Live From the Field: Mad Max

Our paleontology team – led by Dr. Robert Bakker – is back in Seymour, TX this week, digging for Dimetrodon at a site they’ve now been working for several years. (You can read more of what’s been found already in our daily blog from the field in 2007).

Friday’s update comes from Kathy Zoehfeld, a member of the HMNS dig team who is also a prolific author of science books for kids. As for why we’ve entitled this post ‘Mad Max,’ – you’ll have to listen in.

Click the podcast below for more updates from yesterday’s dig:


More from the field tomorrow! Until then, you can also check out earlier updates from this dig trip:

Day One: Live from the Fossil Field
Day Two: The Smoking Gun
Day Three: New Discoveries
Day Four: Secondontosaurus Found?

Sharky-Locks and the Three Gummi Bears

Need another excuse to buy candy this October?  Like cheap entertainment? Of course you do! How about some do-it-yourself grow-animals? For a buck or two, you can have a hundred edible expanding critters of your very own.

You need a few gummi bears or other gummi snacks (I grant you they are of questionable nutritional value, but they have their uses) and water. That’s pretty much it — see what we mean about cheap? 

I started with three gummi bears and one much larger gummi shark which had a disturbing layer of opaque white gummi on the bottom. 

If you want to know how much your gummi critters grow, you might want to trace around them or measure them, or just set some of your gummy snacks aside for comparison later. I had an electronic balance handy, so I used it, but that’s definitely not necessary:


The growing:  You need a container that can hold your gummi animals with a little room for expansion, and enough water to keep them covered:

And now we wait.  You may notice some expansion an hour after you begin, but your animals will look significantly bigger after 12-24 hours in water.  A few things to note: If you plan to eat your critters once they expand, please refrigerate them during the soaking process (this may slow their expansion somewhat, but you will also slow the growth of not-so-delicious bacteria). Whether you are refrigerating or not, set your critters somewhere and leave them alone as much as possible; if they jostle around too much, they may just dissolve and leave you with an unimpressive pool of colored sugar-water.

After a 20-hour soak, one of the bears intimidates his dry brother:


The “after” measurements:

This bear grew about three times as large as it was originally, and the shark about twice as large (it might have expanded further if given more time but it fell apart after being handled.)

Here’s a brief explanationof growing gummi snacks.

Extensions to try:  Soak your critters in distilled water, salt water, soda or juice, or try soaking an expanded critter in salt water.  Do some brands of bears hold up better or expand more?

(In case you were curious: Yes, you can spell it either way: gummi or gummy.)

Blog Contest: Draw a Dinosaur!

Leonardo da Vinci said: “I don’t understand a thing ‘till I draw it.” When you draw, your finger tips teach your brain what’s important.”

Dr. Bakker paraphrased Leonardo da Vinci in his recent post, Draw Dinos Right, to explain why great  paleontologists tend to be great artists, too. Now that the world premiere of Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation is open at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you can test this hypothesis on another Leonardo – the mummified dinosaur that was found in Malta, MT, with skin and internal organs preserved. And when you do, you can enter to win great paleo prizes – like a signed dinosaur drawing by Dr. Robert T. Bakker himself – as well as a $200 gift certificate to Texas Art Supply, for all your future dino-drawing needs.

The contest is simple: pick a dinosaur and draw it for us. In this video, Dr. Bakker takes you through drawing a T. rex – but your entry can be any dinosaur you like. On Nov. 1, Dr. Bakker will choose one winner for each of two categories – one for scientific accuracy, and another for artistic effect.

So, head on over to the drawing board – you’ve got until Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. to enter.

Entries must be no larger than 11 x 17 inches and they can be turned in to the Museum Services desk at the Museum or scanned and submitted online to blogadmin@hmns.org. Make sure to include your name, phone number and e-mail address with your entry – otherwise, we’ll have no way to contact you if you’ve won. Two identical prizes will be awarded – one to recognize the most scientifically accurate dinosaur drawing and the other to honor the best artisitc effect. Click here for contest rules.

UPDATE: Our winners have been posted! Along with a slideshow of all of the fabulous entries – a huge thank you to all the very talented kids who entered.

Beyond the Bones: ABC-13 features Leonardo in 30-minute special

Ack! Paleontologists often take their lives in their
hands to get to fossils. In this shot, they’re looking
at some T. rex fossils on a two-foot ledge that’s
hanging over a 100-foot drop.

Thanks to Hurricane Ike, most of us were still without power when the Discovery Channel aired their documentary about Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur.

Luckily, a local ABC news crew came along on our recent trip to Malta, MT (it’s quite a trek) to see Leonardo, the mummy dinosaur, and venture out to the very remote site (about 2 hours outside a town that is 4 hours from the closest city) where this famous dinosaur was discovered.

It was an amazing experience – and ABC captured it all for their newest 30-minute special, Beyond the Bones: Dinosaur Mummy CSI, airing tomorrow night – Saturday, Oct 4 - after the 10 p.m. news. They braved the elements, trekked to the top of the highest cliffs, risked the ire of some very enthusiastic cows - and even hung outside of vehicles to bring you the story of an extraordinary 77-million year old duckbill dinosaur. If it sounds dramatic – that’s because it was.

Now that’s commitment.

As a photo, this is kind ofimpressive – in the sense that nowadays, anyone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt is perceived as a crazed loon. But I was in the car in front of this one – and what you don’t see is the foot-thick mud we’re fish-tailing through, the 200-foot cliff that’s only slightly to the left of this frame, the forty-degree incline of the hill and the pouring rain that’s obscuring all of the drivers’ vision. I felt like a crazed loon just for being there, and I was buckled in, windows up with a white-knuckle grip on the hang-bar. Mike (holding the camera) is just crazy-awesome – and I can’t wait to see the shots he got.

Art Rascon interviews paleontologist Mark Thompson,
who was on the dig that uncovered Leonardo.

The rain and the mud were so bad that only extremely tough vehicles could make it through to the site where Leonardo was discovered – which is located in one of many, many almost unbelievably gorgeous ravines that – out of nowhere – just fall away from solid ground. (It’s a good idea to watch where you’re going.)

It’s actually pretty tough to get there in normal conditions – so, our transport options were limited. When Mark, one of the paleontologists who was there when Leonardo was uncovered, jumped in the back to ride down to the site – Art and Mike rode with him to get an interview along the way. (Notice I am taking this photo from the safety of the car’s interior). This shot really does not do justice to the madness of trying to avoid being thrown from a vehicle that’s descending 40 degree, unpaved inclines littered with boulders – in the rain.

You can get in on the action – which covers everything from Leonardo’s life 77 million years ago and the site of his unexpected discovery in Montana to behind-the-scenes shots of the exhibit in Houston and the second hurricane Leonardo experienced – when ABC airs the special this Saturday night. Tune in – and come by to see Leonardo for yourself; he’s in Houston through Jan. 11, 2009.