UCMP. They've come from Texas, Utah, Illinois, and New York, to work together and delve into the UCMP's collections. Along with UCMP Faculty Curator Kevin Padian and graduate student Sarah Werning, they are looking at the fossils in old collections — dinosaurs and crocodile relatives that lived around the same time as Tawa, in what is now Arizona and New Mexico.

"We're looking at the old fossils in the context of new ones," says Randy. Many of the fossils were collected by Charles Camp in the 1930s — others were collected even before that. Quite a few were never identified and have not yet been entered in the UCMP’s database. For those specimens that were identified, says Sarah, "we're potentially re-identifying them." There are many new species that were not known when the fossils were last studied. In looking through these old collections, the team could find additional specimens of Tawa, or specimens that represent species that have not yet been described.

Their work in the collections will likely influence their field work plans this summer.  They're returning to the Hayden Quarry, in New Mexico, for their 5th full season. They'll also visit nearby areas where fossils from the old collections were found, years ago. "Some of the big discoveries in paleontology have happened when you re-identify fossils that have already been collected, and then you go back to a particular area to look for more," says Nate.  For example, Tiktaalik, an important fossil that represents an intermediate form between fish and amphibians, was found when paleontologists re-visited a field site in Nunavut, Canada.

The scientific community will reap some benefits as a result of this week's work. As experts in the field of Triassic dinosaurs, "we play a mini-curatorial role," says Nate. They straighten out the identities of the fossils, and they add the specimens to the database, so other researchers can access this information.

When they're not looking through the collections, the team clusters around their laptops in the Padian lab, drinking coffee and Diet Coke and bouncing ideas off each other. It's great to be all in one place, they say. Online communication is "good for getting things started and wrapping things up," says Alan, "but for the meaty part in the middle it's best to be in one place."

This research was made possible in part by the Welles Fund. To learn how you can support research at the UCMP, click here.

New dino described by UCMP alums

Field crew 2006

The field crew that excavated Tawa hallae in 2006: Kevin Padian, Sterling Nesbitt, Alan Turner, Nate Smith, Randy Irmis, Amy Balanoff, and Gabe Bever. Photo: Nathan Smith, Field Museum of Natural History

Last week, two University of California Museum of Paleontology alums, Sterling Nesbitt and Randall Irmis, described a new species of dinosaur in the journal Science. The new species, Tawa hallae, sheds light on early dinosaur evolution — and the importance of the UCMP's collections.

Tawa's bones were first found by hikers in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, in 2004. Around that time, Sterling and Randy were doing fieldwork at the nearby Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona, excavating fossils from rock layers from the Late Triassic — the same rock formation where the new fossils were found. That fall, park paleontologist Alex Downs approached Sterling and Randy at a scientific meeting and asked them if they'd be interested in excavating and describing what appeared to be a novel species. At that time, Randy was a graduate student at Berkeley, and Sterling had finished his undergrad at Berkeley and begun graduate school at Columbia. They decided to collaborate with Alex to describe the specimens and made plans to start fieldwork during the summer of 2006.

"Three weeks before our first major expedition," says Sterling, "the provost at the American Museum of Natural History called and asked if I'd like to be accompanied by an NSF-funded IMAX movie crew."  They wanted to film the excavation of the fossils for a movie, Dinosaurs Alive!. Sterling was a little worried that the filming would interfere with his fieldwork, but he agreed. The film crew followed Sterling, Randy, and the rest of the team for a week and a half. Sterling needn't have worried about having enough time to do his research — there was plenty of down time. "IMAX film is expensive," he says, and the film crew spent a lot of time setting up each shot. During some of this down time, Sterling was excavating the area where the hikers had found the fossils. "That's when I hit the ankle bone of the articulated leg of what became the holotype."

Other early dinosaur fossils are not as complete or as well preserved as those of Tawa hallae. Sterling, Randy, and the team found two nearly complete skeletons, as well as bones from several other individuals. Some of the bones are so well preserved that you can see very fine details, like the places where the muscles once attached. The neck vertebrae and the bones of the braincase have small depressions with raised rims — suggesting that there were air sacs adjacent to these bones. The air sacs filled up the depressions. Modern birds have air sacs attached to their bones, which they use for respiration. As Sterling and Randy write in their paper (co-authored by Nate Smith, Alan Turner, Alex Downs, and Mark Norell), we can't know if Tawa's air sacs served a similar function. However, we do know that Tawa is the earliest dinosaur with a pneumatic skeleton.

Tawa is particularly important because it fills a gap between early carnivorous dinosaurs, found in South America (where dinosaurs are thought to have originated), and later carnivorous dinosaurs found throughout the world. Randy, Sterling, Nate, and Alan figured out where Tawa fit by comparing it to other specimens, many of which were in the UCMP's collection. "The UCMP collection was instrumental in helping us understand what was at Ghost Ranch," says Randy. Sterling also points out the importance of the museum's collections, both in this study and in his paleontological education. "I came to Berkeley for the paleo," he says. As an undergrad, "I was in the collections a couple times a week, learning anatomy, learning what the fossil record is really like."

"This project really had its genesis when we were all graduate students," says Randy. "This study speaks to what a fantastic program we have at Berkeley, that we can have such fantastic research coming out of a graduate student-led project."

Randy is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah, and Sterling is a post-doc at the University of Texas Austin. Both intend to continue working at Ghost Ranch — "I plan to go back for many years to come," says Randy. "It's an amazing site." And, they plan to continue working in the UCMP collections – they'll be back in January. Check the UCMP blog for an update!

Sterling and Randy are currently collaborating with UCMP graduate student Sarah Werning, Kevin Padian, Nate Smith, and Alan Turner, to examine the growth and bone histology of early dinosaurs (including Tawa) and their relatives from Ghost Ranch. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about dinosaur bone histology in the New Year.

Sterling and Randy's work was funded by a National Geographic grant to UCMP Faculty Curator Kevin Padian and by grants from Integrative Biology, UCMP’s Welles Fund, and the UCMP Graduate Student Research Award. Learn how you can support graduate student research at the UCMP.

There has been some great news coverage about Tawa hallae. To learn more, check the National Science Foundation's Special Report: Tawa hallae – it includes an audio slide show, a press conference, and lots of photos. There is an interview with Sterling in this Science magazine podcast, and an interview with Randy in this blog from the Utah Museum of Natural History. Also check out this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nesbitt and Irmis, excavating at the Hayden Quarry Ghost Ranch Carrying Tawa Stocker and Nesbitt, excavating at the Hayden Quarry Ghost Ranch research Smith and Nesbitt Field crew 2006 Field Crew 2008 Tawa jaws Tawa lower jaw Tawa hand Tawa fibulae Tawa reconstruction Tawa skeleton

Paleo Video: A modern day dinosaur extinction

During the Cretaceous, dome-headed pachycephalosaurs roamed through what is now the Hell Creek Formation, covering parts of Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. But UCMP Curator Mark Goodwin and Museum of the Rockies Curator Jack Horner argue that there were fewer pachycephalosaur species than we thought. Mark and Jack suggest that two species, Dracorex hogwartsia and Stygimoloch spinifer, are actually juveniles and teenagers of the species Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis. Learn about this modern day dinosaur extinction — read Mark and Jack's paper, published this week in the open access journal PLoS ONE, read the UC Berkeley News press release on the study, and watch this video!

Dinosaurs decoded

Image courtesy of the National Geographic Channel

Image courtesy of the National Geographic Channel

UCMP Assistant Director Mark Goodwin's research on Triceratops is featured on National Geographic Channel's video of the week. Triceratops are named for the three horns that protrude from the skull — and as Mark and his colleague Jack Horner have discovered, those three horns tell a fascinating story about the growth and development, and potentially the behavior, of these dinosaurs.  The National Geographic video is an excerpt from an hour-long television program, Dinosaurs Decoded. Be sure to catch it on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, October 11 at 9pm, and on Tuesday, October 13 at 9pm.  And check out a preview of the video, along with photos and fun facts, here.

T. rex gets a manicure

Gluing on the clawA few months ago, the UCMP’s Tyrannosaurus rex broke a nail. The right claw mysteriously went missing. We needed to replace it, but obviously the standard-issue drugstore press-on nail just wouldn’t do. We had to re-construct a new right claw by making a copy of the intact left claw.

Danny Anduza, a UCMP volunteer, carried out the claw restoration. First, he mixed up a rubbery substance and painted it over the T. rex’s left claw, to make a mold. Once the rubber hardened, he carefully sliced it and removed it from the claw. Next, Danny used the mold to make a new claw. He mixed up some resin and poured it into the rubber mold. Once the resin had set, Danny painted the new claw with brown paint — the same paint that was used to paint the rest of the T. rex in 1995. Danny attached the new claw to the finger bone using a special kind of hot glue, formulated to bond plastic to plastic.

Now that its claw has been repaired, the T. rex can resume hunting prey after we’ve all gone home for the night. Or sneaking into the classrooms and scratching the chalkboards.

Casting the left claw Left claw New right claw T. rex gets a manicure Gluing close up T. rex claw repair Finishing touches New right claw Gluing on the claw