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Big Turtle Hunt: Things are looking turtler and turtler

July 26, 2013
Image of the bright orange full moon rising over our field site

Moon rise over our field site. Photo by Brit Garner

Hey Blogophiles, Greetings from If-You-Don’t-Like-The-Weather-Wait-a-Few-Minutes, Montana. We are back in Bozeman after a successful turtle hunt. If you read my previous turtle hunt blog, you already know that leading the turtle hunt was Dan Lawver, what you don’t know, because I neglected to tell you, is Chris Torres (UNCW graduate student and former NCSM Geology Temp.) and Brit Garner (soon-to-be Montana State graduate student in Science and Natural History Film Making) joined us on our search.

Our field site was up north of Havre on Bureau of Reclamation lands where a clutch of fossil turtle eggs had been found previously. For those of you who are interested in such things, we were searching in the Judith River Formation sediments, which are Campanian (Late Cretaceous) in age and are from a low-lying coastal environment. Affectionately known as the Egg White Site, we were excited by the possibilities of what we might find.

Image of outcrops of the Judith River Formation at our field site. Photo by Trish Weaver

Outcrops of the Judith River Formation at our field site. Photo by Trish Weaver

Having arrived in the evening, our first mission was to set up tents, to eat, to sleep and to start field work early the next day. We got the tents set up and headed back to town for a quick dinner. Unfortunately, during that time a roving band of theropod dinosaurs invaded our site, or at least that’s what Chris Torres’ dad, Bob, thought.

Image of tents at our campsite being invaded by large green theropod dinosaurs. Image creatively made by Bob Torres using Photoshop.Thi

Campsite invaded by large theropod dinosaurs. Image creatively made by Bob Torres using Photoshop.

Of course that didn’t actually happen, but a huge storm did roll through, effectively flooding two of our three tents. Rather than spend a very wet miserable night sleeping at the site we grabbed a cheap hotel and crashed.

Image of a double rainbow against a blackened skyover the Walmart parking lot in Havre, MT

Double rainbow over the Walmart parking lot in Havre, MT. Photo by Trish Weaver

Next morning the hunt was on. Within a few minutes of exploring, everyone was finding broken fragments of bone and Chris found a small theropod dinosaur tooth.

Image of a small theropods dinosaur tooth with quater for scale. There is a hand holding the quarter. Photo by Chris Torres

Small theropod dinosaur tooth with quarter for scale. Photo by Chris Torres

As the day progressed we found several small individual pieces of turtle shell from two different types of turtles, trionychids (related to extant soft shelled turtles) and Adocus (an extinct group presumed to be somewhat closely related to soft shelled turtles). Things were looking turtler and turtler.

Image of a white fragment of a trionychid turtle shell with a quarter for scale. All set against a gray background of the sediments. Photo by Trish Weaver

Fragment of a trionychid turlte shell with a quarter for scale. Photo by Trish Weaver

Though they don’t look like much, these finds are important because they are two groups of turtles that have not previously been found from this site. Dan can tell them apart based on the different textures of their shells.

Image of part of a brown turtle shell from Adocus with a quarter for scale. Note that the pattern is different from that of the trionychid. Photo by Trish Weaver

Part of a turtle shell from Adocus with a quarter for scale. Note the pattern is different from that of the trionychid. Photo by Trish Weaver

Other than turtle shell pieces, we also found a small, very weathered bone which might be a limb bone (maybe from a turtle?) and some large, broken dinosaur bones. Because they were just the shafts and are not identifiable as to what dinosaur they came from, we did not collect them.

Image of a broken shaft of a dinosaur bone (brown) with a quarter for scale. Photo by Trish Weaver

Broken shaft of a dinosaur bone with a quarter for scale. Photo by Trish Weaver

We spent a day and half scouting the turtle site, after which we headed east and ultimately north to the “Elsamosaur Site” on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. We arrived late in the day and walked down to where the BLM folks had previously found vertebrae weathering out of the sediments. This site is in the Bear Paw Shale, a marine unit that is the same age as the Judith River Formation. Once again our efforts were hampered by weather. This time quarter sized hail, which was fun to watch bounce across the field like golf balls but rather painful to be pelted by. Next morning we were up and ready to find “Nessie”, unfortunately our extensive search of the property yielded no skeletal remains or even anything remotely fossil-like (other than a single piece of fossil wood). But we did right by the permit and Dan can confidently tell the BLM we didn’t see anything useful.

Though, it wasn’t turtles all the way down, the big turtle hunt did give Dan more information as to what types of turtles may have laid the eggs he is working on and I learned a whole lot more about turtle evolution and joys of summertime weather in Montana. Also Dan found this really cool extant lizard, more commonly called a “horny toad.” A name which amuses in ways it probably shouldn’t, but then again I am not a herpetologist.

Slightly blurry image of a Horny Toad in the hands of Dan Lawver. Photo by Trish Weaver

Slightly blurry Horny Toad. Photo by Trish Weaver

As I said in the beginning we are now safely back in Bozeman, ready for our separate adventures which will ultimately lead me back to invertebrates and the museum.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2013 6:07 pm

    Well done, Trish! We enjoyed your writing; both the content and humor. I am happy you all survived the field work and weather in Montana.

    Love, love, love,
    Betty Lawver

    • Trish Weaver permalink
      July 26, 2013 6:09 pm

      Thanks! We appreciate all your support.

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