Friday Headlines, July 18, 2013
THE LATEST IN THE GEOSCIENCES
Strong evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex was a hunter, not a scavenger
New species of ceratopsian dinosaur found in Utah (and some poetry)
Problems with the Forest Service’s proposed rules for paleontological specimens
First of all, I hate the word ‘proves,’ because it doesn’t. What it does prove is that Tyrannosaurus was inclined to bite the tails of living hadrosaurs, which as the implication that T. rex was actively hunting.
In South Dakota, two fused tail vertebrae of a plant-eating, duck-billed hadrosaur dinosaur was found with an embedded Tyrannosaurus tooth. The bones showed signs of healing around the tooth, showing that the injury had happened during the life of the hadrosaur, and that the hadrosaur survived and began to heal.
If T. rex were a scavenging animal, then it would be unexpected for it to have bitten at any living large prey animal. Clearly, the hadrosaur had been alive, thus it follows that the Tyrannosaurus was hunting.
There’s lots of reasons to like this. For one, it was found in Utah. I’m going to be in Utah pretty soon doing some field work, although in much younger rocks deposited after dinosaurs went extinct.
For two, it’s a ceratopsian, which are my favorite. The ceratopsians include Triceratops. These are the tank-like ones with all the horns and the big neck frills. I think I like ceratopsians for the same reason I like rhinoceroses: They may be vegetarian, but don’t mess with them.
For three, it’s totally an open access paper, meaning you don’t have to be a specialist or go to a special library to read the original research. I love open access. Part of why I blog is because I feel like I’m doing a disservice to the rest of the world if my work is hidden behind a paywall.
Anyway, so what is this? It’s a new ceratopsian that was found in the southern part of Utah, within the Grand Staricase-Escalante National Monument. This beast is called Nasutoceratops titusi.
Nasutoceratops had the big horns over its eyes, similar to Triceratops, but none on the tip of its nose. Its nose, instead was very short and stout. Its horns extend beyond the tip of the snout.
For some poetry related to Nasutoceratops, go here, read on, enjoy!
In 2009, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) was passed, protecting fossils found on public lands in a way that they’d never been protected before. This was good news for paleontology, because we finally had laws specifically written for fossils and not just ‘borrowed’ from laws protecting archaeological sites. (Though paleontology and archaeology are similar-looking to the untrained eye, they truly are completely different sciences.)
With passage of the PRPA, other large government entities, like the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service then needed to develop some clear regulations regarding use of the paleontological resources on the lands they control.
The first of these entities to propose something is the Forest Service. You can read the draft of the regulations here. On the whole, the draft regulations are good, but there’s one part that could potentially make my life pretty hard.
What it says, in a nutshell, is that if a scientist (like me) wants to do something with a fossil that will damage the fossil, they must first get approval from an ‘authorized officer’ within the Forest Service. This officer doesn’t necessarily have to be a paleontologist.
Museums already have policies in place about destructive analysis of fossils. I always have to carefully make my case to collections manager whenever I need to sample a tooth for my research. The collections manager is someone who’s familiar with the science and with the specimens in his or her collection. The manager can make a quick decision about whether or not the risk is worth the result and can easily grant or deny permission.
With the proposed rules, this decision has to go now to an officer in the Forest Service. That’s going to make the process take longer. It also puts the decision in the hands of someone who likely is not conversant in paleontology. So, it will probably take longer to get permission, and it’s possible that permission would not be granted for specimens that otherwise the collections manager is happy to have sampled, or permission is granted for specimens that really shouldn’t be touched.
Either way, it could be a problem.
My personal opinion is that these decisions should be left to the collections manager. Museums and collection holders have to go through rigorous approval to become ‘official’ repositories for fossils from public lands, so no doubt the collection managers would be completely familiar with the needs and requirements from governing bodies.
If you want to make comments on these proposed rules, pleas go here for further information.