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?
Lexile

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. 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. One example were 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. 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.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 31 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is studying tiny fossils important?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (9)
  • dashiellg-3-bar
    3/01/2016 - 04:16 p.m.

    The tiny dinosaurs were mini versions of the huge dinosaurs like T-Rex and Stegosaurus that everyone knows about. But to further extend your knowledge in terms of dinosaurs you must study all types. Even if it is not as fun as learning about the massive iconic dinosaurs. I thought this article was interesting because I did not know that by looking at tiny fossils you will learn so much about dinosaurs.

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

    Studying tiny fossils is important because it gives us a glimpse on how living things were in the past. Millions of years ago dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today, scientists are using small fossils to find information on how they lived. In paragraph two it says, "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." This shows that dinosaur fossils are being used to help discover what life was like millions of years ago when these creatures roamed the planet. I think that it is great that scientists are still researching dinosaurs and letting the world know what life was like back then. There is so much information that they still haven't discovered and I don't think we will ever know everything there is to know about dinosaurs.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    3/02/2016 - 11:21 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossils is so important mainly because these organisms occupied so much of Earth's biosphere. As stated by the article, the complex environments of the past were dominated by smaller, simpler organisms. Such organisms live to this day in insects, bacteria, and diatoms, to name a few. They form the base of the food chains of every ecosystem, be it terrestrial or marine. Although large dinosaurs and sharks may be the most interesting to look at and observe, they only provide a small slice of what Earth's history has to offer. By studying organisms down to the smallest, simplest cell, we can truly understand the world millions of years ago.
    I chose this article because I have a deep interest in fossils. It is so interesting how scientists can study tracks and deposits in rock to piece together Earth's dynamic history. It is especially intriguing to learn that from studying even microscopic organisms and traces of them in the crust of the Earth, we can solve the mysterious puzzle of our planet.

  • kieranw-3-bar
    3/02/2016 - 11:43 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossils is important because it gives archeologists a greater understanding of the smaller species during these animals life times. Tiny fossils can give background information on the animals such as characteristics and food sources. This article intrigues me because first of all I am very interested in dinosaurs and discovering old relics, so learning more about how much smaller fossils matter in the bigger picture is very cool to me. Over all this article is very informative and teaches a good lesson about how the smaller things affect the bigger picture.

  • joiec-3-bar
    3/03/2016 - 07:01 p.m.

    Paleontologists have been studying fossils for decades. Studying these fossils in important so we can learn about what are planet was like before we existed. Studying fossils also helps scientists find out how dinosaurs went extinct and when they did. I found it interesting that there are fossils as small as our fingernails. I'm still trying to understand if these fossils were from babies or fully grown animals.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    3/03/2016 - 09:30 p.m.

    Most people do not think that tiny fossils can help much with the discovery of dinosaurs but those "tiny fossils that are paving the way for a new understanding of where and how dinosaurs lived." Even though many dinosaurs were big, "Many dinosaurs were... rather small." So it makes sense that some fossils are very small.

    The dinosaurs "were populated by many smaller species" as well. This also explains why we need to pay more attention to the smaller fossils.

  • sheilah-6-bar
    3/03/2016 - 10:20 p.m.

    Studying tiny fossils are important because they uncover a lot of dinosaur's lives. In the article it states,"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." Tiny bones are still bones that allow dinosaurs to live their lives. Small dinosaurs have even smaller bones. Each bone does its part to make up the body. I find this article interesting because I never knew what small bones could do.

  • josepht-2-bar
    3/08/2016 - 01:59 a.m.

    Studying small fossils is important because it tells us how they used to live. The small dinosaurs had a part to play in the environment. "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." I think it is interesting because I never really paided much attention to the tinny dinosaurs.

  • alexm-ver
    4/22/2016 - 06:36 p.m.

    That is really cool.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT