Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Denver Gem and Mineral Show Part 1: Giant Ammonites, Burrowing Amphibians and Leaping Lizards

On Sunday, the 16th, my friend Masaki Kleinkopf and I visited the Denver Gem and Mineral Show at the Denver Merchandise Mart.  It was a ton of fun!  They had booths from all over the place, like the Morrison Natural History Museum and the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, an excellent dinosaur museum up in Woodland Park near Colorado Springs!  One of the most exciting things by far was when a pair of women came up to us, and asked if they could film us just going about our business.  They were part of a group making a movie under the working title "Quarry."  It's apparently going to be about American Paleontology, and it looks like Masaki and I may have made the part about why Americans love paleontology, and especially dinosaurs, so much!

MESSAGE FROM ZACK FROM THE FUTURE:  Hello, everyone.  This is Zack Neher.  I have travelled to this post from the future.  I wanted to give you a link to the Homebase for these posts.  I am like Rose Tyler, leaving clues in the form of Bad Wolf.  Except this is not quite like that at all really.  Anyways.  The Homebase for the series is HERE.
Creeper shot of the film crew following us, with a large iridescent ammonite in the foreground.  Notice the distinct chambers.  How magnificent.

We also saw Dr. Robert Bakker there.  After I said hello, he waved me over and said "You're a smart kid.  Can you tell me where the nostrils are on this thing?"  The "thing" that he was referring to was a baby Eryops skeleton that he has been working on, a Permian amphibian that lived in the south eastern United States.  Remains have been discovered in both Texas and New Mexico, and it was a contemporary of Dimetrodon, who most likely preyed upon it.  Upon my examination, I promptly tried to prove his assessment of my intelligence wrong, as I pointed all over the skull in my attempts to locate the nostrils.  Turns out, the nostrils were right where they should be.  They were just confusing because in life, the animal would have been able to cover the nostrils with little flaps of bone, sealing off the nostrils from dirt and such while it was burrowing.  Pretty interesting stuff!
Dr. Bakker's baby Eryops.  The snout is facing the pen in the left of the image, and the two holes that you can see are the orbitals, or the eye sockets.  The googly eyes are explained below.
Another picture from a few weeks ago.  This was taken at the Morrison Museum when my friend Kristie Chua came up to visit.  Dr. Bakker, when asked "Why the googly eyes?"  replied "I put the googly eyes on because I like it." 

We also saw a number of giant ammonites.  Below are a few pictures of the better ones, probably the largest I have ever seen!  The only other possible contender that I can think of was one that I saw at the Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country in (you guessed it!) Texas.  That one was a huge, probably five or six feet wide, imprint of an ammonite, right outside the entrance to the museum.  This was the same place that I have talked about before, in my Acrocanthosaurus on the Prowl post.  Great place!  I definitely recommend checking it out if you are ever in the Canyon Lake/San Antonio area of Texas!
The Heritage Museum ammonite.  Perhaps my memory is a bit off.  But I still remember it being incredibly, enormously large.  Perhaps the picture makes it looks smaller?  A mystery.  I suppose I will have to check it next time we go back there now won't I.
The ammonites, in order of amazingness.  Probably about a two, two and a half foot diameter.
Although its size was less impressive, perhaps only a foot or two wide at the most, it was most amazingly iridescent.  There were a large number of them here, but somehow I succeeded in capturing zero great pictures.  Go figure. 
Same story as above.  Not as impressive in size, but amazing in preservation quality.  Check out those septum!
Masaki next to one big ass ammonite! 
And Masaki with another big ass one!  This one a bigger ass!  Bigger ass one?  Bigger one.  A bigger one.
The third really cool thing that we saw there (that I am going to include in this post, at least) were these preserved lizards.  These lizards are from the genus Draco, and are found exclusively in Indonesia.  These lizards are remarkable as they can glide from tree to tree.  Many paleontologists and biologists speculate that this is what the earliest Pterosaurs would have looked like.  For those of you who don't know, Pterosaurs are the flying reptiles that were contemporaneous with the dinosaurs.  Often confused with the dinosaurs themselves, the Pterosaurs were distinct in that they were truly flying reptiles, and not a distinct grouping.  Calling Pterosaurs dinosaurs would be akin to calling a tiger salamander a mammal, on the sole observation that the tiger salamander is a contemporary of a squirrel.  Not so.
One specimen of the Draco lizards....
....and another!
Famous examples of Pterosaurs include (or "Pterosaurs That I Have Heard Of):

  1. Anurognathus
  2. Darwinopterus
  3. Dimorphodon
  4. Dsungaripterus
  5. Eopteranodon
  6. Eudimorphodon
  7. Hatzegopteryx
  8. Ornithocheirus
  9. Peteinosaurus
  10. Pteranodon
  11. Pterodactylus
  12. Pterodaustro
  13. Quetzalcoatlus
  14. Rhamphorhynchus
  15. Sordes
  16. Tapejara
  17. Tropeognathus
You probably also know the Pterosaurs as the "Pterodactyls."  Probably should have prefaced with that.
A skull of Darwinopterus from the show.  This guy was at the booth for the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, or RMDRC for short, an awesome museum up in Woodland Park.  
The wing of a good sized Pterosaur.  You can see at the bottom of the picture a white round thingy.  That's the ammonite featured in the picture with Masaki, above.  That should help give you an idea of the scale of the wing.  Probably around ten feet or so.  And get this; that whole thing is one enormously elongated pinky!
A fossil pterosaur from the show
Another fossil pterosaur from the show
Anyways, in the Imax production "Flying Monsters" with David Attenborough (FAVORITE.  IMAX.  EVER.), they talk about how many scientists speculate that these lizards of the genus Draco greatly resemble the earliest ancestors of the Pterosaurs.  Initially gliding from tree to tree to snatch flying insects in the air, eventually these small lizards would have become capable of powered flight.  Then, they would have grown larger and larger, until they became the biggest animals to ever take to the skies.  Except for humans, but really.  We don't really count.

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