Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Field Museum (Part 3 of 4): Birthday and the Burgess Shale Screen.

When we woke up in the museum after Dozin' with the Dinos, I quickly looked around again in Evolving Planet. Then we went back to the hotel to celebrate my birthday.

Stephen brought me a birthday cake with a spotted lagoon jellyfish and a sea nettle jellyfish on it. I got some presents, like this and this from my parents, this from Stephen, and this from Dave. Then we went back to the Field Museum. 

There's a Burgess Shale video with three screens in Evolving Planet that makes it seem like the creatures are in a huge aquarium. On our first night at the museum, the screen wasn't on and I was very disappointed. We thought it might be broken because somebody told us that. But when we went back the next day it was on! 

Here is Pikaia swimming past. It happens to be about to swim over some Ottoia burrows. 

For some reason we didn't take a video of the screen, but it was really cool. Here is Opabinia (in the lower left corner) and Wiwaxia (in the middle). 

I thought the Burgess Shale screen was really cool, and my two favorite parts where when the Anomalocaris chased all the trilobites and got one, and when the Opabinia tried to catch an Ottoia. It finally caught one, but lost its grip and the worm quickly went back into its burrow. 

Here's a picture of an Ottoia coming out of its burrow in the middle of the screen. It's blurred because it was moving so fast. It went back in as fast as it came out.

This picture is really cool, and not to mention the quote from Charles Darwin is amazing. 

Stephen took us to SushiSamba and it was great. I had sushi for the first time. I got octopus and freshwater eel and I loved it. I also had tuna, striped bass, and crab. I wanted to get sea urchin but they didn't have it that day. 

Sushi platter.

Freshwater eel. 

We went to see "The Bean," which is really called Cloud Gate. It's a giant stainless steel sculpture that's about as old as me. It was designed by Anish Kapoor and I thought it was really cool. The night we were there there was a light show, and I was jumping on the lights. The lights were reflecting off The Bean and The Bean was reflecting the lights of the city and all the people. You could see Chicago just by looking at The Bean. 

Here I'm underneath The Bean and Stephen is holding me up so I can see my reflection at the top of The Bean. 

Behind me and Kayla is a big sculpture made of glass blocks with lights inside. On the sculpture there was a face and it was actually moving. In the summertime, Stephen said the face squirts water out of its mouth, and people can play in it. That's kind of cool, and I think a sculpture with a moving face is kind of weirdly hilarious. 

Thanks so much to Stephen, Kayla, and Dave for traveling to meet us in Chicago. I had an awesome birthday. I like Chicago better than where I live!

Next up:

Part 4 of 4: Bonus day at Shedd Aquarium!

A million thanks to: Paul Mayer, Jane Hanna, University of Chicago Secular Student Alliance, Stephen & Kayla & Greta, Casey, Mike, Dave Monroe, PZ Myers, and the 72 incredible people who pitched in to help fund our trip to the Field Museum.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Field Museum (Part 2 of 4): Behind the Scenes in the Collections Room!

My friend Dave Monroe introduced me to Paul Mayer, the Fossil Invertebrate Collections Manager at the Field Museum. Paul gave me a tour of the invertebrate fossils behind the scenes. The room was full of cabinets and drawers with around two million fossils in all. 

These drawers are full of Lecthaylus gregarius, which is a Silurian worm that could be a priapulid.

Lecthaylus gregarius

Paul showed me a huge slab of rock which was covered in Canadaspis perfecta fossils, some with the tail preserved.

This is a single fossil of Canadaspis perfecta, preserving only the headshield, or carapace.

This is a huge slab of rock containing fossils of the Burgess Shale enigmatic animal, Pollingeria. The Field Museum had Burgess Shale fossils which I had never actually seen except in pictures or behind glass. Some of these Burgess Shale fossils were found by Charles Doolittle Walcott, who gave them to the Field Museum. I got to touch some of the fossils, which was really cool.

This is a very rare fossil of just the eyebar of Tullimonstrum gregarium. Tullimonstrom was found in the Mazon Creek in Illinois, and the Field Museum has the biggest collection of Mazon Creek fossils in the world. The Field Museum has the type specimens of Tullimonstrum in the collections room, and the Holotype was on display. These were so rare that I couldn't touch them. But Paul showed them to me.

This is a very rare example of a Tullimonstrum with the proboscis complete. It also has the eyebar intact, and part of the body. This fossil of Tullimonstrum was amazing.

Paul said this was his favorite Tullimonstrum. It was curving its long proboscis, and showed that Tullimonstrum was probably very flexible and did not have a shell.

My mom thinks the note on this drawer is funny, but I don't.

This slab of rock contains Uintacrinus, a Cretaceous crinoid from Kansas that did not have a stalk. Instead, they floated about in mid-water, usually in huge colonies like this one. 

These are multiple fossils of holothurians, or sea cucumbers. They were found in the Mazon Creek and were from the Carboniferous Period. They differ little from the sea cucumbers alive today. 

A whole drawer of Arthropleura fossils! Some of these are what looks to me like the mandibles, and the others were of the plates on Arthropleura's sides. All the Arthropleura fossils in this drawer were of Arthropleura cristata. 

In this picture I'm holding a fossil of the side plate of Arthropleura. I thought it was really cool to hold a real Arthropleura fossil. 

Another view of the Arthropleura fossil. 

Paul was really nice, and he showed me what were probably the weirdest fossils I've ever seen.

I really didn't want to go to sleep because there were so many cool fossils on display. It was cool to go behind the scenes and to see the displays in the Field Museum. 

Next up:

Part 3: Celebrating my birthday with...a second day at the Field Museum!

A million thanks to: Paul Mayer, Jane Hanna, University of Chicago Secular Student Alliance, Stephen & Kayla & Greta, Casey, Mike, Dave Monroe, PZ Myers, and the 72 incredible people who pitched in to help fund our trip to the Field Museum. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Field Museum (Part 1 of 4): Evolving Planet.

Thanks to the readers of my blog, I got to go to the Field Museum in Chicago for my birthday. I took an airplane there. 

I stayed at a hotel downtown. In this picture I'm looking out the window at all the huge buildings and people and cars. On the window there was a sticker that said, "Due to a higher than normal insect population, we recommend keeping the windows closed." We kept the windows closed. 

I got to the Field Museum at 5:30 pm and waited to check in and stay overnight. Once we checked in, we put our sleeping bags down in the Cambrian area of the Evolving Planet exhibit. After that, we looked around in Evolving Planet. 

In front of the What is an Animal? exhibit
I saw some fossils of Ordovician coral and also one fossil of a huge orthocone nautiloid which was probably about three feet long. 

Here I'm pointing at an illustration of a Devonian lake with Eusthenopteron, Bothriolepis, a tetrapod in the background, and fish that I think are possible acanthodians. 

This was an exhibit full of all different kinds of trilobites. They had my four favorite trilobites: Asaphus kowalewskii, Walliserops, Quadrops, and Psychopyge. It also had tiny agnostid trilobites called Peronopsis.  The Peronopsis were fossilized in a group, and this is not uncommon, because I often see photos of gregarious agnostids. 

This is the jawless fish exhibit. In the middle is my favorite one, a huge Drepanaspis fossil. There are also two tiny Tenaspis headshields, which look kind of like Bothriolepis without the arms or the jaws. 

This was a huge Dunkleosteus head shield that was even bigger than the one I saw at the Smithsonian. I slept right next to it because it turned out there was a glowing exit sign in the Cambrian exhibit. But I didn't mind sleeping next to Dunkleosteus! And I was close to a fossil of a huge Orodus shark that was approximately 25 feet long in life. There were also fossils of Stethacanthus, Symorium, Helicoprion, and Bandringa.

Here are the fossils of Helicoprion (on the right), Bandringa (in the middle), and Stethacanthus (on the left). Helicoprion lived from the Carboniferous to the Triassic, Bandringa lived in the Carboniferous Mazon Creek, and Stehacanthus lived from the late Devonian to the early Carboniferous. 

I saw one of the only known fossils of Tiktaalik, a bizarre tetrapod-like fish...  

...and the boomerang-shaped skull of Diplocaulus, a strange amphibian from the late Carboniferous and early Permian. 

I really liked the Carboniferous Forest section of Evolving Planet. The most obvious thing there besides the plants was the four foot long Arthropleura on the floor. There were insect noises coming from up in the "trees." There was also a real fossil of Arthropleura cristata. 

One of my favorite things in the whole museum was a pregnant ray, Heliobatis Asterotrygon

Next up:

Part 2: My amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the collections room!

A million thanks to: Paul Mayer, Jane Hanna, University of Chicago Secular Student Alliance, Stephen & Kayla & Greta, Casey, Mike, Dave Monroe, PZ Myers, and the 72 incredible people who pitched in to help fund our trip to the Field Museum. 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Cephalaspis (seff-uh-LAS-pis) was a bizarre-looking fish that lived in the early Devonian period in fresh water streams and estuaries. It had a horseshoe-shaped headshield, which it could have used for protection or for digging up prey. It probably dug up worms and other burrowing creatures to eat. There were also sensory organs on this headshield. 

Cephalaspis could grow to about one foot long, about the size of a trout. The headshield probably would have slowed Cephalaspis down, because carrying around a heavy shield would be hard to do, even in water, especially for a small fish. Cephalaspis certainly wasn't very fast, so it probably would have relied on the tough head shield for defense. 

©Copyright 2008 by Mike Viney

Cephalaspis had two fins right behind the headshield, and also a long, powerful tail with what looks to me like muscle bands, similar to those on a lancelet. They were probably bottom dwellers, hiding among rocks and debris like modern catfish, sturgeon, and stingrays. 

Most fossils of armored fish only preserve the bony headshield, but in the case of Cephalaspis many fossils also reveal the tail. 

Cephaslaspis was a jawless fish, so it probably had to eat very small prey. But with its bony headshield, it still could have been a formidable hunter of these tiny creatures. It could easily dig up these tiny burrowers with its head and then suck them in quickly, like a modern angel shark. 

Cephalaspis probably had a similar lifestyle to Bothriolepis, a bizarre placoderm from the late Devonian.


Friday, February 10, 2012


Louisella was a priapulid worm that has been found in the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. It was one foot long, which meant it was the largest priapulid in the Burgess Shale. 

Louisella was a slender worm with feathery papillae running down the bottom of its body in two rows. These were possibly gills. It had a long proboscis on its head. Before the proboscis it had a ring of spikes pointing forward, which I think kind of looks like a crown. 

Like most Cambrian priapulids, Louisella was a predator, consuming small creatures such as hyoliths and swallowing them whole, front first. If Louisella swallowed hyoliths from the rear end, the spines of the hyolithid would get stuck in the worm's throat, possibly stab it, and prevent Louisella from eating any more hyoliths. Unlike its ferocious relative Ottoia, Louisella presumably was not as active, but it was almost certainly more active that Selkirkia, which would have found it hard to move in the first place.


I believe that Louisella's large head spines prevented other priapulids from swallowing it while Louisella was small. The only priapulid that would have been likely to try to eat it would be Ottoia, which swallowed its prey head first. And if for some reason an Ottoia tried to swallow Louisella from the rear end, Louisella could just turn around and stab it. These spines would probably work against any other predator that tried to eat it. Even an arthropod would let Louisella go if it was stabbed in the right place, such as a joint or, as in the case of some arthropods, its softer underbelly. This is similar to the defense of Fieldia, which had a whole head covered in long, needle-like spines. But this is just my hypothesis about the use of the large spines on Louisella's head.


Some of the fossils of Louisella are very slender, while others are flatter and more sea cucumber-like. The holotype was one of these flattened specimens, which is what probably led Charles Doolittle Walcott to classify it as a holothurian, or sea cucumber. 



The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals by Simon Conway Morris

Friday, February 3, 2012


Pachytheca was a very primitive sphere-shaped plant that lived from the late Silurian to the early Devonian. Pachytheca is related to Prototaxites, so my hypothesis is that it is a fungus. It was up to 6mm long. 

This organism had a prominent outer layer. It's possible that in juvenile specimens this layer was thicker, and on the adults it was thinner. The structure of Pachytheca was made up of tubes. Thicker, stronger tubes on the outer layer, and thinner, more brittle ones on the inner layer. 

Some of the fossils look like marbles, while others look like tiny geodes. At first the organism was thought to have been a piece of a bigger plant or the tooth of a fish. Then it was incorrectly classified as an alga. 

Pachytheca and Prototaxites are now classified as Nematophytes, enigmatic organisms that were either plants or fungi. Pachytheca has been found mostly in western Europe, but they also lived in places such as Canada and Australia.