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)
  • marshallh-wes
    3/01/2016 - 02:37 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossil is important because it show us how the dinosaur lived, ate, and socialized. Smaller dinosaur depended on their group for food and a functioning Ecosystem. Without studying we would know nothing about our earths history and about dinosaurs.

  • antoniak-jen
    3/01/2016 - 02:39 p.m.

    Because they teach us about the food the carnivorous dinosaurs ate and the ecosystems that period presented.

  • julianw-wes
    3/01/2016 - 02:44 p.m.

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

  • meac-jen
    3/01/2016 - 02:46 p.m.

    Why exactly do very small fossils make a big deal?

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

    Extra credit
    I think studying tiny fossils is important because it shows how the dinosaurs lived back then.

  • cristinai-sch
    3/01/2016 - 02:58 p.m.

    critical thinking: Studying tiny fossils is important because it helps understand more about them.

  • wylies-war
    3/01/2016 - 03:04 p.m.

    studying fossils is important because they help to find out where they lived

  • bradleym-war
    3/01/2016 - 03:07 p.m.

    because it helps find out how the big dinosaurs lived.

  • malachig-kut
    3/01/2016 - 03:18 p.m.

    a tiny fossil can explain a lot

  • cristinai-sch
    3/01/2016 - 03:23 p.m.

    2)Even though we only find small fossils it can help us understand more about how dinosaurs lived.


    1)They lived millions of years ago.
    2)They roamed on earth during the Jurassic and Cretaceous ages.
    3)They lived in complex environment.

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