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. 


  1. Correction: A holotype is not necessarily the first fossil found, but it is actually the first specimen that is described.

  2. Hahaha, I love the "mass extinction" picture. And Diplocaulus is really weird; its skull looks like a mask.

  3. A million thanks to you, Art! Though I still say, you gotta try the squid sushi (ika).

    1. You're jumping ahead! We haven't gotten to the sushi yet. Stay tuned...

  4. I think you need a laser pointer instead of a flashlight! What an amazing opportunity and the PERFECT exhibit for you. Can't wait to read your next installment. (Still laughing about the insects and the windows--What?!....)

    Mrs. J.

  5. Hi there! I saw you at the museum in the Evolving Planet exhibit last weekend. You blew my husband and I away with your knowledge. I've since been reading your blog and sharing with friends - they all love it. Science is the BOMB! Keep us updated on your next adventure - we would love to help you get there! Do you have any other academic passions? Outer space, ancient Egypt, sacred geometry?!
    I hope you had a wonderful time in Chicago!

    1. That's cool that we were both there at the same time!

      My main interests are biology and paleobiology. I also like to learn about modern fish and invertebrates. In school I've been studying botany and that's interesting. This week I learned about different kinds of plant roots.

  6. Sure looks like you had a great time. Looking forward to reading the rest of your museum adventure.

  7. The Diplocaulus skull is so cool! When I was your age, Diplocaulus and Dimetrodon were my favourite Palaeozoic animals. I didn't know that much about invertebrates back then, though... I think my current favourite animal from the Palaeozoic is either the giant Protodonatas from the Carboniferous or the Silurian Eurypterids found in Norway.

    The museum looks great! I hope you pay attention at school so you can become an invertebrate paleontologist at a museum like that some time.

    1. I think Eurypterids and giant dragonflies are very cool too.

      I'm doing my best in school because I want to be an invertebrate paleontologist!

  8. I corrected the post today. I was reading on the internet and found out that the pregnant ray was not Heliobatis, it was actually Asterotrygon. I thought there was only one ray from the Green River, but there were two.