Fla. Museum featured in National Geographic "Prehistoric Predators" TV series Tuesday

April 27th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — National Geographic Television will feature the Florida Museum of Natural History in a show on prehistoric predators at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology curator Bruce MacFadden was interviewed for the “Terror Bird” show, which includes footage of the Titanis skeleton sculpture from the museum’s “Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land” exhibit.

Titanis lived on the South American continent and was a top predator after the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. They used their strong beaks and neck muscles to spear through the meat and bones of captured prey. Most of these birds were flightless. (more…)

Fla. Museum seeks volunteers for Newberry fossil dig

November 27th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History Vertebrate Paleontology Division is looking for volunteers to assist with fossil collecting at a major site discovered in 2005 in a limestone quarry northeast of Newberry.

The fossil dig began in October and will continue until Dec. 20. Volunteers are needed seven days a week between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and physically fit enough to work outside for a minimum of three hours. No previous experience is necessary.

The site is approximately a 30- to 45-minute drive from Gainesville. (more…)

Wanted: Puzzle-lovers to help process 220 fossil skeletons found near Newberry

June 27th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Now that the second field season of excavating fossils at a site west of Gainesville has ended, Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologists are gearing up to begin work on the approximately 220 skeletons and literally thousands of specimens uncovered between mid-September 2006 and May.

Florida Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager Richard Hulbert is looking for volunteers over the age of 16 who enjoy working on puzzles and are able to devote time weekly to washing, sorting and repairing the material.

“We’re looking for people who are really good with puzzles,” Hulbert said. “Because despite the wonderful preservation at the site, pressure has crushed many of the bones into five, 10, or even 50 pieces that have to be put back together.” (more…)

Fla. Museum volunteers join hunt for flightless "Terror Bird" fossil skeleton in Newberry

March 26th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History scientists continue to find complete fossil animal skeletons in a 2-million-year-old sinkhole in western Alachua County and are desperately seeking volunteers to help excavate the site.

Located northeast of Newberry, this site has produced the largest number of fossil animal skeletons ever found at a single Florida location. With the help of volunteers, scientists hope to find the first skeleton of the 7-foot-tall flightless Terror Bird, Titanis walleri, that once roamed ancient Florida.

Florida Museum crews led by professional paleontologists are digging at the site every day until the end of May and more volunteers are needed most days. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, physically fit enough to work outside for a minimum of three hours and provide their own transportation to the site. No experience is necessary and all needed training will be provided on the first day of work. (more…)

Register now for Fla. Museum annual Thomas Farm fossil dig

January 29th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is accepting registrations for its 16th annual fossil dig at the Thomas Farm in Gilchrist County, to be held April 10-15. Ornithology curator David Steadman and other Florida Museum scientists will lead participants in excavating 18-million-year-old fossils of many species, including alligators, tortoises, horses, birds, bats and lizards.

Registration for the event, “Hummingbird Challenge III,” includes evening lectures by fossil experts, guided morning nature walks and all meals.

“Thomas Farm is a beautiful setting and is considered one of North America’s premier fossil sites,” said group leader Steadman. “This is a great trip for both novice and expert fossil hunters and this year we will continue our quest to find hummingbird fossils at the site.” (more…)

Terror bird arrived in North America before land bridge, Florida Museum study finds

January 23rd, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History-led study has determined that Titanis walleri, a prehistoric 7-foot-tall flightless “terror bird,” arrived in North America from South America long before a land bridge connected the two continents.

Vertebrate paleontologist Bruce MacFadden said his team used an established geochemical technique that analyzes rare earth elements in a new application to revise the ages of terror bird fossils in Texas and Florida, the only places in North America where the species has been found. Rare earth elements are a group of naturally occurring metallic elements that share similar chemical and physical properties.

“It was previously thought that Titanis immigrated to Texas across the Panamanian land bridge that formed about 3 million years ago connecting North and South America,” said MacFadden, a Florida Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida. “But the rare earth element analysis of a fossil Titanis bone from Texas determines its age to be 5 million years old. This shows that the bird arrived 2 million years before the land bridge formed, probably across islands that formed what today is the Isthmus of Panama.” (more…)

Fla. Museum-led study revises understanding of primate origins

January 15th, 2007

For Immediate Release Jan. 15, 2007, 5 p.m.

Paul Ramey, APR, (352) 846-2000, ext. 218, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu
Writer: DeLene Beeland
Source: Jonathan Block, (352) 514-1270, (352) 392-1721, ext. 515; jbloch@flmnh.ufl.edu

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study led by a University of Florida paleontologist reconstructs the base of our family tree and extends its roots 10 million years, a finding that sheds new light on the origin and earliest stages of primate evolution.

Published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and featured on the cover of its Jan. 23 print edition, the study offers compelling evidence that a group of archaic mammals called plesiadapiforms (please-ee-ah-dape-i-forms) are more closely related to modern primates than to flying lemurs, which previously had been proposed.

The two-part study examined specimens representing more than 85 modern and extinct species and provides evidence that plesiadapiforms are the most primitive primates. The team also discovered two 56-million-year-old fossils, the most primitive primate skeletons ever described.

“These fossil finds from Wyoming show that our earliest primate ancestors were the size of a mouse, ate fruit and lived in the trees,” said study leader Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “It is remarkable to think we are still discovering new fossil species in an area studied by paleontologists for over 100 years.”

Bloch discovered the new plesiadapiform species, Ignacius clarkforkensis and Dryomomys szalayi, just outside Yellowstone National Park in the Bighorn Basin with co-author Doug Boyer, a graduate student in anatomical science at Stony Brook University.

Ignacius previously was known to science only by skulls and isolated bones. Other scientists have proposed that the animal was not an archaic primate, but instead a gliding mammal related to flying lemurs. However, Bloch and his team debunked this idea based on an analysis of a more complete and well-preserved skeleton. The second species, Dryomomys, had a skull about the size of a grape with a body length of about 6 inches.

“The demise of the dinosaurs opened up ecological space for mammals to diversify, which they did—and quickly,” Bloch said. “The Paleocene, about 65 (million) to 55 million years ago, is the time period between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the first appearance of a number of undisputed members of the modern orders of mammals.”

Researchers previously hypothesized that plesiadapiforms may be the ancestors of modern primates, but this idea generated healthy debate within the paleontology community; Bloch’s team is the first to offer strong phylogenetic evidence supporting it. The team analyzed 173 characteristics of modern primates, tree shrews, flying lemurs with plesiadapiform skeletons to determine which species were most closely related.

“This collaboration is the first to bring together evidence from all regions of the skeleton, and offers a well-supported perspective on the structure of the earliest part of the primate family tree,” Bloch said.

Modern primates can be recognized by at least five characteristic features: relatively large brains, enhanced vision brought about in part by eyes that face forward, a specialized ability to leap, nails instead of claws on at least the first toes, and specialized grasping hands and feet. Plesiadapiforms have some but not all of these traits, and Bloch and his team argue that this group of early primates may have acquired these traits over 10 million years in incremental changes to exploit their environment.

Bloch said plesiadapiforms adapted to changes in flowering trees. As the trees evolved, the early primates became more efficient at utilizing their flowers, fruit and sap—and the insects attracted to these same food sources.

“Plesiadapiforms have long been one of the most controversial groups in mammalian phylogeny,” said Michael J. Novacek, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “First, they are somewhere near primates and us. Second, historically they have offered tantalizing, but very often incomplete, fossil evidence. But the specimens in their study are beautifully and spectacularly preserved.”

The team also includes anthropology professors Eric Sargis of Yale University and Mary Silcox from the University of Winnipeg.

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Fla. Museum fossil dig successful, more volunteers needed through May 13

April 13th, 2006

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologists and volunteers have recovered 60 partial to nearly complete animal skeletons from an ancient clay-filled sinkhole located in western Alachua County since work at the site began in May 2005, but more volunteers are still needed for the project, scheduled to continue through May 13.

Approximately 10 to 12 volunteers are needed each day, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, maintain a moderate level of physical fitness and be able to work outdoors for a minimum of three hours. Experience is not necessary. All volunteers will receive training and will work with museum staff and University of Florida graduate students. Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own transportation to the fossil site.


Fla. Museum hosts Oct. 16 paleontology lecture, book signing

October 4th, 2005

Photo avaliable

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host a free science lecture and book signing beginning at 2 p.m. Oct. 16 by palentologist Mark Renz titled “Giants in the Storm.”

Renz will share images and ideas from his 2005 book by the same name about a 500,000-year-old Southwest Florida riverbed where more than 2,000 bones and teeth of mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, llamas, peccaries and other animals were buried in an area the size of a baseball diamond.

The Florida Museum also will offer its free “Sunday Snoop” program for children ages 4-10 during the lecture. Adults can take a break and enjoy the lecture while museum staff entertain children for an hour with fun activities and a guided tour. Children will be returned to parents at the end of the lecture portion of the program.

Media Contact: Paul Ramey,  (352) 846-2000,  pramey@ufl.edu

Fla. Museum offers 14th annual Thomas Farm fossil dig

February 25th, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host its 14th annual “Pony Express” Thomas Farm Fossil Dig, themed “Hummingbird Challenge” from March 31 – April 3 and April 7 – 10. This year’s dig will focus on microfossils, with the hopes of uncovering a fossil hummingbird.

Participants will have the chance to discover hundreds of fossils at Thomas Farm, an 18-million-year-old site located in Gilchrist County that has already produced the remains of more than 60 species of extinct amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

David Steadman, the Florida Museum’s curator of ornithology, will lead the outings. The trips include dinner on Thursday through lunch on Sunday, beverages, complete access to the fossil site and its camping facilities, evening lectures by fossil experts on Friday and Saturday night, expert paleontologists and a chance to make scientific discoveries.


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