National Fossil Day at Burpee Museum Oct. 17
Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main St., will have prepartors in the Paleontology Lab preparing specimens for display on National Fossil Day Wednesday, Oct. 17.
Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Oct. 17, museum guests will be able to ask questions of the lab staff as they work. The museum is preparing dinosaur bones from the Morrison Formation of the Jurassic period from Utah, dinosaur bones from the Hell Creek formation of the Cretaceous period from Montana, and fossilized fish from the Green River formation of Eocene period from Wyoming.
National Fossil Day is sponsored by the National Park Service to make the American public aware of the fossils found in the various National Parks. National Fossil Day is a celebration organized to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value.
Visitors will also be able to view a display of local fossils including sponges, corals, gastropods, cephalopods, brachiopods and echinoderms. The National Fossil Day art features a mammoth. While at Burpee, visitors are able to see the cast of a Columbia Mammoth, and to view real mammoth and mastodon teeth and bones found locally. The Columbia Mammoth is larger than a Wooly Mammoth.
Burpee Museum is home to the 11-year-old Tyrannosaur rex, nicknamed Jane. Jane is the world’s best preserved, most complete juvenile Trex. Jane was found by Burpee Museum in 2000 in Carter County, Montana. In addition, the museum houses a juvenile triceratops, nicknamed Homer. A new display of Eocene age fish from the Green River formation in Wyoming will soon be unveiled Oct. 27.
The 2012 National Fossil Day artwork features a familiar face: the mammoth. Mammoths are extinct, large, herbivorous mammals from the same family as the modern elephant. The oldest mammoth fossils are from the early Pliocene epoch (about 5 million years ago). Nearly all populations of mammoths were extinct by about 10,000 years ago, although some isolated populations may have lived until about 5,000 years ago. Globally, the Pliocene climate was much cooler and drier than during the Cretaceous, which was home to the mosasaurs and ammonites featured on the 2011 artwork. Following the Pliocene, Earth’s climate was cold enough to support large ice sheets on both the North and the South poles — setting the stage for the Pleistocene ice ages. During an ice age, immense sheets of ice advanced from the poles.
Mammoths had long, curved tusks, long (“woolly”) hair, and were impressive in size. Standing 4 meters (13 feet) tall at the shoulder, and weighing 6 to 8 tons on average (up to 12 tons for exceptionally large males), mammoths were emblematic of many other large mammals (“megafauna”) that were common during the Pleistocene. Like modern elephants, mammoth herds would likely have been headed by a matriarch, with bulls roaming solitarily or in loose groups after reaching maturity. Mammoth fossils are found across the United States and North America. They are also common in Europe and Asia.
Extinction of the mammoths occurred at different times in different places. Most populations in Europe, Asia and North America were extinct by about 10,000 years ago. A few isolated populations existed well into the Holocene, with evidence for a group surviving until about 3700 BCE on St. Paul Island (Alaska), and another until around 2000 BCE on Wrangel Island (Russia). Exactly why mammoths and other megafauna went extinct is still a mystery. A number of factors may have contributed to their extinction, including the warming climate and associated habitat changes of the Holocene, over-hunting and land-use changes by humans, or a combination of factors
Mammoth or mastodon? While physically similar, mastodons are not part of the same family as mammoths. They do, however, belong to the same order Proboscidea. The primary difference is in the teeth. Mammoths are grazers with high-crowned teeth, allowing them to eat grass and low vegetation. Mastodons are browsers with blunt, conical projections on their molars, which are good for cutting and chewing leaves, fruits, woody plants and shrubs.
Also featured in this year’s artwork, just behind the mammoth, is the aurora borealis, or “northern lights.” This is a high-latitude natural light phenomenon caused by the collision of charged solar wind particles with atoms generated by the Earth’s magnetic field high in the atmosphere. The aurora australis is the southern hemisphere equivalent.
Burpee Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., daily. General admission is $10 adults, $9 for children ages 7-17, and free for ages 6 and younger. Free parking is available at the museum or in the Riverfront Museum Park parking lot directly next door at 711 N. Main St.
For more details, call (815) 965-3433 or visit www.burpee.org.
From the Oct. 10-16, 2012, issue
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