Oklahoma Fossils

After driving for a couple of hours, crawling under a barbed wire fence, walking about a quarter of a mile through muddy, bee-infested ground, and stepping over cacti, there it was, Waurika Pond. This wasn’t your average pond, of course. Waurika Pond had dried out long ago (millions of years ago), and, incredibly, its surface was covered in fossils. There were lots of fossils from way back in the Permian (252 to 299 million years ago), before the age of dinosaurs.

Our friend Carl, who suggested we go to the Waurika Pond, helped us identify many of the fossils we found. We found 2 teeth from an Eryops, which is a type of giant amphibian. We also found some other amphibian or reptilian skull fragments, teeth, and jaws. A dimetrodon is often mistaken for a dinosaur with scaly skin and a sail on its back, but it is a synapsid (humans are synapsids too). We found some fragments of the spines from its sail.

There were also some non-bone fossils including 2 spiral-shaped, shark coprolites (also known as fossilized poo). The big thing (which was actually small) was the shark teeth! As opposed to the ones we found at Big Brook, these had 2, 3, and sometimes 4 prongs! Some of the teeth were really tiny and could fit on our fingertips, while others were pretty big. All of them were an unusual purple-ish color!

Not only were there fossils, there was a lot of living wildlife. There were cows around the area, but not in the lake itself. Speaking of feces, there were several dung beetles, rolling actual dung balls up the side of the dried pond. There were owl pellets all over the place; we found at least 4 with nearly complete rodent skeletons in them. Two collared lizards ran over our lunch bag on two legs before hiding under some rocks. While we were watching the lizards, we found a whole snake skin and no snake, fortunately. On the mammal side of things, we saw a fox on the way in and a rabbit while we were leaving. The trek to get through the mud was difficult, but it was definitely worth it. If you’re ever in Oklahoma, you should make a trip to Waurika Pond!

Sharks 2

Sharks, the predators people fear due to lack of information about them. However, if you can pass your fear of death by shark, there are many cool things to learn about them. They are cartilaginous fish, so they don’t have bones and their skeletons are made of cartilage. Sharks have been around for about 450,000,000 years and there are about 440 known species of sharks today. They’re so tough that they even survived the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

When classified by body shape, there are three main types of sharks. The first type are larger sharks, with long, thin bodies that cut through the water. These sharks are the most commonly known and can be found in open ocean. This category includes great white and tiger sharks.

The next group of sharks have small, slender bodies that can fit into small spaces, like in between mangrove roots. The sharks you can pet at aquariums like chain catsharks and dogfish fit into this category. The final category of sharks have flat, wide bodies and usually stay on the ocean floor. They burrow into the sand and ambush their prey. Sharks like wobbegongs fit into this category.

This is a basic introduction to sharks, and there is a lot more to learn about them. Believe it or not, sharks are actually in need of our protection! In Asia, shark finning is still going on. Shark finning is when fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins, and then throw them back in the water. Fins don’t regenerate, so the sharks will die since they can’t move and catch prey. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in many asian cuisines, but people don’t have any use for the rest of the shark. So the next time you go out for Chinese food, skip the shark fin soup!

The Seychelles

Ever heard of the Seychelles? The answer should be yes, if you read the previous newsletter. The Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands. What is an archipelago? It’s simply a group of islands. This archipelago is located east of Africa and north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

The cool thing about this archipelago is that the islands are either granitic or coral. The granitic islands are incredibly old – 750 million years old. The Seychelles broke off from India after India broke off from Africa 84-95 million years ago (when the supercontinent Gondwanaland separated). A few million years before that the same thing happened to Madagascar.

The capital of the Seychelles is on a granitic island called Mahé. The capital’s name is Victoria. If you visit Victoria, you can see the natural history museum! There is also really cool snorkeling with incredible biodiversity. You can see lots of fish and coral and sometimes you can even see sea anemones, sting rays, sea turtles, and eels.

If you go on a hike in the Seychelles, you can see lots of biodiversity. There will are many trees including 6 different kinds of palm trees and coconuts on the trails. Sometimes, you can see many millipedes if you’re at the right height approximately 100-150 m above sea level. There will also be lots of skinks and geckos scrambling around to get out of your way and occasionally a giant land tortoise. If you look up you might see lots of different kinds of birds and even some bats.

So if you love science and seeing the biodiversity of different places, the Seychelles just might be your idea of a tropical paradise.

Ailuronyx Trachygaster

Do you know what animal has the scientific name of Ailuronyx Trachygaster? Now, before you go and google it, I’m going to tell you the answer. Ailuronyx Trachygaster is the scientific name of… the Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko (or the Giant Bronze Gecko)!
The Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko was first discovered in 1851. Now, the only specimen which is in France says it was from Madagascar. So why don’t we see if we can find any in Madagascar. Ok, here we are. I don’t see any Giant Bronze-eyed Geckos. Did you find any? No? Oh well. *Gasp* Does this mean they went extinct? I mean, nobody’s seen one for over 150 years! 🙁
Wait! What? Someone found a Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko?! Where? …in the Seychelles? Does anyone know where the Seychelles are? They are tiny islands near Madagascar. (Feel free to google that, or you can wait until our next newsletter.) But anyway, YAY! The Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko is not extinct! They must have mislabeled where they found the first specimen. I’ll tell you a story about how they found the Giant Bronze Gecko-eyed in the Seychelles (for the second time).
Once upon a time, (around 2005) in the Vallée de Mai, there was a guy on a tour. At one point, the woman leading the tour saw a huge bronze-eyed gecko. She decided to point it out. The guy on the tour took some photos of it and later realized that it was a Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko. Of course, he got all of the credit :(. And (maybe) lived happily ever after.
The story continues during my recent trip to the Seychelles. Can you guess what I saw? That’s right! I was one of the ~100 lucky people (according to Chris Raxworthy, a curator of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History) to see the Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko! We found it in the Vallée de Mai way up high on a male Coco de Mer tree (see article above for more info on the Coco de Mer).
The male Coco de Mer trees have yellow flowers from which the geckos drink nectar. These geckos also eat the eggs of the Black Parrot (also found in the Vallée de Mai), which is rare and endangered, but not as rare as the Giant Bronze-eyed Gecko. Of course, when I asked my dad to name the gecko we saw, he said that it looked like a Chuck. So we ended up naming it Chuck Steelix (for the Pokémon players. You know, like onyx? Ailuronyx) Trachygaster. Chris Raxworthy said the geckos are about two feet long and that there were probably only 10 people that know their scientific name, Ailuronyx Trachygaster so now even more people know its name!
The End…
Or maybe you could go to the Seychelles to continue this story. You could find Chuck. Say “hi” for me if you do. It’s really nice there. See you at the next newsletter!

Birds of Paradise

In the animal kingdom, “it’s usually survival of the fittest, but for Birds of Paradise it’s survival of the sexiest,” as the Perot Museum says. Birds of Paradise are isolated species, so they don’t have to worry about staying alive. They have to worry about passing on their genes. Tim Laman and Edwin Scholes went on several expeditions to record and photograph all thirty-nine species of Birds of Paradise. Each one has developed a unique mating ritual to go with its individual species.

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Linville Caverns

dscn1430A rubber snake? While I stood on line for the Linville Caverns, I noticed a black snake that was about four feet long. It had been on the side of the wall for the entire time while I sat on top of the wall.  The snake was pointed down while its tail was still in the rock above. “Is that a snake?”, I asked as I pointed to the wall. My dad walked closer and said “That’s an odd place for a rubber snake.” He bent down to within a foot of it and reached out. Suddenly, its tongue flicked out! “That is not a rubber snake,” I said plainly as my father jerked his hand back.

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Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, FL

I think that Lettuce Lake is an awesome place. There is so much wildlife there. There are alligators, insects, owls, snails, cardinals, flowers, trees, and more. There is red-orange water, instead of regular clear water. I am guessing that the coloring  is because of minerals and the plant and animal life. Many animals could find food and shelter there.

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