Human Origin Traced to Worm Which Swam 0.5 Billion Years Ago

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Paleontologists claim to have tracked the origins of humans and other vertebrates to a worm that swam in today’s Canada. The team concluded that the extinct Pikaia gracilens is the most primitive known member of the chordate family.

Scale diagram of various Burgess Shale invertebrates, P. gracilens in yellow. Author: Matt Martyniuk (Dinoguy2)

The chordate family includes fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals – pretty much all of what we consider to be ‘evolved’ life, so tracing its origins would be quite a big deal. This is why Simon Conway Morris of the Cambridge University went to Canada to analyze fossils from the Canadian Rockies.

His findings were published in the British scientific journal Biological Reviews; he identified a notochord or rod that would become part of the backbone in vertebrates, and skeletal muscle tissue called myomeres in 114 fossil specimens of the creature, as well as a vascular system.

“The discovery of myomeres is the smoking gun that we have long been seeking,” said the study’s lead author, Simon Conway Morris of the Cambridge University. “Now with myomeres, a nerve chord, a notochord and a vascular system all identified, this study clearly places Pikaia as the planet’s most primitive chordate. “So, next time we put the family photograph on the mantle-piece, there in the background will be Pikaia.”

The first members of Pikaia were discovered in 1911, but back then the animals were dismissed as ancestors of worms or eels, and it wasn’t until 1970 that Morris suggested the five-centimeter sideways flattened animal could be our ancestor.

“In particular, it was our use of an electron microscope that allowed us to see very fine details of its anatomy,” Jean-Bernard Caron, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto and the study’s co-author, told AFP.

Finding out that all the animal diversity we see today can be traced to this simple animal puts a lot of things into perspective, and, as Caron says, it’s really humbling.

“It’s very humbling to know that swans, snakes, bears, zebras and, incredibly, humans all share a deep history with this tiny creature no longer than my thumb,” he said.


How Much Money Do Paleontologists Make?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Young paleontologist

Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations to determine the ages of plants, micro-organisms, animals and ancient civilizations. Dating of fossils is derived from the ages of rock layers above and below the fossils in a process called radiometric dating, according to the University of California Berkeley. While many paleontologists work in museums and college research labs, some help recover fossils in the coal and oil industries. Paleontologists earn salaries averaging over $100,000 annually.

Salary and Qualifications

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes paleontologists as geoscientists, which also includes geologists, geochemists and seismologists. They earned average annual salaries of $106,780 as of May 2012, according to the BLS. The top 25 percent made over $130,330 annually. Most paleontologists have master’s or Ph.D. degrees in paleontology. Doctorate degrees are usually necessary for high-level research and professors’ jobs at colleges and universities. To succeed in their field, paleontologists must be knowledgeable about many different sciences, including biology, chemistry, geology and physics. Other essential requirements include math, critical-thinking, problem-solving, interpersonal, speaking, writing and computer skills.

Salary by State

A paleontologist’s salary can vary considerably by state. They earned the highest annual salaries of $153,120 in Oklahoma in 2012, according to the BLS. They also earned relatively high salaries in Texas and Washington, D.C., at $146,800 and $128,040 per year, respectively. Paleontologists who worked in Alaska earned $111,670 annually, while those in Colorado earned salaries closer to the national average at $106,030. Those in California and Pennsylvania earned lower salaries of $95,670 and $67,300, respectively.

Salary by Industry

Besides experience and geographic area, the industry in which paleontologists work also dictates their earnings. They earned the highest salaries of $155,830 per year in the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry, according to the BLS, and the second and third highest salaries in oil and gas extraction and mining support activities — $149,750 and $140,520. Those who worked for federal and state government agencies made $96,820 and $64,970 per year, respectively. Moreover, paleontologist who teach at universities earn $40,000 to $60,000 for nine months of work, according to The Paleontological Society.

Job Outlook

The BLS indicates that jobs for geoscientists, including paleontologists, will increase 21 percent in the next decade, which is faster than the 14 percent growth rate for all jobs. Many job opportunities for paleontologists will be spurred by the demand for responsible land and resource management. A large number of geoscientists and paleontologists are also expected to retire within the next 10 years, which should produce jobs for new entrants in the field.



How Scientists Identify Species?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A T-rex at the Natural History Museum: A new study claims that the biology of dinosaurs was skewed towards big species, with many more mammoth examples than among today's animals

How can scientists tell one species from another?

In biology, a species (abbreviated sp., with the plural form species abbreviated spp.) is the basic unit of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which two individuals can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. While this definition is often adequate, looked at more closely it is problematic. For example, with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, or in a ring species, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear. Other ways of defining species include similarity of DNA, morphology, or ecological niche.

All species are given a two-part name, a “binomial”. The first part of a binomial is the genus to which the species belongs. The second part is called the specific name or the specific epithet (in botany, also sometimes in zoology). For example, Boa constrictor is one of four species of the Boa genus.

Species were seen from the time of Aristotle until the 18th century as fixed kinds that could be arranged in a hierarchy, the great chain of being. In the 19th century, biologists grasped that species could evolve given sufficient time. Charles Darwin’s 1859 book The Origin of Species explained how species could arise by natural selection. Genes can sometimes be exchanged between species by horizontal gene transfer; and species may become extinct for a variety of reasons.

A collection of skeletons mounted in museums of various dinosaurs

Species description

A species is given a name when a type specimen is described formally by a scientist, in a paper that assigns it a scientific name. The name becomes a validly published name (in botany) or an available name (in zoology) when the paper is accepted for publication. The type material is provided for other scientists to examine, often in the research collection of a major museum. Scientists are asked to choose names that, in the words of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, are “appropriate, compact, euphonious, memorable, and do not cause offence.”

Ceratopsia Facts

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ceratopsia by Mad-Hatter-LCarol on DeviantArt

Ceratopians are also known as ceratopsians, and it means ‘horned eye’. They are very interesting dinosaurs and a lot different than the sauropods and theropods. To identify a ceratopian is not difficult because they had horns, bony frills and curved bony beaks. Ceratopians lived mainly in the Cretaceous period.

One of the most popular type of ceratopian was the Triceratops. The reason why they are called ‘horned eye’ is because they had remarkable horns above their eyes. Triceratops was the largest of this group of family and its brow horns were nearly up to a meter long.

Triceratops, one of the largest ceratopsians (a chasmosaurinae ceratopsid). It had solid frill and long horns.


Most of the ceratopians had an enormous neck frill. The frill was made of solid bone, and covered with their skin. This frill protected the ceratopians neck from being bitten or clawed by the predators. In some dinosaurs like the big Torosaurus, the bony frill grew halfway down the creature’s back. One particular dinosaur, the Psittacosaurus (parrot-lizard), did not have an obvious neck frill, but it did have another feature of the ceratopian group, which was a parrot-like beak. Experts believe this dinosaur should belong to the ceratopians, despite not having a transparent neck frill.

All ceratopians ate were herbivores and ate plants and their parrot-like beaks helped them to chop off tough plant stems. The horned eye dinosaurs included many different types of dinosaur. The group lived mainly towards the end of the Cretaceous period. Like the ornithopods, the ceratopians evolved during their time on Earth. Some of the first ceratopians, like the Protoceratops, did not have have horns, instead they had a thick, bony areas over their snouts and eyes. But eventually in time, the ceratopians developed horns. Pentaceratops was the later dinosaur to appear than Protoceratops. Pentaceratops had the most horns of all the horned dinosaurs, and its name means ‘five horned face’.

Like the rhinoceroses of today, the ceratopians walked on all four legs. The Styracosaurus had strong, muscular legs to support its massive heavy head. Its feet ended in toes which were spread out to help carry the weight of its enormous body. Another dinosaur as mentioned earlier, the Psittacosaurus, usually walked on two legs most of the time, but it may have walked on four legs in certain occasions. The ceratopians lived in North America, Europe and Asia, which are believed to be the only places where their skeleton fossils have been found so far.

Another fact about ceratopians is that some of them had holes in their frills.The neck frills were large and heavy, and to make them lighter, some of them had large holes in them to reduce the weight. Also the skin covering the bony frill stretched over the holes to make them invisible.

Ceratopsian fossil discoveries. The presence of Jurassic ceratopsians only in Asia indicates an Asian origin for the group, while the more derived ceratopsids occur only in North America save for one Asian species. Questionable remains are indicated with question marks. By Sheep81



How Dinosaur Fossils Were Formed?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Diagram of How Dinosaur Fossils Were Formed

Was there any real proof that dinosaurs really did exist? To begin with, the fossils are the only source, clue and remains of the prehistoric animals and plants that lived millions of years ago.

Fossils were the only discovery made available to prove and gather evidence that these ancient animals really did exist. Fossils are mainly embedded in rocks which are several million years old. Generally, the hardest parts of the animals are left in the rocks such as the teeth and bones, and the flesh has eventually decayed. However, if nothing remains of an animal, there may be a hollow which the animal left behind. This hollow could be the precise shape in the rock of its body. Or it can even leave a footprint in the mud or soft sand when it was walking.

Diego Pol lying by large femur thigh bone fossil of the new titanosaur find, April 2015

A dinosaur became a fossil after it died. The body may have fallen, or been washed into a river. The perished body may have laid on the bottom of the river floor and slowly the flesh rotted away. After that the skeleton of the dinosaur was gradually buried under the mud, and the minerals from the water seeped into the bones and preserved them. Over millions of years, the mud transformed into layers of rock and the skeleton of the dinosaur became a fossil. The sea level then dropped after millions of years later. The wind and rain then wears away the rock and that reveals the fossils which is substantial evidence that dinosaurs once lived on Earth.

The experts on fossils are called paleontologists, they are known as the scientists who do all the research and the hectic detective work. Paleontologists have discovered fossils in many parts of the world. Their work can be very excruciating due to the fossils being scattered in pieces once they are found. It is very rare that paleontologists will find a whole skeleton preserved in the rock, but it is possible. They first identify the fossil bones, remove them from the ground, assemble the bones like a jigsaw, and then they determine and calculate how old the fossils are. The result of their work can be seen in natural history museums where the dinosaur skeletons are mounted and put on display for the public to view.

Besides fossil bones and teeth, which is not exactly the only clue that these animals of the past left behind, the footprints and the imprint of scaly skin, made in soft mud millions of years ago have also been found. Some of the most astounding fossils found are the droppings (or fossil feces) of the dinosaurs, and they are called coprolites. What scientists do is they grind up the dinosaur droppings, turn them into fine dust and then they find out what the dinosaurs ate to survive.

What is Paleontology?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Because paleontologists are interested in finding out about all life on earth, they study all kinds of fossils, not just dinosaur bones. There are many different types of paleontologists. Some study fossil plants, some study fossil fish, some study fossil mammals, and some study dinosaurs. Pick a type of fossil and there’s bound to be a paleontologist that studies that type of fossil.

Paleontology is a combination of Geology (study of rocks) and Biology (Study of Life). Paleontologists also use many other types of sciences to help them understand the past. For example, they used engineering to figure out how hard a Tyrannosaurus Rex bites.

There are two main types of science: Historical science, and experimental science. In experimental science, scientists come up with a hypothesis (an idea you can test) and conduct experiments to see if they can disprove their idea. If they can’t disprove the hypothesis and other scientists can’t find experiments that disprove the hypothesis, the hypothesis becomes a scientific theory.

In historical science, scientists work a little bit differently. They come up with a hypothesis, but rather than conduct experiments to disprove the hypothesis, they go out and try to find evidence that supports the hypothesis. If enough evidence is found to support the hypothesis, the hypothesis is accepted as a scientific theory. Paleontology is a historical science.

The History Of Paleontology

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The History Of Paleontology

Some of the earliest attempts of using fossils in a scientific way come from China and Ancient Greece. The Chinese naturalist, Shen Kou, used bamboo fossils to show climate changes. He found fossilized bamboo in places that, at his time, were too dry for bamboo to live. An even earlier Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, found fossilized sea shells on dry land, concluding that the dry land must have been covered by water at some time.


In the 1800’s there was a worldwide interest in geology and paleontology. This interest was sparked by two men, Charles Marsh and Edward Cope, who were responsible for discovering 142 species of dinosaurs. Both Marsh and Cope were wealthy, and used their personal wealth and influence to find dinosaur bones. Somehow, the two men got into a personal feud to see who could discover more dinosaurs. They even went as far as stealing the other’s bones, and spying to get ahead. People called Marsh’s and Cope’s feud the Great Bone War. The two men and their assistants would discover enough dinosaur bones to keep paleontologists working for several decades.

They also discovered the Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation is a layer of rock that holds more Jurassic dinosaur bones than any other formation in North America. Years after the bone wars, people got tired of looking for dinosaurs. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when scientists uncovered new facts about dinosaurs, and people’s interest began to grow again.


What is a Paleontologist?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What is a Paleontologist?

Paleontology is the science dealing with the fossils of long-deceased animals and plants that lived up to billions of years ago. It’s an interdisciplinary field involving geology, archaeology, chemistry, biology, archaeology and anthropology.

A paleontologist studies the history and process of evolution by examining fossils, the preserved traces of long dead animals and plants. Using data from fossilized bones, ancient pollen, and other clues, paleontologists dig up the details on past climates and past extinctions. They tell us about the history of the earth, the evolution of life, and our own place in the world.

Paleontologist Paul Sereno

What Does a Paleontologist Do?

Paleontologists plan, direct, and conduct fieldwork projects to search for fossils or collect samples. They document the work site and dig up fossils or take core samples from lakes, soil, or ice sheets. They then need to preserve the specimens and prepare them for transport to the institution where they’ll be cleaned and studied. Some work in laboratories, using chemical techniques to analyze fossilized samples and ancient pollen. They share their research by writing journal articles and presenting to colleagues at professional conferences. Most need to write applications for grants to support their research. Many teach and conduct research as faculty members at colleges and universities.

Paleontologists usually specialize in a particular research area. For example, micropaleontologists study microscopic fossils. Paleobotanistsconduct research on fossil plants, including algae and fungi. Palynologists study pollen and spores. Invertebrate paleontologists study fossils of invertebrate animals like mollusks and worms. Vertebrate paleontologists focus on the fossils of vertebrate animals, including fish. Human paleontologists or paleoanthropologists focus on the fossils of prehistoric humans and pre-human hominids. Taphonomists study the process that creates fossils. Ichnologists hunt for fossil tracks, trails, and footprints, such as the dinosaur tracks found in Arkansas in 2011. Paleoecologists use fossils, spores, pollen, and other information to study the ecologies and climates of the past.

The revelations they uncover can help us understand the past, so that we don’t repeat it. They can also provide context for comparison between the current state of our environment and biodiversity, and those of ancient and turbulent epochs.

Where Does a Paleontologist Work?

Most paleontologists are faculty members in the geology departments of colleges and universities. Some work in museums. A handful are employed by government geological surveys, where they make geological maps or investigate geological issues. A few help oil companies search for petroleum.

Paleontologists spend most of their time in offices while teaching, writing, or analyzing their finds. However, some conduct research in laboratories. When conducting fieldwork, paleontologists work outdoors, where they do rigorous physical work in all kinds of weather.

What Is the Average Paleontologist Salary?

Indeed listed the average annual salary of paleontologists as $64,000 in January 2015.

State Total Employment Bottom 25% Median Salary Top 75%
Alabama 310 $51,060 $66,160 $81,240
Alaska 610 $72,940 $101,580 $146,260
Arizona 410 $50,920 $61,230 $82,450
Arkansas 110 $38,020 $57,410 $81,320
California 5,170 $71,940 $97,170 $116,000
Colorado 2,490 $77,440 $100,300 $138,280
Connecticut 140 $54,240 $67,850 $81,000
Delaware 80 $65,890 $73,380 $85,440
District of Columbia 70
Florida 650 $52,910 $70,170 $95,150
Georgia 300 $51,830 $62,620 $73,990
Hawaii 80 $67,800 $90,910 $121,720
Idaho 130 $59,310 $68,880 $80,280
Illinois 340 $65,050 $85,550 $103,640
Indiana 190 $46,250 $59,290 $81,040
Iowa 50
Kansas 230 $52,690 $71,090 $91,950
Kentucky 200 $46,600 $60,400 $77,990
Louisiana 910 $61,880 $90,420 $116,830
Maine 100 $56,100 $64,220 $72,130
Maryland 580 $62,910 $76,840 $105,070
Massachusetts 190 $56,850 $75,450 $98,390
Michigan 350 $54,700 $66,080 $78,550
Minnesota 130 $59,700 $77,440 $98,490
Mississippi 430 $68,060 $89,440 $106,360
Missouri 160 $46,520 $67,950 $83,480
Montana 230 $49,780 $72,410 $103,310
Nebraska 150 $44,700 $59,300 $94,990
Nevada 740 $63,930 $85,770 $109,250
New Hampshire 70 $56,000 $75,390 $107,370
New Jersey 630 $61,970 $78,300 $97,750
New Mexico 280 $53,530 $66,500 $89,450
New York 940 $54,310 $67,780 $88,180
North Carolina 560 $53,890 $65,190 $78,310
North Dakota $67,600 $74,740 $84,850
Ohio 290 $58,440 $71,440 $84,800
Oklahoma 1,210 $71,140 $118,110 $173,660
Oregon 410 $53,560 $62,540 $80,280
Pennsylvania 1,030 $50,940 $63,630 $84,200
Puerto Rico $43,130 $51,860 $58,630
Rhode Island 110 $49,600 $64,610 $85,770
South Carolina 150 $30,890 $41,630 $75,330
South Dakota 60 $45,350 $54,870 $66,190
Tennessee 200 $43,260 $55,050 $78,940
Texas 10,470 $91,400 $139,870
Utah 340 $55,810 $68,350 $84,860
Vermont 30 $56,520 $76,700 $92,560
Virginia 450 $59,390 $89,450 $127,130
Washington 1,120 $61,190 $79,110 $102,690
West Virginia 130 $40,480 $49,900 $74,670
Wisconsin 190 $60,200 $73,630 $90,590
Wyoming 220 $58,340 $72,120 $96,330
Table data taken from BLS (

Paleontology Jobs & Job Description

Paleontologist jobs deal primarily with the study of animal and plant fossils from various eras of earth’s prehistory. While jobs vary significantly, most paleontologists would call the below list of tasks a basic outline of their scope of work:

  • Develop data collection methods and systems tailored to a particular era, site or project goal
  • Collect information from observations, satellite, GIS/GPS and concussive instruments
  • Record and manage records of observations
  • Analyze field data, laboratory samples, and other sources of information to uncover patterns about prehistoric life and origins
  • Prepare reports and present research findings
  • Communicate with project leads, administrators and other staff through regular, scheduled field status reports and presentation of research findings
  • Engage in field survey, testing, monitoring, and data recovery
  • Advise organizations on the possible impact of policies, programs, and products

A lead paleontologist, chief researcher, or project manager may have the following or similar additional responsibilities, depending on the project and its goals:

  • Foster a positive and safe work environment
  • Develop and inform project scopes, schedules, and budgets
  • Navigate federal and international protocols, regulations, and best practices
  • Test and calibrate equipment and instruments
  • Ensure quality assurance, organization, and appropriate tracking of field data
  • Oversee the preservation of site integrity
  • Engage in office-based tasks including technical report preparation and submittal, as well as liaising with site stakeholders
  • Supervise fieldwork (survey, site recording, testing, monitoring, and data integrity) of multiple field crews
  • Communicate with funding agencies through grant applications
  • Communicate with stakeholders through field status reports and presentation of team findings

What Is the Job Demand for Paleontologists?

While the government projects that employment of geoscientists as a whole will grow quickly, the outlook for paleontologists specifically is more conservative. The Paleontological Research Institution notes that there are fewer jobs in this area in the U.S. than there were a few years ago, but a few good jobs still become available each year.

How Do I Get a Paleontology Degree?

A Ph.D. is usually necessary for paleontological careers, particularly in academia. Aspiring paleontologists should have extensive knowledge of biology and geology. A double-major with full training in both is the best educational option. Chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, and computer science are also very important. Undergraduate geology classes typically include mineralogy, stratigraphy, sedimentary petrology, vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and genetics.

Field and lab experience are also vital. Paleontologists will need to know professional standards and procedures for surveying work sites and unearthing their finds. Look for volunteer opportunities at nearby museums, or join a mineral or fossil club at your university.

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Paleontologists Have?

  • The Palaeontological Association publishes academic journals, newsletters and field guides, sponsors an annual meeting and field excursions, provides Web resources, and funds grants and awards. It also hosts career information.
  • The International Palaeontological Association aims to coordinate international cooperation among paleontologists, and to integrate the various sub-disciplines of the field. It also organizes international meetings, issues a world directory of paleontologists, and publishes Lethaia, a leading paleontological academic journal.
  • Founded in 1940, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology provides a global forum for vertebrate paleontologists through publications, annual meetings, and an email list. It accepts a wide variety of professionals, including science artists and writers.

Paleontologists Doubt ‘Dinosaur Dance Floor’

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Potholes or tracks? A group of paleontologists visited the northern Arizona wilderness site nicknamed a “dinosaur dance floor” and concluded there were no dinosaur tracks there, only a dense collection of unusual potholes eroded in the sandstone. So the scientist who leads the University of Utah’s geology department says she will team up with the skeptics for a follow-up study.


A group of paleontologists visited the northern Arizona wilderness site nicknamed a “dinosaur dance floor” and concluded there were no dinosaur tracks there, only a dense collection of unusual potholes eroded in the sandstone.

So the scientist who leads the University of Utah’s geology department says she will team up with the skeptics for a follow-up study.

“Science is an evolving process where we seek the truth,” says Marjorie Chan, professor and chair of geology and geophysics, and co-author of a recent study that concluded the pockmarked, three-quarter-acre site in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument was a 190-million-year-old dinosaur “trample surface”.

“We went through the proper scientific process of careful study, comparisons with other published works and peer review” of the study by independent scientists, Chan adds. “We gave the project considerable critical thought and came up with a different interpretation than the paleontologists, but we are open to dialogue and look forward to collaborating to resolve the controversy.”

On Oct. 30 – more than a week after the Utah study was publicized worldwide – four scientists hiked to the remote wilderness-area site: paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, director and curator of the University of Wyoming’s Geological Museum; U.S. Bureau of Land Management paleontologist Alan Titus and geologist Rody Cox; and paleontologist Andrew Milner of the St. George (Utah) Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.

They saw dinosaur tracks en route, but none in the pockmarked “dance floor.”

“There simply are no tracks or real track-like features at this site,” Breithaupt says. “We will be investigating the formation of these features in the upcoming study. Science works best when scientists work together.”

Chan and Winston Seiler, who conducted the research as part of his master’s thesis, say they are not retracting their study, which was published in the October issue of Palaios, an international paleontology journal. But they acknowledge there are strong arguments for the features being potholes rather than dinosaur tracks. The original study cited the possibility that the features were potholes and outlined arguments against it.

Chan says if the features are potholes, they are extremely unusual compared with typical potholes on the Colorado Plateau – and their formation still needs to be explained fully. She will work with Breithaupt and the others to examine the site in greater detail.

University of Utah geologist Winston Seiler walks among hundreds of what appear to be dinosaur footprints in a “trample surface” that likely was a watering hole amid desert sand dunes during the Jurassic Period 190 million years ago. The track site, which also appears to include some dinosaur tail-drag marks, is located in Coyote Buttes North area along the Arizona-Utah border. Credit: Roger Seiler

“A reinterpretation could emerge, but those conclusions have not yet been written as a scientific paper and need to be submitted to a journal for publication after peer review by other scientists,” she says.

Nevertheless, the University of Utah geologists feel obligated to inform the public of the difference of opinion because of wide publicity about the “dinosaur dance floor.”

“The public interest has been tremendous, and fortunately there are many other fantastic, accessible, documented dinosaur track sites than can be visited in the area,” Breithaput says.

Seiler spent considerable time at the unusual site. He acknowledges that the dinosaur track interpretation is controversial, further study is warranted, and if the paleontologists turn out to be correct, “that’s part of science.”

Chan adds: “This is how science works, and we’ll have to see how it shakes out in the end.”


Materials provided by University of Utah & published by November 7, 2008


Here’s How To Get Every Kid’s Dream Job

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Escavation site

Paleontology may be one of the coolest careers to break into, but it’s far from the easiest.

As Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic writer Brian Switek laments, while some people develop other interests, quite a few “would-be” paleontologists simply didn’t know where to start.

Luckily, Robert T. Bakker, author of “The Dinosaur Heresies,” “Raptor Red,” and “The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs,” and curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Matthew T. Mossbrucker, director and curator of the Morrison Natural History Museum, and discoverer of the first baby Stegosaurus fossils, shed some light on how to get your start as a paleontologist during a recent Reddit AMA.

Paleontologists prepare to remove a Tyrannosaurus rex skull from a fossil dig site in northern Montana

First, there are a few myths and misconceptions that need dispelling. The first is that paleontologists spend all their time digging for dinosaurs.

According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology website, “Paleontology is a rich field, imbued with a long and interesting past and an even more intriguing and hopeful future. Many people think paleontology is the study of fossils. In fact, paleontology is much more.”

Paleontology is divided into various sub-disciplines including the study of microscopic fossils, fossil plants, invertebrate animal fossils, vertebrate fossils, and prehistoric human and proto-human fossils.

And as Bakker and Mossbrucker explain, there are many jobs you can hold within the paleontology field.

Bakker says most vertebrate paleontologists make a living teaching geology or anatomy. “A few lucky ones” get full time jobs working in a museum. Fossils are also a hot commodity right now, since scientists can use them to teach basic science literacy, so fossil-sleuth could be a lucrative route.

Generally, though, the pay isn’t as much as you might hope.

“Doc [Bakker] always told me to ‘marry money,’” Mossbrucker jokes. “Seriously though, this is a calling. Most of us live a monastic lifestyle, while some took his sage advice.”

For some, spending time with this guy is worth the low pay. Mario Tama/Getty Images

After all this, if pursuing a career in paleontology is still your calling, Bakker and Mossbrucker have a couple tips before you pursue the required higher education:

  1. The best way to begin a career in dinosaurology is to start young. Bakker suggests studying living animals at a zoo or in your own backyard, filming them, and then using photo prints to sketch in the bones.

“Find the nearest display of fossils — whether at the natural history museum, science center, or state/national park — and visit,” Mossbrucker suggests. “While visiting, take a guided tour. Ask questions. Then, slow down, put the phone away and bask in the glory of the old dead things. Read the labels. (Seriously, nobody reads the labels…) and soak it all in.”

  1. The next step is to volunteer, preferably in a program at your nearest natural history museum with a paleontology department. This will provide a chance to experience various aspects of what paleontology is all about and explore undergraduate programs.

“Get involved with your local museum and get your hands dirty,” Mossbrucker says.

“In museums where I work — one huge, two small — volunteers are essential,” Bakker says. “They find most of the specimens and do most of the tour-guide duties. In exceptional cases, volunteers are so good that we move heaven and earth to get a salary for them. And succeed.”

“This life is a calling and I’m grateful for every moment of it,” Mossbrucker says of his job as a paleontologist. “I’m surrounded by interesting objects, curious people, and a constant stream of weirdness.”