Big Turtle Hunt: Go West, Young Woman
Greetings Blogophiles! Temperatures are rising, parts of western North America are on fire, and I’m as restless as a cat with fleas. This can only mean it’s time to go get some air in our hair. Normally, this time of year, I’d be shouting about it being squid hunting season, but this year is different…very different. IT’S TURTLE SEASON! Yes… turtle season! This year for a change of pace and because I’m way behind on my lab analyses of the fossil squid, we are going turtle hunting…technically fossil turtle hunting. Leading this excellent adventure will be Dan Lawver, Research Associate with the Museum and current Montana State Graduate student. This is a good thing because, what I know about turtles and vertebrates in general could fit on the back of one of those fleas. I am an invertebrate paleontologist and though turtles have shells, they are certainly not mollusks.
Here’s what I currently know about turtles: Turtles are weird. They’ve somehow managed to incorporate their ribs into their carpaces (shells), making them the only animal with ribs outside of their scapulae (shoulder blades). How they got that way is one of life’s great mysteries. Thank you, Dr. Mary Schweitzer, for this fact. My overly restless mind really needed something else to dwell on when I’m trying to get to sleep.
The other thing I know about turtles is, left to their own devices, turtles are power hungry despots who will climb all over each other to get what they want. I know this because I have watched turtles in their tanks and have read “Yertle the Turtle,” a fine cautionary tale about the hazards of turtle stacking.
Dan’s knowledge of turtles is far greater than mine. His graduate thesis is focused on a clutch of turtle eggs with embryos from the site we are going to. Dan is describing the eggshell microstructure, the embryos, as well as, other turtley goodness. Turtle remains from the site may help to determine who laid the eggs. So, ostensibly we will be looking for both turtles and eggs!
We will be hunting for fossil turtles and eggs on Bureau of Reclamation property; however, we’re not just looking for turtles and eggs. In the process of planning for the turtle hunt, Dan’s advisor was notified about an elasmosaur skeleton that is weathering out on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property near Dan’s site. So, after the turtle hunt we will be making a detour to this new site to investigate the skeleton.
Land controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation and BLM are also known as “public lands” and to legally work on these properties we are required to file for collecting permits and to deposit the specimens in federally “accredited” institution. In this case, because Dan is doing the research, any vertebrate specimens we collect will ultimately be housed at The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Dan has dutifully filed all the paperwork, we have our permits, and we are good to go. We leave for the field on July 21st . Please stay tuned for more from the field.