Mastodons and pumpkins

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Pumpkins are an interesting fruit. Curcurbita pepo is one of several domesticated species of the genus Curcurbita, vines that are native to the Americas. Curcurbita is a ecologically diverse genus, with some species needing a continuous water supply while others can live in arid conditions, so it is found natively in a variety of habitats. The fruits, which are technically berries, generally have a thick rind with a softer interior where the seeds are located. In most species the rinds are bitter, but the interior is often more palatable and rich in nutrients. As a result it became one of the first domesticated plants in North America more than 8,000 years ago. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – Joshua Tree mammal bone

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The Diamond Valley collection housed at WSC is an extremely rich record of Ice Age life in southern California, but it is far from the only Pleistocene site represented in the museum’s collections.

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Fossil Friday – ceratopsid jacket

Back in May, I shared the partial sacrum of a ceratopsid, a horned plant-eating dinosaur, from the Upper Cretaceous Menefee Formation of New Mexico.

The Western Science Center, Zuni Dinosaur Institute for Geosciences, and Southwest Paleontological Society excavated four large plaster jackets from this site, containing vertebrae, ribs, and a hip bone of this partial skeleton.

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Earlier this week, WSC volunteer Joe Reavis began preparing another of these jackets, which contains the rest of the sacrum, the series of fused vertebrae nestled between the right and left hip bones of the ceratopsid. In the image, just to the left of the Max scale bar, you can see a sequence of four fused vertebrae. Ceratopsids have around 10 sacral vertebrae, so these four coupled with the five from the other jacket that I posted about in May mean that we probably have almost the entire sacrum. Opening each new jacket reveals more about this relative of Triceratops that lived 79 million years ago.

Fossil Friday – ammonites

Among the most abundant and aesthetically varied fossils are the ammonites. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – Foerestephyllum

IMG_5395Corals are such an iconic part of the modern ocean, it’s easy to overlook the fact that they didn’t become widespread until the Ordovician Period, 4 billion years after the Earth formed and some 30 million years after the Cambrian Explosion. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – bourbon and geology

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In a few weeks we’ll be opening our new exhibit at WSC, “Life in the Ancient Seas”, which will include a fair number of specimens from Ordovician rocks in the midwest. In recognition of that event, I’m reposting this post, originally published on my old blog “Updates from the Paleontology Lab” in 2011. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – sunset clam

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At the end of this month WSC is opening a new exhibit, “Life in the Ancient Seas”. A big portion of the staff’s efforts are currently focused on getting this ready, including writing labels for individual specimens; this may be the largest exhibit we’ve ever done in terms of shear specimen count! But sometimes these labels can be difficult to write, as the information is often obscure. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – ceratopsid ilium

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On May 17, I posted a photo of the ilium of a ceratopsid dinosaur that we collected in the Upper Cretaceous Menefee Formation of New Mexico. At the time, only the medial surface of the bone was visible; however, WSC volunteer Joe Reavis has been working hard and has now prepped the lateral surface as well. On May 17, I identified the bone as a left ilium, but now that I can see the whole thing, I can say that it’s actually a right ilium.

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Fossil Friday – traces on a mammoth rib

Organisms don’t exist in a vacuum. The whole concept of an ecosystem emphasizes the interactions between an organism and its environment, including with other organisms. A large organism like a mammoth can have wide-ranging effects on numerous other organisms, even after its death. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – Back from Field Work

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The first part of the Western Science Center’s summer field season with Zuni Dinosaur Institute for the Geosciences and the Southwest Paleontological Society is now over, and that means lots of new fossils have been brought to the museum!

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