What's the big deal about tiny fossils? 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?
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A fossil the size of our pinky nail is not typically what we hope to see when we come to a natural history museum 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 for more than a century. Huge skeletons of Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus and other iconic dinosaurs have been unearthed. They have provided the foundation for research on what dinosaurs looked like, what they ate and how they moved.
 
However, those characteristics of big dinosaurs are only part of the story.
 
Like animals today, dinosaurs lived in complex environments populated by many smaller species. Dinosaurs depended on their more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems. Many dinosaurs were themselves rather small, like dog-sized dromaeosaurs who roamed the United States during the Cretaceous. And, of course, even giant dinosaurs started life as little hatchlings.
 
Some paleontologists are combing fossil formations for the hordes of tiny fossils left over from dinosaur communities that lived millions of years ago.
 
Find out more in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast on Thursday, March 10, 2016 on "What Tiny Fossils Explain about Big Dinosaur Ecosystems" airing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST 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?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (21)
  • kaylynm1-col
    3/01/2016 - 07:00 p.m.

    It's important because the tiny fossils help us understand when and where they lived.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/01/2016 - 09:41 p.m.

    The tiny fossils would have been able to find evidence that the big dinosaur fossils that they had found are actually part of the story that scientists had been able to find on the rocks that have evidence of changes to the story. The fossils that the scientists had been able to find are able be added to the story that when they first found the big dinosaur bone that is only part of the story. The scientists had been able to get the part of the story to be increasing because the scientists had been able to get the evidence to be added to the part of the story of fossils. Scientist had been able to get the evidence to be added to the story which people would be able to get the story to be making more sense to people who wanted to learn about fossils.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why is studying tiny fossils important?
    Answer: Because the tiny fossils has evidence about how dinosaurs had lived and the evidence would be added to the story.

  • natalier-4-bar
    3/02/2016 - 12:48 a.m.

    Studying tiny fossils is important because the discovery of them, "Are paving the way for a new understanding of where and how dinosaurs lived,"(paragraph one). Tiny fossils are paving the the way of understanding of how dinosaurs lived because actual dinosaurs depended on the more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems, the smaller dinosaurs. Knowing about the smaller dinosaurs still helps the study of how dinosaurs lived long ago. Also not all dinosaurs were huge, a majority of the dinosaur population would actually be considered smaller dinosaurs. So, studying tiny fossils helps us understand how the smaller dinosaurs lived, which will eventually lead to how all the dinosaurs lived. I didn't really like this article. The topic did not interest me as much as I thought it would.

  • briannec-ste
    3/02/2016 - 01:04 p.m.

    Tiny fossils could be more important than the big ones, there could be so much more to it. A big bone could just be a leg but a smaller one could be a skull to something.

  • erino-6-bar
    3/03/2016 - 11:28 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossils is so important because smaller organisms are typically at the bottom of the food chain meaning that larger organisms, especially carnivorous dinosaurs depended on them for food. Ina addition, "dinosaurs depended on their more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems" so learning about the smaller organisms that form smaller fossils would teach scientists more about the ecosystems at the time which, in turn, will let them know more about the larger dinosaurs and such at the time.

    I liked this article because I had a large interest in dinosaurs when I was younger and they still fascinate me today.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    3/05/2016 - 10:42 p.m.

    I used to consider working as a paleontologist or archaeologist, so it's cool to see the great discoveries such work has made. It's hard to image dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth, compared to a world that is now consumed by cars, buildings, and billions of people. Paleontology presents people with evidence of past life, whether that evidence consists of tiny fossils or fossils that expand to great lengths.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    3/07/2016 - 10:48 p.m.

    I think that even the small fossils are important. Even the smallest detail can give you a lot of information. They even might be able to combine to something totally different than expected. I think that studying tiny fossils are important because you can learn a lot about a fossil by how it is shaped and treated. The fossils even might be baby dinosaurs of huge dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex or the Stegosaurus. I think that people should study whatever fossil they find and not leave out any clues or discoveries of the past. You might be able to find a lot about a single tiny fossil.

  • kbeatty-cel
    3/09/2016 - 10:26 a.m.

    This is very important, because it is such a leap in science and history. More and more details give people the information that everyone has asked about for years. With new information and new fossils being found, modern day animal species could possibly be traced back to the dinosaur ages.

  • garretta-fel
    3/28/2016 - 02:22 p.m.

    Studying fossils is important because we can learn about past species and study their diet and their life.

  • johnj-fel
    3/28/2016 - 02:24 p.m.

    Studying of tiny fossils is important because the discovery of them "are paving the way for a new understanding of where and how dinosaurs lived."

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