The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD

I have had the great pleasure of spending the past two summers as an intern at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD. The Mammoth Site is in the Black Hills and is within an hour or so of other travel destinations such as Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.

The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD (from Jeff the quiet)

The Mammoth Site is one of my favorite museums, and not just because I worked there for two summers. The site was discovered in 1974 when a land developer wanted to build a housing development. The bulldozer operator came across something that he didn’t recognize, so Dr. Larry Agenbroad was called in to identify the find. Dr. Agenbroad, now the site director, recognized the find as a mammoth bone, and the rest is history.

The site itself is a sinkhole that formed when a cave collapsed and a hot spring filled the hole with water. When this sinkhole was open approximately 26,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, the warm waters kept the grass green around the edges of the sinkhole even in the dead of winter. Unsuspecting creatures trying to get a bite to eat would fall into the sinkhole and be unable to climb out due to the steep, slippery clay walls. The most impressive and abundant of these unsuspecting creatures is the Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). At the end of the last field season, 120 tusks had been found, meaning that the remains of at least 60 mammoths are buried in the sediment.

The Mammoth Site is unique, and not just because of the abundance of mammoth fossils. Because the sinkhole is rimmed by a ring of red rock, scientists know where the edges of the sinkhole are and a building was built over it to protect the fragile fossils from exposure to the elements. Visitors can take a guided tour through the bonebed itself, and might even have the opportunity to see scientists excavating. The Mammoth Site holds more than just mammoth fossils: almost 100 species of plants and animals have been uncovered from the site.  Each summer interns, Earthwatch, and Road Scholars come to excavate and expand our knowledge of the last Ice Age.

There is more to explore than just the bonebed! Inside the building, there is a museum and a fossil preparation laboratory. Outside, visitors can take classes in Junior and Advanced Paleontology digs and learn to throw the atlatl. To learn more about the Mammoth Site, check out the link below, or visit the museum! Tell them Aly sent you.

The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD

Hidden in Plain Sight

New discoveries frequently come from unexpected places. In science, that could mean fish thought to be extinct for millions of years found in an African fish market or evidence hiding in our own museums.

In the March issue of Copeia, Dr. Donald Stewart, a fisheries professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York, helped to shine light on a previously unknown species of giant fish from the Amazon River. Using information from a rare 1829 monograph by Louis Agassiz describing a second species of fish in the genus Arapaima, he demonstrated that Arapaima gigas, thought to be the only species in the genus, might not be alone. Arapaima are giant air-breathing fish that live the shallow lakes, flooded forests and connecting channels of the Amazon River basin and grow to be up to 3 meters long (about 10 feet) and weight up to 200 kilograms (about 440 pounds). Because the waters of the Amazon River basin in which the Arapaima live are often hypoxic (oxygen poor), the fish have developed a unique method of breathing: it has an enlarged swim bladder that acts as lungs, allowing the fish to breathe air and requiring it to come to the surface every 5 to 15 minutes to breathe. The Arapaima is an obligate air-breather and uses its gills less and less as it gets older.

The arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche (Arapaima gigas), a South American tropical freshwater fish. Photo in Sevastopol, Ukraine, zoo aquarium by George Chernilevsky

What makes this discovery so unique is that is was made in a museum and not in the Amazon itself; it is possible that this species no longer exists in the wild. This second species was named Arapaima agassizii after paleontologist Louis Agassiz in 1847 by a French biologist, but a subsequent catalog published in 1868 considered it the same species as A. gigas. This statement had not been questioned until Dr. Stewart unearthed the 1829 manuscript describing the species. A possible reason for this oversight might be that the sheer size of Arapaima make them difficult to transport to international museums for study. The original monograph specimen was collected in 1819 from an unknown location in the Brazilian Amazon and brought to Munich, Germany where Louis Agassiz oversaw its illustration. Unfortunately, the skeleton was destroyed when a bomb was dropped on the museum in which it was housed during World War II. That means that the only remaining evidence of this species comes from the illustration and description in Agassiz’s monograph.

According to Dr. Stewart, there are still vast regions of the Amazon River basin where more Arapaima study must be done. He also argues that two other previously described species, A. arapaima from Guyana and A. mapae found in northeastern Brazil outside the Amazon River basin, are both legitimate species and should be considered valid. He is also currently working on a paper describing another species from the central Amazon. If all of these species are recognized as valid, that would bring the number of species in the genus Arapaima up from 1 to 5!

For more information about the new species of fish, check out the links below!

SUNY-ESF Scientist Rediscovers Long-Lost Giant Fish from Amazon

Ferandes, M.N., da Cruz, A.L., da Costa, O.T.F., and S.F. Perry. 2012. Morphometric partitioning of the respiratory surface area and diffusion capacity of the gills and swim bladder in juvenile Amazonian air-breathing fish, Arapaima gigas. Micron 43: 961-970.

Word Wednesday: Taphonomy

As a paleontologist, I often mention taphonomy to my friends and fellow scientists. Unfortunately, I tend to forget that most people, scientists included, don’t often come across this term. Just like most other scientific terms, it can be broken down and easily understood.

taphonomy (n)

Taphonomy breaks down into two parts: tapho and –nomyTapho comes from the Greek words taphoswhich means tomb or burial, and -nomy comes from the Greek word nomos, which means rule or law. In other words, taphonomy means the laws of burial. The term was coined by Russian scientist Ivan Efremov in 1940 to describe the study of what happens to an organism from the time that it dies until it is unearthed by scientists.

From the University of Arizona Department of Geology

Taphonomy allows scientists to develop reasonable hypotheses as to the life, and death, history of fossils. Because only a small percentage of organisms are actually fossilized, it is essential to get the most out of every specimen. If an impression of a dinosaur’s skin is preserved, it is reasonable to assume that it died, or was at least buried, in soft and undisturbed sediments. If a collection of bones are all oriented in the same direction and appear to be sorted by size, it is reasonable to assume that the bones were moved by water after the death of the organism.

For example, if a bear were to die in the middle of a path through the woods, it would be subject to biological and physical processes. Exposed in the road, bits and pieces of the bear might be scavenged by other animals and the body would be decomposed by microorganisms. If it happened to stay there over the winter, the changing temperatures could cause the bones to break, as could water filling the pores of the bones and expanding as it freezes. The ideal situation for fossilization requires that after an organism dies it is quickly buried and not disturbed. The less an organism is disturbed after death, the more likely it is to become a fossil. (To learn more about what happened to the bear bones in the path, watch “Most of a Bear” from The Brain Scoop.)

For more information about taphonomy, check out the links below! If you have any suggestions of scientific terms that you would like me to explain, let me know in the comments.

Taphonomy & Preservation

Taphonomy

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!

NASA images of Eastern and Western Hemispheres of the Earth

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd, 1970. It was developed by senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin as a method of political support for the environmental movement and has been celebrated yearly for the past 43 years.  If you would like to learn more about the history of Earth Day, check out my friend’s blog post at For The Greener Good.

If you’re interested in participating in Earth Day, it could seem overwhelming at first. Never fear, there are many ways to help the planet! The L.A. Times has a list of 7 ways you can honor the planet. Google has a Google Doodle just for the occasion. It’s National Park Week, meaning free admission into all of the United States’ 401 national parks. Add your picture to the face of climate change. Rustle the Leaf has a list of 10 things to do this Earth Day. The EPA has a database of local Earth Day events.

Remember: even the smallest actions add up. Turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth. Turn off the light when you leave a room. Go grocery shopping with a reusable bag. Drink less bottled water and use a reusable water bottle instead. Just go outside and enjoy this planet we live on. Let’s take care of it, because it’s the only one we have.

Coelacanth genome answers evolutionary questions

The coelacanth is one of the strangest Lazarus stories in modern science. This lobe-finned fish was thought to have been extinct for 65 million years until it was discovered amongst a fisherman’s catch by museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer in 1938. The fish, caught off the eastern coast of South Africa, had only ever been seen by scientists in the fossil record. A second species was found in a market in Indonesia in 1997. The coelacanth is a five-foot-long, blue or brown cave-dwelling fish and may hold the key to terrestrial tetrapod evolution.

This week, an international team of scientists announced that they had sequenced the DNA of the African coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae). The genome of this ‘living fossil’ reinforced what scientists had long suspected: the genome of the coelacanth was evolving at a slower rate than that of other species. However, ‘living fossil’ is a misnomer. Species don’t live in a vacuum; the coelacanth has been living and evolving just as long as any other species on Earth. The only difference is the rate at which changes occur. According to Dr. Jessica Alföldi, co-lead author of the paper published in Nature this week, the genes of the coelacanth appear to change at a significantly slower rate than other vertebrates. One possible reason for this slow rate of change could be because coelacanths don’t need to change. These fish live in the deep waters off the eastern coast of Africa. Their habitat has not changed much over the past few million years and neither has the coelacanth.

Coelacanth at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Nantes (by sybarite48)

Sequencing the coelacanth genome has also allowed scientists to answer other nagging questions. For decades scientists have debated whether the coelacanth or the lungfish–another lobe-finned fish with ancient roots–is the basal tetrapodal ancestor. By comparing the DNA and RNA from coelacanth and lungfish to modern tetrapods, scientists concluded that the lungfish is more closely to related to terrestrial tetrapods than the coelacanth. That by no means lessens the coelacanth’s contributions to science. The unwieldy size of the lungfish genome (approximately 100 billion base pairs) makes it too long for scientists to effectively analyze. On the other hand, the genome of the coelacanth is a much more manageable length (similar to our own). That’s not to say that sequencing the coelacanth genome was easy. The African coelacanth is critically endangered, which means there were limited opportunities to do research. Any sample was a precious commodity that could not be wasted; there may not be another chance to sequence the genetic material.

Differences between the genome of the coelacanth and terrestrial tetrapods help to illuminate the changes that occurred with the transition to life on the land. Scientists made four key discoveries. First, they found differences in the regulatory genes involved with the sense of smell. Detecting odors in the air differs from detecting odors underwater and these changes reflect these differences. Secondly, there are key differences in regulatory genes involved with immunity. The transition to land exposed organisms to new pathogens and the genome had to adapt. Thirdly, scientists found regions of the genome had been ‘evolutionarily recruited’ to form the limbs of tetrapods, including arms, legs, fingers and toes. Specifically, ‘HoxD’ genes were likely used by tetrapods to makes those fleshy fins into limbs. Finally, scientists found that an essential gene in waste excretion differed between the coelacanth and tetrapods. This could be a clue to the genetics of the differences in methods of homeostasis: fish release ammonia directly into the water, while tetrapods convert ammonia into urea using the urea cycle. These insights are just the tip of the iceberg: the coelacanth genome likely still holds more keys to terrestrial evolution.

To learn more about the coelacanth genome, check out the link below.

Coelacanth genome surfaces

Word Wednesday: Platypus

The platypus, also known as the Australian duck-mole, is a fascinating creature with a complicated history. In fact, when European naturalists first saw it they thought it was an elaborate hoax because of its duck-bill, beaver-tail and its ability to lay eggs! Today, we better understand the platypus, but it continues to thrill people from all over the world.

Platypus at the Sydney Aquarium (by Stefan Kraft)

Platypus

The name platypus can be broken down into two parts: platy and –pus.  Platy comes from the Greek word ‘platys’ which means flat or broad and –pus comes from the Greek word ‘pous’ which means foot. Ergo, platypus means ‘flat-footed’. Personally, I don’t think this name is as descriptive as it could be. Originally it was intended to be the name of the platypus’ genus, but it had already been used to describe the wood-boring ambrosia beetle. The scientific name was then changed to:

Ornithorhyncus anatinus

Scientific names can seem overwhelming at first, but they can typically be broken down just as easily as any other scientific term. Starting with the genus, Ornithorhynchus can break down into two parts: ornitho and –rhynchusOrnitho comes from the Greek word ‘ornis‘ meaning bird and –rhynchus comes from the Greek word ‘rhynkhos’ which means snout. The second half of the name, anatinus, does not need to be broken down. In Latin, anatinus means ‘duck-like’. Putting it all together, Ornithorhyncus anatinus literally mean duck-like bird-snout. This is a much better description of the platypus!

Mammal Phylogeny (O’Brien, 2008)

Now we know what platypus means, but what is a platypus? They live in burrows along the banks of freshwater rivers and lakes on the eastern coast of Australia, and are predominately nocturnal. Platypus are monotremes (meaning mammals that lay eggs) and along with the extant species of echidna, they are one of only three species of monotremes in the world, all of which live in Australia. They are some of the oldest orders of mammals, followed by the marsupials, and platypus as we know them have been around for approximately 9 million years. In the fossil record, there are remains of other species of platypus, but today there is only one. Because monotremes are basal mammals, they often differ drastically from the more derived orders.

Anatomically, the platypus is incredibly unique. Its duck-bill contains electroreceptors that allow it to find insects hidden in the mud at the bottom of a lake or river. Female platypus lay 2-4 leathery eggs each breeding season. Unlike birds or reptiles, platypus eggs develop in utero for about 28 days and are then incubated externally for about 10 days. After the eggs have hatched, the female produces milk from large glands beneath her skin, which is then secreted through pores on her abdomen. Baby platypus are born with teeth but lose them as the grow older and adults instead grind their food with horny plates in their mouths. Males have hollow spurs at the ankle of their hind legs which are connected to a venom gland. These venomous spurs are used in defense and to assert dominance during the breeding season. The venom can kill smaller animals and though it won’t kill a human, the pain is excruciating.

Platypus skeleton at the Melbourne Museum (by Peter Halasz)

Despite the common misconception, a baby platypus is not called a ‘puggle’. In fact, there is no official name for a baby platypus, but ‘platypup’ is commonly suggested. Similarly, the plural of platypus is not ‘platypi’. Because the root of platypus is Greek and not Latin, the plural should be ‘platypodes’. However, ‘platypuses’ and simply ‘platypus’ are also accepted.

The platypus is an amazing creature. As well as being a scientifically fascinating animal, it is also a source of pride in Australia. It is frequently used as a national mascot, it is the animal emblem of New South Wales, and it appears on the reverse of the 20 cent coin. The platypus is also a part of pop culture, from Pride and Platypus to Perry the Platypus in the tv show Phineas and Ferb.

To learn more about the platypus, check out the links below!

Online Etymology Dictionary: Platypus

Australian Fauna: Platypus

Platypus

O’Brien, S.J. 2008. The Platypus Genome Unraveled. Cell 133:6, 953-955. 

Carl Linnaeus, the Man of Many Names

Carl von Linné by Alexander Roslin (1775)

The history of science is full of interesting characters, and Carl Linnaeus certainly fits the bill. Known as the father of modern taxonomy, he was born in Sweden on May 23rd, 1707. He was only the second generation of the name Linnaeus. In fact, when his father enrolled in school he was required to take a family name (instead of using the patronymic name Ingemarsson) and he chose Linnaeus after a giant linden tree that grew on his family homestead. With a name like that, Carl seemed to be destined for biological greatness.

Linnaeus showed an interest in botany from a very young age. His father, an amateur botanist, encouraged his son’s enthusiasm. When he enrolled at the Lund University in 1727, he knew that botany was a very serious subject. He registered under the name ‘Carolus Linnæus’, the latinized form of his name. He later would use this form in his scientific publications. At Lund University, Linnaeus learned how to classify plants using Tournefort’s system, as well as plants’ methods of reproduction.

After a year, Linnaeus decided to transfer to Uppsala University and the rest is history. There he wrote his thesis ‘Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum’ on plant sexual reproduction. This caught the attention of one of his professors and Linnaeus was invited to give lectures on the subject despite only being a second year student. Around this time he began writing some of his most influential books and decided that Tournefort’s system of classification needed an overhaul. He thought that botanical classification should be simplified and should be based upon the number of stamens and pistils. In that way, anyone who could count and get their hands on a flower would be able to successfully classify it.

In 1732, Linnaeus traveled to Lapland, a province in northern Sweden, on a scientific expedition. His hopes were scientific (to find new plants and animals) as well as economic (to find valuable minerals). There he described approximately 100 previously unknown plant species and subsequently published Flora Lapponica, which included 534 species from the region. While he was in Lapland, he had a sudden epiphany as to the classification of mammals: “If I only knew how many teeth and of what kind every animal had, how many teats and where they were placed, I should perhaps be able to work out a perfectly natural system for the arrangement of all quadrupeds.”

After obtaining his doctorate from the University of Harderwijk in 1735, Linnaeus continued his work improving the modern methods of classification. Not long after he published his magnum opus Systema Naturae, which described binomial nomenclature, the cornerstone of modern taxonomy. Before Linnaeus, naturalists would give species long, descriptive names. For example, the tomato was called Solanum caule inermi herbaceo, foliis pinnatis incisis, meaning ‘solanum with the smooth stem which is herbaceous and has incised pinnate leaves’. That is quite a mouthful! Under Linnaeus’ method, the tomato is simply Solanum lycopersicum. In this way, the names of local species would not become longer and more complicated as more exotic species were discovered! Binomial nomenclature made scientific names shorter and more accesible.

Linnaeus continued to travel around Europe, studying plants and improving his method of classification. In 1757, Linnaeus was granted nobility by the King of Sweden, Adolf Frederick. The next year, Linnaeus left the hustle and bustle of the city and bought two farms in the country: Hammarby and Sävja. The following year he bought the neighboring farm, Edeby. In 1761, he became ennobled and took the name Carl von Linné. After years of sickness, Linnaeus died on January 10th, 1778.

Linnaeus’ influence continued long after his death. In 1783 a medical student named James Edward Smith bought Linnaeus’ enormous collection of plants, insects, shells, letters, and books. Five years later he founded the Linnean Society of London, which is still around to this day. In 1959, William Stearn wrote that because there was no type specimen for the human species, “Linnaeus himself, must stand as the type of his Homo sapiens”. That was enough to make Carl Linnaeus the lectotype, or single name-bearing type specimen, for humans. And though scientists no longer classify plants merely by the number of pistils and stamens in a flower (in reality it’s much more complicated), they still use the Linnean system of binomial nomenclature and the author abbreviation L. appears after the many plants he named.

However, he was by no means universally adored during his life. He was an arrogant man who once said, “No man has ever transformed science in the way that I have.” He had a longstanding feud with Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist who thought that Linnaeus’ method of classification was contrived and artificial. Regardless, Carl Linnaeus, the man with three names who developed the methods for naming every living thing, has an important place in the history of science.

To learn more about Carl Linnaeus and methods of modern taxonomy, check out the links below.

What’s in a name? A history of taxonomy

Homo sapiens

Carl Linnaeus

Oldest dinosaur embryo found in China

Continuing with the dinosaur theme, this week an international team of scientists announced that they had uncovered the oldest dinosaur embryos and that they contained organic material. The team, led by University of Toronto Missasauga paleontologist Robert Reisz, included scientists from Canada, Australia, Germany, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. The fossil site outside the city of Lufeng, in Yunan, China is about 197 to 190 million years old, or from the early Jurassic period.

Both the age and preservation of the embryos make these fossils remarkable. Most dinosaur embryo fossils are from the Cretaceous, meaning this discovery pushes the date of the oldest well-preserved embryos back by over 100 million years. That means that there is more time between when these newly discovered embryos died and the next oldest embryo than between the extinction of dinosaurs and the modern day!

The team found the remains of about 20 embryos in different developmental stages, including eggshells and more than 200 disarticulated bones, from several nests. This variety allowed the scientists to study the embryonic development of these extinct creatures. The remains are thought to be from the sauropodomorph Lufengosaurus, which was common in the region at that time and as an adult was approximately 8 meters long (26 feet).

The scientists focused on the largest embryonic bone, the femur, in their analysis. They noted that the bones grew very quickly, suggesting a short incubation period. Closer inspection showed that the bones had also been reshaped while in the egg, suggesting the embryos were moving around much like the embryos of modern birds.

Utilizing infrared spectroscopy, the team was able to analyze bone-tissue samples and found evidence of collagen fibers, an essential protein found in connective tissues including bone. This breakthrough is all the more impressive because embryonic bones are porous and fragile, making them more vulnerable to the environmental processes during fossilization. This suggests that perhaps other dinosaur fossils could also have organic material.

Bones from Lufengosaurus embryos (like this femur shown in cross-section) have yielded new information about dinosaur development. A. LEBLANC

The picture above is from a cross-section of a femur used to analyze the collagen fibers. The composition of collagen varies between species, so studying these fibers could help scientists to learn more about these extinct creatures. The characteristics of the collagen as well as the embryonic development could help to explain how sauropodomorphs and their descendants, the sauropods, were able to grow to such extreme size.

To learn more about this discovery and what it means to be a dinosaur, check out my Word Wednesday post and the links below.

Nature: Oldest dinosaur embryo fossils discovered in China

University of Toronto Missasauga: World’s oldest dinosaur embryo bonebed  yields organic  remains

Word Wednesday: Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs have fascinated children and adults alike for over one hundred years. Unlike most scientific terms, the average person probably has a good idea of what ‘dinosaur’ means. Just to be sure, let’s break it down.

dinosaur (n)

Dinosaur breaks down into two parts: dino and saur. Dino comes from the Greek word ‘deino‘ which means terrible and –saur comes from the Greek word ‘saurus‘ which means lizard. Ergo, literally speaking dinosaur means terrible lizard. However, that is misleading and not altogether true.

Dinosaurs were in fact reptiles, just like lizards, but there are many, many differences between them. If you get down to the nitty gritty, scientists are very particular as to what qualifies as a true dinosaur. Dinosaurs were terrestrial, meaning that they did not fly, like pterosaurs, or swim, like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. It is important to note that just because a creature has the suffix ‘saur’ in its name does not mean that it is a dinosaur.

Dinosaurs are most easily identified by their pelvis and the way that they walked. For example, many people think that alligators and crocodiles are close dinosaur relatives because they lived at the same time. This is not the case; dinosaurs and alligators used two completely different methods of locomotion. An alligator’s legs are splayed out to either side and it has waddling gait. On the other hand, many dinosaurs were bipedal with their legs directly beneath them and a long tail as counter-balance. Even quadrupedal dinosaurs had legs directly beneath their bodies and didn’t waddle like crocodiles.

The 3 main types of hip joint in tetrapods

When Sir Richard Owen coined the term ‘dinosaur’ in the mid-19th century, dinosaurs were a relatively recent discovery. To Victorian scientists, dinosaur fossils probably did remind them of great and terrible lizards. More recent evidence has solidified dinosaurs’ role as avian ancestors. During the 1990s in China, many dinosaur fossils were found with proto-feathers! To some, it may seem strange that birds are classified in the same clade as dinosaurs when dinosaurs were characterized as being terrestrial. This does not exclude birds because, as descendants, the rules of their ancestors do not apply.

Dinosaurs were complex, fascinating creatures and we still have much to learn about them. To learn more, check out the links below.

Etymology Online: Dinosaur

Sir Richard Owen

Dinosaur Facts

Presenting: Shrewdinger

If your team didn’t make it to the National Championship game, or basketball just isn’t your cup of tea, you might not be interested in ‘March Madness’ brackets. Here’s a bracket that might change your mind: the bracket to name our earliest mammal ancestor. Unfortunately, voting is now closed. Making a bracket to name an extinct shrew may seem strange at first, but scientists frequently try to engage the public and crowd-source data. Examples of crowd-sourcing the work of citizen scientists can be found on the Scientific American website.

So, what is this animal? Well, technically speaking, it doesn’t actually exist. Instead, it is a ‘hypothetical placental mammal ancestor‘. Scientists across the country and across the globe worked together to reconstruct a phylogeny, or family tree, for placental mammals, with the shrew-like ‘hypothetical placental mammal ancestor’ at the base. Here is a video from the American Museum of Natural History  explaining how they found this creature.

Why do we need this bracket? Why can’t the scientists just name the animal and be done with it? There a variety of reasons why. First of all, because the animal is purely hypothetical and there is no corresponding fossil, it cannot be given a scientific Linnean name. Also, this is exciting news. Even the layperson can appreciate the gravity of identifying our basal ancestor. However, the name ‘hypothetical placental mammal ancestor’ does not roll off the tongue. Scientists frequently give fossils nicknames (think Lucy, Ardi or Sue the T-rex). This makes it easier to talk about the fossil without the potential barrier of scientific language.

If scientists name fossils all the time, why make a bracket? Scientists are busy people, you can’t just demand that they give the ‘hypothetical placental mammal ancestor’ a nickname! Besides, by using a bracket and allowing people to vote on their favorite names, this gets the public directly involved with the science. By making science accessible, people will be more inclined to learn more. Science doesn’t have to be scary.

And what is the name for this hypothetical creature? Shrewdinger, a play on its similarity to a shrew and hypothetical nature. To learn more about Shrewdinger and the research surrounding it, check out the links below.

The Naming of the Shrew

Tracing the Face and Age of the Placental Mammal Ancestor