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 women 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.

 

 

Thanksgiving My Oh My!

Thanksgiving My Oh My!

EDIT: I’ve added a link to my preprint on the Maryland theropod remains published this past summer. I’ve focused in a little more on some stuff now but I think it gives a good overview of what I’m focused on.

What a weekend this has been! I’ve finally been able to submit a big biogeography paper I’ve been working on for a while (started writing it last spring) and I have also managed to resubmit another revised manuscript. Sorry I haven’t been posting anything recently, but this year has been rather hectic in terms of research and traveling. Here’s a quick peak into what I’ve been up to.

Some highlights since I last blogged:

In August, I traveled to Dinosaur Ridge, located just outside the Colorado capital of Denver, to view the awe-inspiring trackways which line the sides of an old road which is now used as a bike trail. The large ornithopod tracks (which were mentioned to possibly made by the hadrosauroid Eolambia) and ornithomimosaur tracks were quite stunning. To my pleasant surprise, they also had a site from the Morrison Formation which held oh-so-pretty mahogany colored bones. The views of the red Morrison Formation rocks were absolutely stunning. Those rocks are of the same layer as those which cradle the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The small museum at the Dinosaur Ridge main building was also a nice addition to the day. The people at Dinosaur Ridge have done a very good job of telling a story about the site in the context of the changing geography of North America during the Jurassic and Cretaceous. I especially admired their use of paleogeographic maps with displays on each period of time represented at Dinosaur Ridge in order to really give a greater perspective on the fossils. The displays also excelled at what I find some museums often do not. They gave not only a picture of the dinosaurs and other “cool” animals which lived at Dinosaur Ridge during each period in time, but also gave a picture of the entire environment. The murals by Michael Skrepnick were also lovely, and a life-size outdated Utahraptor sculpture was an amusing addition to the portion of the museum within the building.

Outside, a well-made life-sized Eolambia sculpture shadowed another little display of some Allosaurus bones. All in all, the museum was very good and I definitely recommend checking it out along with viewing the famous trackway.

Here are a few pictures of the museum, the main trackway on the ridge, and the views from Dinosaur Ridge.

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A friendly brachiosaur greets incoming visitors, while a rather murderous-looking Utahraptor peeks from  t new arrivals. Check out those cervicals. Eat your heart out, SV-POW!

 

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The main track site.
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A closer view of the purported Eolambia tracks. The smaller tracks indicate a juvenile ornithopod walking alongside an adult.
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View from the ridge.

On September 18th, I had the honor of presenting some of my research on the paleobiogeography and paleoecology of Appalachian dinosaurs at a meeting for the New York Paleontological Society (NYPS). I heard a number of great talks during the meeting, including one on trilobites from the northeast and another on the formation of arches in rock.

The talk centered around research I’ve been doing for the paper I mentioned above which is centered on comparing dinosaur faunas from Appalachia with other faunas across the globe.

In October, I ventured to the AMNH to view some interesting theropod material from the Cretaceous of New Jersey. I don’t want to give too much away, but I hope to start writing a paper on the specimens I viewed pretty soon. Thank you to Carl Mehling for hosting me!

The weekend before thanksgiving, I was able to travel to Maryland to view some theropod material within the Dinosaur Park collections. The farmland and countryside around the Dinosaur Park site was very pretty. I’ve added a picture below of some of the farmland, which was a very nice treat before a long day of driving. IMG_2168.jpgThanks to Ben at Extinct Monsters for hosting me and showing me the collections. The preprint from this past summer can be found here.

 

I hope I’ll have some more time to blog soon, and thanks for bearing with me until now. I have a couple of ideas for what species I will feature for the next Antediluvian Beasts, so I’ll hopefully be able to write up an article. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Antediluvian Beasts of the East: Errimonykus colayae

Antediluvian Beasts of the East: Errimonykus colayae

The ice forms brittle plates as it encapsulates the cold, dark sea. Whale-sized mosasaurs swim beneath the ice, their lizard-like scales gleaming in the beams of sun which pierce through the crusty surface of the water. This is no place for the light of heart. Only the toughest of dinosaurs live here, including herds of battle-worn hadrosaurs which nibble at the ice for water, heading back to the shore to eat low-lying shrubs. 

Other, more ferocious dinosaurs live here. Amongst them are the tyrannosauroids, which use their large hands and claws to swipe and and impale their victims. The tyrannosauroids vex the hadrosaur herds, the frequent appearance of their sleek feathered coats in the mist above the ocean making the beaked herbivores nervous. The tyrannosaurs, however, are not the hadrosaurs main worries. Rather, their anxiety comes from other, smaller predators. 

One such hadrosaur has the misfortune of being at constant war with these small hunters. He is a large bull, and at 12 meters, he has little to worry about from the tyrannosaurs. However, he must live in constant pain from the attacks of Erimmonykus colayae. These small predators gnaw at the hadrosaur’s tough hide, constantly biting and tasting the herbivore’s flesh. Biting and gnawing and biting and gnawing seem to be the constant actions of the dromaeosaurs. The predators’ teeth have grown blunt from their use, and will soon be replaced by new sets of fangs. In the meantime, the bluntness of the dromaeosaurs’ teeth makes life for the hadrosaur even more miserable, as the fangs cause bruising and are a constant itch. This hadrosaur is particularly unfortunate, as five of the dromaeosaurs have latched on to his flesh for around a year. Erimmonykus attack the hadrosaur in a very sadistic way, waiting for the wounds they’ve inflicted on the poor dinosaur to heal before once again feeding on the flesh of the herbivore. The bull hadrosaur will also have to cope with the burden of the dromaeosaurs’ weight, which increases greatly the longer he carries them with him. He may find salvation if the dromaeosaurs find better-tasting meat, but Erimmonykus rarely leave their victims. Such is life in these harsh lands. 

Erimmonykus colayae was a dromaeosaurid, or “raptor” dinosaur of the subfamily pseudolovecrafinae recently described by Outis, Nemo, Nein & Young (2016) in the journal Introspective Advances in Theropods. Like other pseudolovecrafinines, the skull of E. colayae was robust and elongated. The sharp, serrated teeth of this animal formed 20-degree angles with the animal’s upper jaw, while the bottom teeth were isosceles and serrated on both sides. Large eyes would have been present in the animal, likely for spotting prey in the dark. Finally, a short body and large tail would have given the animal a bird-like appearance.

The most incredible adaptation of E. colayae was its odd foot morphology. Unlike other dromaeosaurs, the claws of E. colayae bore large areas of muscle attachment, seemingly to grasp on to objects for an extended amount of time. However, the lower leg of E. colayae is simplified, bearing resemblance to that of an ostrich. This morphology suggest that E. colayae did not use its highly adapted claws to navigate trees, but rather to cling on to the ground or perhaps more likely into prey items.

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The claw of Errimonykus colayae.

 

Parasitism as a possible lifestyle for dromaeosaurs has previously been discussed in scientific literature (Fraser, 2014). In fact, this lifestyle has also been discussed to be the reason why dinosaurs like Triceratops and Stegosaurus evolved frills and bony plates. These structures would have protected the herbivores from being latched onto by dromaeosaurs. However, E. colayae seems to have taken this lifestyle even further, as it seems to have been able to latch onto prey for long periods of time. E. colayae comes from the far north  of the continent Appalachia in an area dubbed “Errim” by Outis, Nemo, Nein & Young (2016). The locality from which the holotype of E. colayae was discovered also bore the remains of basal hadrosaurid dinosaurs. As hadrosaurs did not evolve any structures like the plates of Stegosaurus on their back, they would have been the perfect targets for E. colayae to latch onto. The claws of E. colayae would have slashed into the skin of these herbivores, their serrated undersides catching on the flesh of the poor hadrosaurs. The dromaeosaurs would nibble on the exposed tissue of the animal. The pain must have been excruciating.

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E. colayae by the author. Pencils on paper, 2016.

Unfortunately for E. colayae, the Late Cretaceous would soon draw to a close. The meteorite that would slam into the Yucatan Peninsula would also send large waves crashing through the seas surrounding Appalachia. With it, the Errim ecosystem would be destroyed. No longer would E. colayae irritate herbivores for long amounts of time. The most sadistic predator in Earth’s history would go extinct.

References 

Outis NG, Nemo FI, Nein BS, Young NY. 2016. A new dromaeosaurid coelurosaur theropod  from a new geographic area pertaining to the continent Appalachia and its implications for dromaeosaur parasitism. Introspective Advances in Theropods 1295: 332-560.

Fraser G. 2014. “Bizarre Structures” Point to Dromaeosaurs as Parasites and a New
Theory for the Origin of Avian Flight. The Journal of Paleontological Sciences 1: 1-27.

Darwin Day 2016: The State of Evolutionary Theory in Modern Times

Darwin Day 2016: The State of Evolutionary Theory in Modern Times

Today marks the 207th anniversary of the birth of one of the key minds in shaping the theory of evolution-Charles Darwin. Born in England, the man who would one day get international fame took a liking to natural history as a young boy. Along with his brother Erasmus, he would attend Shrewsbury School. Darwin later apprenticed as a doctor before going to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. Around the same time, he learned taxidermy.

Eventually, he would embark on the famous Voyage of the Beagle, studying the ecosystems of such places as Patagonia. He would later write on Geology and Botany, as well as conducting research on and postulating the theory of natural selection. Perhaps his best known works are the famous volumes The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Unfortunately, he received much negative attention for his work during his lifetime.

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A specimen of Archaeopteryx at the American Museum of Natural History. Fossils of this dinosaur provided Darwin and his colleagues, such as Thomas Huxley, with evidence of evolution.

Today, instead of delving into the details of the life of Charles Darwin, I’d like to talk about evolution, the concept he helped to postulate, in modern times. As many readers may know, many still dispute the concept of evolution. Furthermore, a warped understanding of modern evolutionary theory is certainly present in the general populous.

But who could blame them? From book cover to TV screen to movie, we are exposed to an incomplete or sometimes even false view of the concept. The idea of an unbroken lineage from microbe to fish to reptile to monkey to man is so commonly exemplified it is almost impossible to not hear, read, or see it when one is interested in evolution.

One of the most common ways to convey the idea of the theory is by showing a picture of a hunched-over chimp transitioning to an upright man. We continue working with the media and educators to make sure everyone interested understands that we are learning about and changing our understanding of evolutionary theory every day.

I’m glad to say that there have been great strides made in this effort lately. The larger online presence of the scientific community has resulted in the creation of popular science blogs. After 200 years evolution keeps on spreading among the minds of the human race.

So on this Darwin Day, let’s make a toast to the progress made over the past years. Let’s honor the minds who first came up with the theory. Let’s toast to the fact that their work is still honored and remembered.

 

 

I’ve Got a Challenge for You!

I put this together last night while I was writing about dryptosaurids, and I figured I should post it here as it seems everyone likes this sort of art/writing challenge. Please, give it a try, and I am excited to see what you come up with.

THE PREHISTORIC LANDMASS OF APPALACHIA CHALLENGE
Day 1. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian theropod (avian or non-avian).

Day 2. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian amphibian.

Day 3. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian ornithopod.

Day 4. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian squamate.

Day 5. Illustrate/ write about your favorite Appalachian pterosaur.

Day 6. Illustrate/write about a speculative behavior among Appalachian organisms.

Day 7. Illustrate/write about a migration of polar Appalachian dinosaurs (Google “Dinosaurs from Bylot Island”, “Dinosaurs from Nunavut” and “Dinosaurs from Axel Hielberg Island” for more information).

Day 8. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian Formation and the ecosystem it represents.

Day 9. Illustrate/write about your favorite Appalachian invertebrate.

Day 10. Illustrate/write about an imaginary inhabitant of Appalachia.

Earth Day 2015

Earth Day 2015

Hello all! Just a quick post!

Happy Earth Day! On this day we commemorate the wondrous planet we live on. This planet has a resource that we must protect: life. As of now, many species are becoming endangered and even extinct due to man. This Earth Day, let’s all try to become more aware of the ecosystems we don’t really treat to well! That’s all for now. I will leave you with this:

An alpine lake below the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado. We need to protect ecosystems like these. Photo by the author, 2015.
An alpine lake below the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado. We need to protect ecosystems like these. Photo by the author, 2015.

Pi DAY!

Pi DAY!

Hi everyone! This is just a quick post. I would like to wish everyone a happy pi day. For those who don’t know, today is March 14, 2015, or 3/14/15. These correspond to the first five digits of pi: 3.1415, and this date only happens once every hundred years. I like to think about how paleontology was 100 years ago. We have advanced so much since then. Anyways, enjoy pi day and thanks for reading!

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Happy Pi day from my sketchbook!