Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How To Be... a Paleontologist

Okay, who didn't see this one coming?

My love of dinosaurs began around the age of 3 or 4 when I saw this:
Or something like that. I don't actually remember other than that it was a big dinosaur over a gas station. I was fascinated and spent, basically, the next 10 years of my life devoted to the study of dinosaurs. Just so you know, this is my favorite:
In case you don't know, that's a Triceratops. I think my love for them probably grew out of my early childhood perception that they were capable of taking on a T. Rex, which is true. There was actually a fossil found of a T. Rex and Triceratops locked in combat. As far as I know, they don't know if something killed them while they fighting (like a volcano) or if they just killed each other. It's still pretty cool.

The thing is, and I didn't know this when I was a kid, paleontology is more than just dinosaurs. It's the study of all prehistoric life. And, um, rocks. Okay, paleontologists don't study rocks, but you have to study rocks to get to paleontology. In fact, paleontology is most often within a university's geology department if it offers any kind of paleontological studies at all.

The real issue with paleontology is that it is just broad heading for many different specialties. So you have paleobiology, which is the specific branch that most often deals with dinosaurs. And you have icnology and paleobotany and invertebrate paleontology and vertebrate paleontology and micropaleontology and, even, paleogenetics. And that's not all of them, but I ran out of breath.

Paleogenetics is pretty interesting, especially if you remember this post. (They say) Paleogenetics is not for the re-creation of actual organisms, but it is theoretically possible, and they do work on recreating DNA sequences. AND there have already been attempts to clone a mammoth through recovered DNA in Japan. They still say they can do it. Suddenly, Jurassic Park doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Basically, it kind of doesn't matter so much what you're into, there's probably a paleo field for it. I mean, heck, there's even a paleo diet going around now.
Me? I'm still just into dinosaurs.


  1. Everything I learned about paleontology I learned from Jurassic Park, so I must be qualified, right?

  2. Dinosaurs are cool. Studying them is one of the most awesome things a person can do.

  3. A real Jurassic Park scares me but wouldn't surprise me in the least:)
    Lucy from
    Lucy's Reality

  4. I was always fascinated with dinosaurs. That's why Jurassic Park was so popular - every kid's dream to see a dinosaurs come to life.

  5. I always liked dinosaurs as a kid. (And now.)

    But I am skeptical of those "we found these two dinosaurs locked in mortal combat and fossilized." Primarily because the odds of the two dinosaurs dying simultaneously, multiplied by the odds that then no scavengers significantly disturbed the bones, multiplied by the odds that then no weather/natural features (rain, wind, lava, etc) disturbed the bones over the MANY MANY YEARS it takes to fossilize (anywhere from a few years for stalactites to several hundred for petrification) it seems amazingly unlikely that the bones were really found that way.

    What seems MORE likely is that scientists made a couple of leaps and assumptions from the grouping of the bones and built on that, the way they originally created the "brontosaurus" out of whole cloth, and then when it was exposed, decided to just give the brontosaurus pseudo-realistic status anyway.

    Science is an amazing thing, but scientists don't do any favors when they try to make it more amazing through fabrication.

    That said, I think it's entirely possible that triceratops fought T.Rex.

  6. There is a place we pass now and again, not sure what it is, but they have models of several dinosaurs and models of a modern elephant, its incredible how tiny the elephant looks.

    I do hope no-one is stupid enough to create Jurassic Park.


  7. Dinosaurs are awesome. I never did outgrow my childhood love of them.

  8. When I was growing up, there was a triceratops statue in front of the Natural History Museum in DC. Kids would climb up the head and slide down the tail. It's since been moved to the zoo and kids are no longer allowed to climb. Uncle Beezley is his name.

  9. As a kid, the triceratops was my favorite as well. Also, we should definitely clone a mammoth, and eventually dinosaurs. Ever since the Flintstones, I've always wanted to eat a mammoth steak and a bronto-burger.

  10. Do you ever check out dinosaur art online? It's pretty awesome. I particularly enjoy the paintings of megladons eating huge prehistoric elephants.

  11. I can relate to your fascinations on this one. I too love the old Sinclair signs--they were always my favorites. And the triceratops has always been my favorite dinosaur. T-rex always seemed so overly rude and intrusive.

    I hope somebody does revive some dino DNA someday so we can get more answers.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  12. There's a paleo biologist at the college where I work and she is crazy smart and super interesting and fun to talk to. I've heard a lot of science folks promote dinosaurs because they are a good way to get kids interested in science.

  13. Kids always love dino's, but I never knew why. You'd think they'd be afraid, they look so scarey, dangerous and vicious.


  14. Andrew, I learned something here today. Didn't know there were so many branches to paleontology.

  15. Hey Andrew! I have a four year old grandson who lives to study dinosaurs! He's so young and yet knows the names of most of them and dreams of going to the Dinosaur museum in Drumheller Alberta. Great subject for 'P'.. At least you're not behind, lol!

  16. Paleontology is fascinating. I love reading about the new findings and the changes they've made in how they think the dinosaurs looked.

  17. I used to be obsessed with dinosaurs. Always were amazed by how big they were!

  18. Great post. I love dinosaurs or dinasours as we used to call them when we were little...

  19. M.J.: In all likelihood, yes.

    Sheena: I agree!

    Lucy: I would go! Or, um, it might come to me.

    Alex: Well, most kids. My cousin was scared to death of them. She thought they were all weird crocodiles.

    Briane: I agree with you in theory, but, then, all fossils defy the odds. I have the book it's in laying around somewhere, but I'm not likely to go look for it.

    There are many triceratops fossils with confirmed T. Rex wounds. Healed wounds, leading paleontologists to believe that the 'ceratopses(?) won those fights.

    Jo: If I had the technology, I might be that stupid.

    S.L.: Good for you!

    TAS: Oh, they don't let kids on it anymore? That's just wrong.

    ABftS: I agree!

    Michael: Not often, no, but mostly because I don't frequently go hunting up art.

    Lee: Their arms are just too scrawny.

    Alison: They are certainly what got me interested in science.

    Sandy: Kids love dragons, too, and they're probably more dangerous than dinos.

    J.L.: Yeah, and even more that I didn't list!

    Eve: Oh... I want to go to a dinosaur museum!

    C. Lee: I know! When I was a kid, it was all "this is how it is," but nothing we (think we) know about dinosaurs now is anything like it was when I was a kid. I would really love to see a highly plumed T. Rex. I imagine them kind of like peacocks.

    Morgan: And how small!

    Fe: Dinasours is awesome! I want that now.

  20. One thing for sure...this is without a doubt the best HowToBe Blog in Blogland. What a wide range of Topics and Choices you have far everything from A to P. Really FUN, INFORMATIVE and ENTERTAINING.

    Your Archives, promise to be good reads from the creative titles. I'm thinking I might want to know HowToBe a Brain Surgeon before I know HowToBe a Demolition Expert...just in case I survive.

    My Letter 'P'...Prolific Patchwork Pattern Piecer
    Sue CollectInTexasGal
    AtoZ LoneStar Quilting Bee

  21. It is sad. It's one of those things you look forward to sharing with your own kids and then...DENIED!

  22. I have to wonder what they're going to do with a mammoth if they actually clone one. Though there are probably zoos or something that wouldn't mind one, I guess.

  23. Sue: Well, thank you very much. I'm glad you've found them to your liking!

    TAS: No kidding. Like fireflies.

    TGE: I'm sure zoos would love to have one. They'd be an incredible draw. However, I might have to join sides with Bryan here and vote for the mammoth steak.
    Oh, and just by the way, the one the Japanese were working on would be a hybrid brought to term in an elephant.

  24. This post is, indeed, a great follow up to your genetic engineering one. Genetics is definitely the field to be in these days.

  25. I don't think I could make it as a Paleontologist. I just read Incredible Hulk though! How did I miss that one! Fabulous!

  26. Sometimes I wish I could have been born 150 years ago... not really, but within certain constraints, things were pretty easier. If I wanted to be a doctor, I just started telling people I was a doctor and so it was. If I wanted to be an astronomer, geologist, whatever, I spent a few months reading up on a subject and I'm one of the world's leading experts (well, with a few exceptions).

    So, in that sense, I am a paleontologist... meaning the sense where I'm not, but I just decided to say I am.

  27. I loved the dinosaur unit I taught my first graders back in my teaching days. A paleo diet? I need to Google that one. Sounds like it real make you bone-thin ;p

  28. TAS: That was indeed the intent, and I think that it is. That or various quantum fields.

    Kimberly: I'm not sure how anyone missed the Hulk. He's like the big, green elephant in the room.

    Rusty: Yeah, I know what you mean. The first paleontologists were really just some guys that heard about some unearthed bones and went and gathered them together.

    Scribbles: Actually, it involves a lot of meat. It's supposed to be very healthy.

  29. I'm definitely a better dinosaur fan than paleo-anything. Although paleogenetics sounds cool. I'm definitely not going onto any islands off Costa Rica though.

  30. Jeanne: Paleogenetics is super cool!

  31. I wanted to be a Paleontologist in 3rd and 4 grade, I think. Then I discovered that people are more interesting than dinosaurs and decided I wanted to be an archaeologist.

  32. Sarah: People are more interesting until we discover that dinosaurs were actually intelligent. They didn't become extinct; they left the planet.

  33. I love dinosaurs! When I was in college, I even took some classes to see if was something I wanted to do for real. I ended up going with computer engineering, but I still think dinosaurs are cool. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  34. Kristen: They are very cool, and computer modeling is what is enabling us to learn so much about them in the past decade.