Friday, January 6, 2012

January Nature Net News - Fossil Frenzy

"When out fossil hunting, it is very easy to forget that rather than telling you how the creatures lived, the remains you find indicate only where they became fossilized."
Richard E. Leakey

Dear Reader,

I was raised by a duo consisting of a rockhound and a naturalist. My parents went rock collecting for their honeymoon, and the old museum case in the living room is full of many of their souvenirs.

I remember countless hours examining minerals and fossils with my father, enthralled as he would highlight the delicate bones of a skeletal fish, trace the veins of a fossilized fern, or rub our fingers over the bumpy shell of trilobite. It was a highlight of my childhood. 

Fossils help us learn about conditions of the past and the path that ancestral creatures took to evolve to the animals we know and love today. For example, fossil records helped scientists determine that the Tyrannosaurus Rex is likely related to today's living chickens. So we're eating the descendants of T-Rexes every time we have chicken strips - pretty cool, huh?

In this issue of Nature Net News, you'll learn about various types of fossils that can be found in Wisconsin and worldwide, including my personal favorite, the trilobite. 

Enjoy!

Sarah
and the Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
The trilobite is Wisconsin's State Fossil. It is the remains of an extinct marine animal that flourished when Wisconsin was covered by an ancient tropical sea.

In addition to bones and shells, wood, plants, footprints, and scat can become fossilized.

The oldest fossil bed in the world is the Chengjian Deposits in China. It has fossils over 555 million years old!

We weren't kidding about those T-Rex chickens - learn how scientists are trying to use chicken DNA to reverse-engineer a "chickenosaurus"!

What To Do This Month:
Interested in learning more about fossils? Visit the UW Geology Museum, especially for Storytime on first and third Thursday mornings (Jan 5 and 19) - learn more below. Or click here for other family events this month.

Looking for more fun fossil facts? Peruse the Virtual Fossil Museum!

Want to find real fossils? Consider checking out the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey's Fossil Guide for Wisconsin for an in-depth guide on the types of creatures throughout Wisconsin's past and where to find them!

Wisconsin can be a great spot for fossil-hunting because of its unique geological history, especially the unglaciated "driftless area" in the Southwestern part of the state. You can see this area for yourself at Bethel Horizons in Dodgeville and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's Black Earth campus - be sure to visit on January 14 for the annual Tiki Torch Toboggan event!

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Freaky Fossils
Due to their skeletal nature, some children may be afraid of fossils, so be sure to point out that they're actually quite cool! Explain that these fossils are millions of years old, but still around today, and while they don't have fur or skin, they give us an amazing glimpse at ancient creatures. Speculate what might still be around millions of years in the future. What kind of creatures will be around then to discover the fossils from today?

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Fossil Formation
Fossils were once living things that went through a process that turned them into the imprinted rocks they are today. The most common form of fossilization is called permineralization--this process occurs when minerals harden in the shape of an organism and create rock-like structures.

First off, the body of the pre-fossil must become covered in water. The water protects the pre-fossil, be it animal, plant, or bone, from many deteriorating elements such as oxygen, scavenging, or sediment erosion. The flesh of the pre-fossil is eaten away by bacteria, leaving the hard parts (such as the skeleton or the exoskeleton) behind.

Being underwater also helps with sediment deposition, or the covering up of the pre-fossil with different layers of dirt and minerals. The faster sedimentation occurs, the more likely the pre-fossil will become a fossil.

The weight of the many layers of sediments on top of each other eventually seals off the fossil and squeezes the lower layers together into stone, a process called lithification. As this occurs, minerals in the water and sediment slowly replace the original skeleton of the pre-fossil, eventually leaving a rock copy behind.

But how do we find these ancient buried treasures? Continental uplift is the process of the tectonic plates crashing into each other and rearranging sedimentary layers through creation of mountains, earthquakes, and the like. Erosion also removes layers of stone. Both continental uplift and erosion increase the likelihood of the fossil being unearthed by a budding paleontologist.

Interested in how people find and unearth fossils? Check out this informative site!

Featured Nature Net Site
UW Geology Museum
Explore the Geology Museum and take a peek into Wisconsin's deep history!

On your visit, you can touch rocks from a time when there were volcanoes in Wisconsin, see corals, jellyfish and other sea creatures that used to live and swim where we now walk, and stand under the tusks of a mastodon while imagining yourself in the Ice Age. Also on display at the Geology Museum are rocks and minerals that glow, a model of a Wisconsin cave, dinosaurs and meteorites. The mineral, rock and fossil collections have the power to educate and inspire visitors of all ages - see for yourself!

If possible, visit at 10:30am on the first and third Thursdays of the month (the 5th and 19th of January) and you can be included in the museum's Storytime, featuring a book, specimens from the museum, and a fun take-home craft!

Learn About Other Nature Net Sites
 
Nature Craft
Coffee Ground Fossils

What you need: 1 cup used coffee grounds, 1/2 cup cold coffee, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, wax paper, mixing bowl, items to make fossil indentations, empty can or butter knife, toothpicks (optional), string (optional).

1. Mix together the coffee, coffee grounds, flour, and salt in the mixing bowl.

2. Knead the dough together and then flatten it out on the wax paper. 

3. Use the can or butter knife to cut out slabs for your fossil. 

4. Place your object on your slab in order to make an indentation. When you remove it, the fossil indentation remains. Or you can draw an indentation with a toothpick. Poke a hole in the slab with a toothpick if you wish to hang your fossil. 

5. Let dry overnight or up to two days. If you wish, use string to hang your fossil.

(Nature Craft adapted from Kaboose)

Suggested Reading:
"The Great Dinosaur Mystery: A Musical Fossil Fantasy" by DinoRock (all ages)
"If You Are a Hunter of Fossils" by Byrd Baylor (baby-preschool)
"Fossils Tell of Long Ago" by Aliki (4-8)
"Fossils, Rocks and Minerals" by Chris Perrault (4-8)
"Digging Up Dinosaurs" by Aliki (4-8)
"Fossil Fever" by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (4-8)
"Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil" by Jacqui Bailey (4-8)
"The Fossil Book" by Gary Parker (4-8)
"The Best Book of Fossils, Rocks, and Minerals" by Chris Pellant (4-12)
"Bones Rock!: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Paleontologist" by Peter Larson (9-12)
"Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads" by Laura Evert and Linda Garrow (9-12)
"The Fossil Factory" by Niles, Douglas, and Gregory Elderidge (9-12)
"Fossils" by Ann O. Squire (9-12)
"Fossil" by Paul Taylor (9-12)

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