An Interesting Encounter at Lunch: Chelydra serpentina

Hi everyone! This will be a short post, but one regarding an interesting sighting I had while having lunch at a local diner today. The diner, known aptly as the Lakeside Diner (info), sits on a lake that is frequented by many bird species. Besides the common grackle, blue jay, and house sparrows I saw today, another denizen of the water made an appearance. As a brown rat was getting ready to head back into the water, a large beak made a splash as it grabbed the poor rodent and dragged it into the lake. It was none other than the maw of a common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina.

This turtle, covered in knobs and scales, was around three or so feet in length. It was quite the lake resident. As it plunged back into the murky water, I was able to get some photos of its rugged back and tail. Here they are:

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It goes to show that even in the suburban setting of Stamford, Connecticut, truly incredible species may be found.

PaleoNews #22: Appalachian ceratopsians and more!

Hello and welcome to this shorter edition of PaleoNews. This spring, a few finds related to the landmass of Appalachia have been published on, and so here’s a look back at those.

NEW FINDINGS

Though the find was published on by the media this past summer (e.g., here), the first-ever record of a ceratopsid dinosaur from Appalachia has been published on in the journal PeerJ. In the paper “The first reported ceratopsid dinosaur from eastern North America (Owl Creek Formation, Upper Cretaceous, Mississippi, USA)” (Farke and Phillips, 2017), the discovery of a single tooth from the Maastrichtian Owl Creek Formation is discussed in the context of the biogeography of horned dinosaurs in North America during the Cretaceous. The paper also discusses the Maastrichtian-age deposit that is the Owl Creek Formation and its fauna in some detail, as well as giving a brief overview of the dinosaur clades which inhabited the landmass of Appalachia (Farke and Phillips, 2017).

In the paper, the authors conclude that a dispersal event of ceratopsid dinosaurs occurred in North America as the Western Interior Seaway retreated during the Maastrichtian, the last stage of the Cretaceous period (Farke and Phillips, 2017). Thus, the tooth is both significant for being the first report of a ceratopsid dinosaur from eastern North America as well as for suggesting a possible dispersal event during the Maastrichtian.

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The MS find belonged to the ceratopsidae, as did Triceratops horridus (skull pictured above). 

I also had an article published on ornithomimosaur remains from the Arundel Clay of Maryland (Brownstein, 2017). The finds I describe are important for representing two distinct morphotypes (and thus possibly two distinct species) of ornithomimosaur that existed in the Arundel ecosystem. These dinosaurs would have coexisted with the titanosauriform sauropod Astrodon, the dromaeosaur Deinonychus, the carcharodontosaur Acrocanthosaurus, possibly the ornithopod Tenontosaurus, an indeterminate neoceratopsian, and the obscure nodosaurid Priconodon (e.g. Weishampel, 2006). There is certainly much more material to be published on from the Arundel Clay, so it should be exciting to see how the Arundel’s dinosaurs come to light.

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Two of the pedal unguals representing one of the morphotypes of ornithomimosaur present in the Arundel. 

FEATURED FOSSIL 

Today, I feature the skull of the Aurochs (Bos primigenius), an extinct species of large bovine that inhabited the wilds of Europe, northern Africa, and Asia during the Pleistocene and into the Holocene. Julius Caesar, in book 6 of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, writes on the fantastic size and power of these animals (Commentarii de Bello Gallico 6.28). I highly recommend you read his description, either in translation or the original latin, if you haven’t already, as it gives a seldom-attained glimpse of an extinct animal of a great awe-inspiring nature.

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Overall, this has been a productive spring for Appalachian discoveries. Let’s hope for an even better summer! Thanks for reading.

References

Farke, A.A., and Phillips, G.E. 2017. The first reported ceratopsid dinosaur from eastern North America (Owl Creek Formation, Upper Cretaceous, Mississippi, USA. PeerJ, 5:e3342. 

Brownstein, C.D. 2017. Description of Arundel Clay ornithomimosaur material and a reinterpretation of Nedcolbertia justinhofmanni as an “Ostrich Dinosaur”: biogeographic implicationsPeerJ, 5:e3110. 

Weishampel, D.B. 2006. Another look at the dinosaurs of the East Coast of North America, p. 129-168. In ‘Coletivo Arqueológico-Paleontológico Salense, (eds.), Actas III Jornadas Dinosaurios Entorno. Salas de los Infantes, Burgos, Spain.

 

Earth Day 2017: A Call to be Active in Conservation and Environmentalism

Ever since the end of 2016, I’ve been obsessively scrolling around the planet on Google Earth in my spare time. I’ve realized that I’m not doing this because I’m worried about what we might lose in the future, but because I’m nervous of what we have already lost today. Perhaps this notion of mine is because of my work and interest in paleontology. I’m liable to be looking to the past, not the present. Our current crisis, however, is too close for comfort for me, even in looking at it with a purely scientific perspective.

Late in the afternoon today, I took a hike in the Mianus River Gorge Preserve (their website is here), a beautiful stretch of land in New York that preserves an old growth forest of Hemlock trees that was not logged and turned into farmland due to taking up residence on the steep slopes of the gorge. This preserve was actually the first of the Nature Conservancy’s preserves and the first National Natural History Landmark in the United States , and walking through the gorge and old growth forest gave me a minute or two to think about conservation in general.

The land of the preserve bears scars from when humans exploited the countryside for its land, with the difference between the old-growth forest and the secondary growth forest growing above collapsed stone walls stark. Deforestation leaves its scars. As I read about the sudden uptick in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, the old rock walls which populate the forest floor around myself come to mind.

In previous years, I’ve written articles on this blog on Earth day in celebration. I’m not so sure I can today. Science and the environment are under heavy attack from powerful forces political and economic. It’s up to everyone to stand up for the planet, as many demonstrated today by marching at the March for Science and its sister marches across the globe. Though I couldn’t join them today, I’ve been for my part trying to contact my legislators as much as possible regarding conservation and other issues and donating to conservation organizations among others when I can. Yet the scariness of the moment doesn’t cease. All I can say is that I think it’s going to be a long few years ahead for science and conservation, but with a little luck and a lot of work things will turn out all right. Happy Earth Day.

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo by the author. 

 

 

A New Theory on the Apex Predators of Appalachia

Hello everyone!  I’d like to share with you some recent developments regarding the study of dinosaurs from the eastern United States. Some new exciting research by Gotya et al. (2017) suggests that the apex predators of the continent were neither tyrannosauroids like Dryptosaurus aquilunguis nor huge crocodyliform taxa like Deinosuchus rugosus. 

Gotya et al. (2017) suggest, contrary to previous research, that Appalachia was in fact the home of large relatives of the pitcher plant genus Sarracenia. These plants, named Lythrophytum giganticum (“giant gore plant”), are thought by Gotya et al. (2017) to have grown in large groves, with each plant’s mouth heavily widened to ingest large prey. Through molecular studies of the fossils of this large pitcher plant, Gotya et al. (2017) concluded that the L. giganticum emitted a sweet smell to draw in medium-sized herbivorous dinosaurs and other large herbivores. Then, the action of the herbivores biting the flower would cause the plant to release a highly toxic substance that would paralyze the herbivore. Then, with the herbivore immobilized, the heat of the herbivore’s body would cause each of the flowers of the L. giganticum plants to turn towards the plant’s paralyzed prey, excreting an acidic solution to dissolve the body. Once dissolved, the nutrients of the herbivore would be absorbed by the plants. I have illustrated the proposed process below for better clarity.

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Completely Accurate Restoration. 

I’m very interested to see how work on these giant Mesozoic plants progresses into the future. For more information, click on the link to the paper below:

Gotya HA, Aprille FO, Ferst OLS. 2017. New fossils from the Late Cretaceous of the eastern United States provide evidence for carnivorous plants being the apex predators of Appalachia, or something. Journal of Creepy Creatures 24: 114-122.

Article: Description of Arundel Clay ornithomimosaur material and a reinterpretation of Nedcolbertia justinhofmanni as an “Ostrich Dinosaur”: biogeographic implications

Hi there everyone! My article on ornithomimosaur remains from the Arundel Formation of Maryland was published today at the journal PeerJ. If you have time and are interested in Cretaceous dinosaurs from eastern North America, please check it out here. That’s all for now.

P.S. I have been very busy with several things lately, but I hope to write a few new blog posts in the coming weeks. Thanks again for reading.

A Woman to be Inspired by: Mignon Talbot

Happy International Women’s Day everyone! Today, we are reminded of the struggles women have faced and still face around the globe as well as the countless contributions they have made and continue to make today to our world. I thus wanted to highlight one woman who contributed to paleontology in the eastern United States.

Mignon Talbot was born four years after the end of the Civil War in Iowa City, Iowa (Elder, 1982). Receiving her undergraduate education at Ohio State University, Talbot would go on to Yale to receive her doctorate in 1904 and would be appointed as an instructor of geology at Mt. Holyoke the same year (Elder, 1982). Dr. Talbot quickly ascended the ranks to become the chairman of the Geology department in 1908, and in 1929 would become chairman of both the Geology and Geography departments (Elder, 1982).

Over the course of her career, Dr. Talbot would greatly expand the Triassic ichnofossil and mineral collection at Mt. Holyoke, continuing to passionately do so even after a fire in 1916 would destroy most of the collection (Elder, 1982).

She would also publish a review of crinoids from the early Devonian (Helderbergian) strata of the state of New York (Talbot, 1905). This work would be part of her dissertation, for which she would have the trilobite researcher Dr. Charles Emerson Beecher as a supervisor (Talbot, 1905).

Perhaps her most notable discovery, however, was that of the coelophysoid dinosaur Podokesaurus holyokensis. Dr. Talbot would discover the partial skeleton of this dinosaur encased in cracked bolder near the college in 1910, becoming the first woman to name a non-avian dinosaur species the following year (Talbot, 1911; Turner, Burek & Moody, 2010). Dr. Talbot would remark on the chance of the find in the American Journal of Science in June of 1911 (Albino, accessed March 8, 2015). She would name Podokesaurus from the greek word for swift-footed, referencing the name of the university for which she worked in the specific epithet (Talbot, 1911).

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Cast of the holotype of Podokesaurus on display at the Peabody Museum. Photo by the author, 2015.

Unfortunately, the skeleton of Dr. Talbot’s dinosaur would be destroyed in the 1916 fire that burned down Williston Hall (Albino, accessed March 8, 2015). Talbot would notably remark that she wished the specimen to go on exhibition at Yale or in Washington in the June 1911 issue of the American Journal of Science mentioned previously (Albino, accessed March 8, 2015). Nevertheless, Talbot was largely responsible for the growth of the Holyoke collection after the fire (Elder, 1982). She said to have been actively interested in the profession of paleontology to her death in 1950 (Elder, 1982).

Her contributions to paleontology in the eastern United States are invaluable. The specimen she discovered and described, though now destroyed, is one of the only skeletons of a dinosaur known from the east coast. She will forever remain the first woman to name one of the marvelous lizards.

For more on Podokesaurus, see this post.

References.

Elder E. 1982. Women in Early Geology. Journal of Geological Education 30(5): 287–293.

Talbot M. 1905. Revision of the New York Helderbergian crinoids. American Journal of Science (Series 4) 20(115): 17-34.

Talbot M. 1911. Podokesaurus holyokensis, a new dinosaur of the Connecticut Valley. American Journal of Science 31: 469-479

Turner S, Burek C & Moody RT. 2010. Forgotten women in an extinct Saurian ‘mans’ World. In Moody RT, Buffetaut E, Martill D, Naish D, eds: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. The Geological Society of London Special Publication 343: 111-153.

Albino D. Lost Dinosaur. URL:  http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~dalbino/books/lester/dinosaur.html. Accessed March 8, 2017.

 

 

PaleoNews #22: New Years 2016

Happy new year! It’s been an interesting year this time around, full of new discoveries pertaining to the landmass of Appalachia.

NEW FINDINGS THIS YEAR 

Perhaps the most covered story of a discovery from Appalachia was of the landmass’s newest hadrosaur. Eotrachodon orientalis, known from the likely juvenile holotype specimen MSC 7949, is the only named pre-Campanian non-lambeosaurine hadrosaurid and helps to fill in some of the gaps regarding the evolution of the hadrosaurid dinosaurs (Prieto-Márquez, Erickson & Ebersole, 2016a; 2016b). Eotrachodon is known from the Mooreville Chalk Formation, which has also preserved the remains of the hadrosauroid dinosaur Lophorhothon, the dromaeosaurid Saurornitholestes, and the alligatoroid crocodyliform Deinosuchus (e. g. Schwimmer, 2002; Kiernan & Schwimmer, 2004;Prieto-Márquez, Erickson & Ebersole, 2016a; 2016b). The holotype specimen of this dinosaur is surprisingly complete for an Appalachian dinosaur specimen, consisting of a mostly complete skull and partial skeleton (Prieto-Márquez, Erickson & Ebersole, 2016a; 2016b).

Eotrachodon is especially important because it represents an extremely close outgroup to the clade containing Lambeosaurinae and Saurolophinae (Prieto-Márquez, Erickson & Ebersole,2016a). Alongside the New Jersey taxon Hadrosaurus foulkiiEotrachodon orientalis is one of the most basal hadrosaurids, suggesting that the group may have originated on Appalachia (Prieto-Márquez, Erickson & Ebersole, 2016a; 2016b).

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Along with HadrosaurusEotrachodon is one of the most basal hadrosaurids. Hadrosaurus foulkii fossils displayed at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University. Photo from Wikipedia.

Anné, Hedrick & Schein (2016) described the radius and ulna of a hadrosaurid dinosaur from the Navesink Formation of New Jersey. The elements in question were diagnosed with septic arthritis, the first known case of the ailment to be reported from the Dinosauria (Anné, Hedrick & Schein, 2016).

The forelimb elements provide new information on ailments which affected the dinosaurs, and are also significant for being an example of paleopathology from Appalachia (Anné, Hedrick & Schein, 2016).

Paulina-Carabajal, Lee & Jacobs (2016) examined the skull of the Texan nodosaur Pawpawsaurus campbelli. The endocast of Pawpawsaurus is one of the most well-known of a nodosaurid, thus allowing Paulina-Carabajal, Lee & Jacobs (2016) to examine the morphology of the dinosaur’s inner ear in detail.

 Scans of the internal structure of the skull and brain suggest that the nodosaurid had a poor sense of hearing (Paulina-Carabajal, Lee & Jacobs, 2016). However, Pawpawsaurus was also found to have a good sense of smell, albeit less so than more derived ankylosaurian genera (Paulina-Carabajal, Lee & Jacobs, 2016).

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Pawpawsaurus campbelli walks along an Albian Texas shore alongside Protohadros-like hadrosauroids and a crocodyliform. 

Another nodosaurid from Appalachia was remarked on this year in the literature. Burns & Ebersole (2o16) published an abstract in the program & abstracts book of the 76th SVP annual meeting. The abstract dealt with some exciting new material of a juvenile nodosaurid from the same formation that produced Eotrachodon. The nodosaurid specimen is also one of the smallest known (Burns & Ebersole, 2016).

FEATURED FOSSIL 

This time around, we have the skull of the sebecid crocodyliform Sebecus. This large crocodyliform occupied a predatory niche in Argentina during the Eocene. IMG_3008.jpg

All in all, it has been an exciting year of discoveries regarding the landmass of Appalachia. Here’s hoping for more in the new year. Happy holidays everyone!

 

References 

  1. Prieto-Marquez A, Erickson GM, Ebersole JA. 2016. A primitive hadrosaurid from southeastern North America and the origin and early evolution of ‘duck-billed’ dinosaurs. J. Vert. Paleo. 2016; e1054495. doi: 10.1080/02724634.2015.1054495.
  2. Prieto-Márquez A, Erickson GM, Ebersole JA. Anatomy and osteohistology of the basal hadrosaurid dinosaur Eotrachodon from the uppermost Santonian (Cretaceous) of southern Appalachia. PeerJ 2016; 4:e1872. doi: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1872.

  3. Schwimmer DR. King of the Crocodylians: The Paleobiology of Deinosuchus. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; 2002.

  4. Kiernan K, Schwimmer DR. First record of a Velociraptorine theropod (Tetanurae, Dromaeosauridae) from the eastern Gulf Coastal United States. Mosasaur 2004; 7:89-93.

  5. Anné J, Hedrick BP, Schein JP. 2016. First diagnosis of septic arthritis in a dinosaur. R. Soc. Op. Sci. 3: 160222. doi: 10.1098/rsos.160222.
  6. Paulina-Carabajal A, Lee YN, Jacobs LL. 2016. Endocranial Morphology of the Primitive Nodosaurid Dinosaur Pawpawsaurus campbelli from the Early Cretaceous of North America. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150845. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150845.
  7. Burns ME, Ebersole J. 2016. Juvenile Appalachian Nodosaur Material (Nodosauridae, Ankylosauria) from the Lower Campanian Lower Mooreville Chalk of Alabama. J. Vert. Paleo. 2016; 76: 73B.