When paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers takes her summer trips to Montana, a well-known dinosaur graveyard, the students on the research mission return to Macalester College with buckets of sediment to pore over.
"Our students at Macalester are sitting there right now looking under microscopes and picking through this sediment that we've washed through a series of sieves," she said on The Daily Circuit. "They're picking things out that are sub-millimeter scale. They are like a speck, they look like the head of a pin but when you look at them under a microscope you realize that they're a tooth of a salamander or the tooth of a bird."
Her teams have collected 60,000 individual organisms, represented by fossils including teeth, vertebrae and toe bones.
"Those kinds of localities really preserve a diversity of an ecosystem rather than just a beautiful big dinosaur skeleton," she said. "We find those things too, but the little tiny things really give you a full picture of the entire landscape dinosaurs lived in, and that's really interesting."
The Montana landscape is great for fossils because the dinosaurs roamed North America as the Rocky Mountains formed. During that process, the land around the mountains sank, burying creatures in the basin to be fossilized.
3 FUN FOSSIL FACTS:
1. The Twin Cities are a great place to look for marine fossils.
Curry Rogers said you can fossil hunt at the end of Summit Avenue along the bluffs. You could find sea shells, invertebrates and fossils from creatures related to sea urchins. She also recommends Lilydale.
2. The Tyrannosaurus Rex had teeth the size of small bananas.
Paleontologists have found the teeth embedded in the head of a Triceratops, Curry Rogers said. The teeth are nicknamed "lethal bananas" because of their shape and sharp, serrated edges.
3. The Velociraptor wasn't nearly as fierce as it is depicted in "Jurassic Park."
"It's about the size of a German Shepherd," she said. "It's a little longer, about six feet long, but only about three feet tall."
But "Jurassic Park" did get a very small and important detail right, Curry Rogers said, in the scene where the Velociraptor looks through the cold glass kitchen window and fogs it up.
"Only a warm-blooded animal will fog up a cold window when it breathes out," she said.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DINOSAURS:
• Clashing Titans for Sale
Going against the hopes of many paleontologists, these two nearly complete skeletons, found by commercial prospectors on a private ranch, are not going directly to a museum for further study. Instead, billed as the "Montana dueling dinosaurs," they will be auctioned in November by Bonhams in New York, for a projected price of $7 million to $9 million, which would be one of the highest prices ever paid for dinosaur fossils. (New York Times)
• New Evidence for Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs
In a paper published in PLoS ONE, Professor Roger Seymour of the University's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences argues that cold-blooded dinosaurs would not have had the required muscular power to prey on other animals and dominate over mammals as they did throughout the Mesozoic period. (Science Daily)
• Nasutoceratops: 'Big-nose, horn-face' dinosaur described
The 5-meter long (16.4 feet) beast is a member of the triceratops family, but with a huge nose and exceptionally long horns, paleontologists say it is unlike anything they have seen before. (BBC)
• How Crocs Survived in Dinosaur-Dominated World
While modern crocodiles mostly live in freshwater habitats and feed on mammals and fish, during the Mesozoic Era (about 250 million to 65 million years ago) — the era often called the Age of Reptiles — a "lost world" of dazzling crocodilian variety existed. (LiveScience)
Brains On! - Extinction!
Kristi Curry Rogers talks about the feathered descendents of dinosaurs roaming the earth today. Brains On! is a new MPR science show for kids and their parents.