CLOSE
 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

New Jersey Fossil Haven Might Reveal What Killed Off the Dinosaurs

 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

In southern New Jersey, some 15 miles away from Philadelphia, the key to the demise of the dinosaurs may be lurking behind a suburban Lowe’s store. The Inversand quarry in Mantua Township contains thousands of fossils that date back as much as 66 million years, when the area was at the bottom of the sea. The 6-inch layer of earth some 40 feet below the ground is a rich source for paleontology research, one that may be able to finally provide solid evidence that the dinosaurs died off in a mass extinction after a meteor struck the Earth about 66 million years ago. 

Kenneth Lacovara, paleontologist at the local Rowan University, is trying to prove this hypothesis—which is common among paleontologists but difficult to find fossil evidence for—using a mass of nearly intact skeletal remains found in this thin layer of sediment. Because many of the larger skeletons are still fairly intact, it’s likely that the animals died off at the same time—as in a mass extinction. The fossils date back to about the same period as the meteor impact on what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. 

The 65-acre quarry, once the source of a water treatment product called marl, shut down amid the 2007 recession. In September, Rowan agreed to pay $1.95 million to buy the site and turn it into a citizen science lab, preserving the area for future scientific research. While Lacovara doesn’t have enough evidence to prove the mass extinction hypothesis just yet, the mass of fossils from 66 million years ago will provide scientists with a better idea of what went on at that time. 

[h/t: The New York Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie
iStock
iStock

When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Art
Crocheted Costumes That Make Pigeons Look Like Extinct Species

When it comes to envisioning what extinct species looked like, we don’t have much to go on outside of a select few museums with skeletons and reconstructed models. But now, one artist is giving us a whole new way to look at long-gone birds like the dodo or passenger pigeon. 

California-based artist Laurel Roth Hope is a former park ranger and conservationist who creates detailed costumes that make ordinary urban pigeons look like birds that no longer soar through the skies, Boing Boing reports. Her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons create doll-like representations of birds most have never seen. (The pigeons in the photos are hand-carved mannequins, though, so don't worry about the poor bird that has to don a dead relative's outfit.)

A close-up of the Carolina parakeet costume shows crocheted details.

“Inspired by the traditional use of fiber-craft to provide safety and comfort,” she writes in her description of the project, “I have been crocheting small suits for urban pigeons that disguise them as extinct birds, thereby (visually) re-creating biodiversity and placing a soothing ‘cozy’ on environmental fears.”

The costumes depict birds that went extinct both recently and centuries ago. The last dodos famously disappeared in the 17th century. The last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha that lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, died in 1914. (Hope’s work was featured in the Smithsonian’s 2014 exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, held during the centennial of Martha’s death.) The heath hen, a grassland species that has been the subject of recent de-extinction efforts in Martha’s Vineyard, went extinct in 1932.

A a green and yellow crocheted costume makes a pigeon look like a Carolina parakeet.
Carolina Parakeet, 2009

Two birds in crocheted costumes depicting heath hens appear to interact on top of a rock.
Heath Hens, 2014

A blue and orange crocheted costume makes an urban pigeon look like a passenger pigeon.
Passenger Pigeon II, 2014

Three taxidermied birds are covered in crocheted costumes making them look like extinct species.
From left: Bachman's Warbler, Cuban Red Macaw, Mauritius Blue Pigeon, 2015

Two taxidermied birds covered by colorful crocheted fabric are placed beak-to-beak.
Paradise Parrot and Guadalupe Caracara, 2013

Unfortunately, as she writes on her site, the patterns for the bird suits aren't available to share, so you can't make your own stuffed dodo.

[h/t Boing Boing]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios