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.  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 on what dinosaurs looked like.  It also provided information about 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. They were populated by many smaller species. Dinosaurs depended on their more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems. Many dinosaurs were themselves rather small.  An example was the dog-sized dromaeosaurs who 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 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 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 (88)
  • samanthas-1-ste
    3/01/2016 - 09:18 a.m.

    Tiny fossils also help scientists determine what happened. They may be small, but they still can impact the whole study of how they roamed, lived, and what they ate.

  • christianr-4-bar
    3/01/2016 - 11:59 a.m.

    Studying tiny fossils are important because it shows us where and how dinosaurs lived back then.

    • giselleg-sch
      3/01/2016 - 02:56 p.m.

      3)I agree because tiny fossils can lead into big discovery's to find more and more fossils and make history.

    • quincyl-pom
      3/09/2016 - 01:13 p.m.

      Yeah actually once you get tiny fossils it is closer to solving a dino

  • kaideno-kut
    3/01/2016 - 12:03 p.m.

    It gives us evidence about big dinosaurs in many different ways.

  • williamb220905-
    3/01/2016 - 12:37 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossils is important because dinosaurs lived in complex environments. They were populated by many smaller species. Dinosaurs depended on their more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems. Many dinosaurs were themselves rather small. (Paragraph three) That is why finding and studying tiny fossils are important.

  • danielr-sch
    3/01/2016 - 01:24 p.m.

    (4)In the 20 century,they had less information about dinosuars and tools to help,in the 21 century they had more info and tools to help them find more about dinosuors

  • haileyj-jen
    3/01/2016 - 02:33 p.m.

    Like animals today, dinosaurs lived in complex environments. They were populated by many smaller species. Dinosaurs depended on their more diminutive community members for food and functioning ecosystems. Many dinosaurs were themselves rather small. An example was the 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. They lived millions of years ago.

    Find out more in a live "Smithsonian Science How" hu webcast 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 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.

    • evelynl-ren
      3/14/2016 - 06:56 p.m.

      Studying tiny fossils is important because paleontologists can study the smaller dinosaurs and learn how small and large dinosaurs lived and acted. They can also tell if the small fossil was a life form or a plant and look at other small fossils around it to determine what the habitat was like way back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.That is why studying tiny fossils is important.

  • siobhanw-wes
    3/01/2016 - 02:35 p.m.

    It's important because it help see how they lived and provided the foundation of their research.

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