Nature’s Smaller Creatures

August 4, 2008

The bulk of our summer field season is over, which means the real work of dealing with the fossils we found begins. Part of that is making sense of the 1000 or so photographs on the computer- sorting by person, place, thing, animal, vegetable and mineral, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly.  This sorting process has also spawned other categories such as “NSG,” (“not so good”),”NSB,”(“not so bad”), not to be confused with the worrisome, “NBS,” ( “Nocturnal Bigfoot Shot”) folder, where you’re not sure what you photographed or why. A cool-ish artsy one in this category turned out to be the lettering on the inside of the lens cap. There is also the “SFB” (“Suitable for black mail”) or “PUF” (“Particularly unflattering”) category-  I keep those in a folder labeled “Machine Parts” so that no one will stumble across them. However, I will have to rename the folder now, since I just told you all.

Working the Craddock has many rewards and being close to nature is a big one. Baylor County has some great photo opportunities. As a paleontologist you spend most of your time with head bent and eyes focused on the ground, which gives you great opportunities to encounter the smaller creatures in nature. This post focuses on two of my favorites: the dung beetles and, for Rebecca, my lizard loving Alabama cousin, a uniquely American creature- and also the Texas State Reptile, Phrynosoma cornutum – the Texas Horned Lizard.
This lizard was once a common site all over the state of Texas (including Houston) but development, pesticides, and fire ants have it in retreat. During this field season at the Craddock we had nearly a dozen sightings in just two weeks.

The dung beetles are interesting because of their position in nature burying manure. They are remarkable in their skill and speed, quarrying out sizeable hunks and then rolling it to a suitable spot for burial. They are not above stealing the work of their fellows and in one case double dipping;  that is creating one ball, rolling it a distance from the mound, and then going back for another. Something few of us would be tempted to do. As a paleo guy I also like them because they are very ancient; their relatives were disposing of dinosaur poop, the family business has remained unchanged for millions of years- giving a deeper meaning to the phrase (put politely) same stuff, different day.
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Authored By David Temple

David is the Museum’s associate curator of paleontology. In addition to running the Museum’s dig program in Seymour, TX and curating exhibits, he’s also unofficial head of The Department of Mysteries, a shadow wing of HMNS that deals with strange goo, unusual fossils, mysterious substances or any other unknown object you'd like to know what to do with.

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