Friday Headlines, February 12, 2016
THE LATEST IN THE GEOSCIENCES
Turtles Ruin Everything
Look no further than a museum if you want to find new species
A Cretaceous fish with a big mouth
Last year, a new type of raptor dinosaur, Dakotaraptor, was named and described by Robert DePalma, based upon an incomplete skeleton. One of the bones that apparently was present was the furculum. This is equivalent to the wishbone in turkeys and the clavicle in humans.
This was all great and exciting until another scientist, Victoria Arbor, noticed that the furcula looked more like part of the common fossil turtles that are found in the same rocks as Dakotaraptor. She explains this conclusion here.
This doesn’t invalidate Dakotaraptor as a new species. Such mistakes are easy to make when bones are found jumbled together. The only thing that’s different is that now we don’t know what the furculaof Dakotaraptor looked like.
Gotta do more science, I guess.
Having worked in a museum, I know this to be true. When paleontologists go out to collect specimens, their time is limited and they collect as much as possible. I know I’ve never made it through a field season without collecting more samples and specimens than I can possibly deal with before the next field season.
Museum shelves are littered with boxes of materials that were collected and hastily cataloged (if cataloged at all), but were never examined any further. The scientists doing the collection count on someone coming back through later, maybe a student or another interested researcher, and working with the extra material at some later date.
This is in part how I came to have my own dissertation project. My advisor collected these really cool fossils and finally realized he wouldn’t have time to work on them himself, so he handed the project to me and I got a Ph.D. out of the deal.
Funding agencies have also figured out that museums have lots of materials squirreled away that would make great research projects. Grant programs have popped up that support collections-based research. It’s cheaper to just go to a museum to work, and it helps work through the terrible backlog.
However, paleontologists being as they are, truly prefer field work. Despite best efforts to get through and study materials already in collections, scientists keep going out and bringing back more.
Species of the genus Rhinconichthys are potentially the largest fish that ever lived. It swam in the ocean 92 million years ago.
Like today’s most massive sea-dwelling organisms, Rhinconichthys was a relatively harmless creature, subsisting on tiny organisms equivalent to the krill and plankton that modern humpback and blue whales enjoy.