Tiny fossil jaw of a rhynchosaur (reptile) from the Late Jurassic that lived alongside dinosaurs in Wyoming. (Photo by Matthew Carrano, Smithsonian/Depiction by Mary Parrish, Smithsonian)
What's the big deal about tiny fossils?
February 29, 2016
A fossil the size of our pinky nail? That is not typically what we hope to see when we come to a natural history museum. After all, we're there to learn about dinosaurs. But it is exactly those tiny fossils that are paving the way for a new understanding of where and how dinosaurs lived.
In the fervor to find skeletons of the large dinosaurs that roamed Earth during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, paleontologists have been probing fossil formations. They've done it for more than a century. Huge skeletons of Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus and other iconic dinosaurs have been unearthed. They have provided the foundation for research. A big question, of course, is what did dinosaurs look like? We want to know about what they ate. We want to know how they moved.
However, those characteristics of big dinosaurs are only part of the story.
Like animals today, dinosaurs lived in complex environments. They were populated by many smaller species. Dinosaurs depended on the smaller community members for food and functioning ecosystems. Many dinosaurs were themselves rather small. One example? The dog-sized dromaeosaurs. They roamed the United States during the Cretaceous. And, of course, even giant dinosaurs started life as little hatchlings.
Paleontologists are combing fossil formations for the hordes of tiny fossils left over from dinosaur communities. The dinosaurs lived millions of years ago.
Find out more in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. It can be viewed on Thursday, March 10, 2016. The webcast is called "What Tiny Fossils Explain about Big Dinosaur Ecosystems." It will air at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST. Find it on the Q?rius website. Dr. Matthew Carrano from the National Museum of Natural History will discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to use with the webcast.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is studying tiny fossils important?
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