Red Pandas And The Fossil Record Of Cuteness

Guest Author: Jack Lovegrove
Current Palaeontology & Evolution MSci Student

Red pandas are undeniably cute. This has made them a rising star of pop culture; they have even starred in their own Netflix cartoon the adorable ‘Aggretsuko’. They seem to be increasingly stealing some of the spotlight from their giant namesake. Beyond just being cute however red pandas have a fascinating evolutionary history. These quirky bamboo eaters are the last survivors of an evolutionary dynasty whose domain once stretched from Spain to Tennessee. Consider this article both a dive into the niche subject of fossil red pandas and as an excuse to look at cute red panda photos online.

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Scotland’s Lady Of The Devonian

Guest Author: James Ormiston
Palaeontology MSci Graduate / Palaeoartist

You very likely know the rhyme “She sells sea shells on the sea shore”. You may also have heard that it was inspired by the famous Dorset fossil hunter Mary Anning. You may, or may not, know that it’s potentially unlikely that Anning was the real inspiration for the rhyme (the rhyme is much older than many people realise). It makes for a nice story though! (more…)

Training

The talks we have make on this web site may be used in many ways: school teachers can use them as direct presentations to their pupils; individual academics or students can to use the talks for one-off presentations.

We suggest that institutions consider organising an engagement/ outreach programme as a way to achieve greater impact.

Organisation of an outreach programme

The outreach coordinator might like to organise a team of final-year undergraduates or graduate students to deliver the talks. These students should be keen volunteers, ideally with reasonable to good presentation skills, and certainly with an appetite for enthusing people about science.

The coordinator might also use a departmental administrator or secretary to co-ordinate bookings for the talks. It will be necessary to contact schools, and encourage them to make bookings, so it’s a good idea to have one person to promote the service and take initial bookings. The local education authority can probably provide a list of schools and/ or names of relevant teachers so first contact can be made. Then it may be easiest to generate bookings and to keep in touch by using an emailing list.

There will be some modest costs in visiting schools. It’s important to have a small budget so students can at least claim their travel costs for school visits. You may be able to tap into local funding for “widening participation” or “outreach”.

Training

The students who are to give the presentations must be trained – there’s nothing worse than sending someone out who lacks experience and gives a dreadful science show.

Your college or institution may already offer suitable training sessions. Another option is to invite a trainer to come from one of the many Engagement training agencies. Failing these, your outreach coordinator can train the students, perhaps using the Powerpoint we offer here:

This brief training module contains the basics, so that a small team of student presenters may avoid some of the obvious pitfalls. It’s important to run through the key points with the group, and then to ask each student to present a short prepared section of a science show.

You should make students aware that they may be rejected at this point if they lack the ability to engage an audience and to speak confidently and conversationally.

We strongly recommend that each student volunteer goes out on the road at least twice with an experienced presenter. They can perhaps participate in the show, and take over a larger part each time before they are sent out on their own.

The Museum Of The Mundane

During the summer of 2020, I posed a question to the BDP volunteer community. I asked them to rummage through their collections and present what they felt was “the most underwhelming fossil or rock” in there. The dream was to create the most disappointing show and tell the palaeontology world has ever seen. I can happily report, the people heeded the call.

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How Fast Was My Dinosaur?

Guest Author: Dr Rachel Kruft Welton
Current Palaeontology MSc Student

In 2013 we went on holiday to Portugal. It was blisteringly hot every day and sightseeing involved an effort of will. I was, however, not going to miss out on the famous dinosaur tracks that litter the Lusitanian Basin around Lisbon. We parked next to the Nossa Senhora de Cabo on the Espichel Coast and made our way over the cliffs, down a stony path. We were near two sites containing trackways: one called Pedra da Mua and the other called Lagosteiros. (more…)

Jurassic Tacos – A Beginner’s Guide To Thylacocephalans

I’ve previously talked about one aspect of my Masters project on this blog, discussing the poor benthic crustaceans of Jurassic Somerset. If somehow you missed that blockbuster entry you can find it here. Sorry if the ending has been spoiled for you because of all the conversations and memes it no doubt inspired over the past few months. But there was more to my project than what was scurrying across the sea floor, I also looked at the monsters floating above them. To understand them, you first must ask one question; what on earth are Thylacocephalans?

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Time Burton’s Dinosaurs Attack! – The Jurassic Park Rival That Wasn’t

Guest Author: James Ormiston
Palaeontology MSci Graduate / PalaeoArtist

We all know the story leading up to the summer of 1993: God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates Steven Spielberg, Spielberg creates dinosaurs, dinosaurs inherit the box office (other creation timelines are available). The titanic impact of Jurassic Park brought a head to the public’s interest in dinosaurs which had been bubbling over for some years.

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Spider Evolution – 3D Trigonotarbid and the Spiders from Tars

Guest Author: Dr Rachel Kruft Welton
Current Palaeobiology MSc Student, University of Bristol

The story of spider evolution starts over 400Ma, when their eight-legged, thick-waisted ancestor crawled out onto land. The pre-cursor to spiders were chunky beasts called trigonotarbids. The earliest trigonotarbid fossil comes from Silurian rocks near Ludlow, Shropshire. Trigonotarbids were a successful group of arthropods, whose fossil record stretches from the Silurian, through to the Permian. Unlike spiders, they had a segmented abdomen (opisthosoma), which can be seen in the 3D fossil (Figure 1), and no spinnerets, suggesting that they did not make silk, or at least not strands of it.

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My Top Three Lagerstätten

Guest Author: Dr Rachel Kruft Welton
Current Palaeobiology MSc Student, University of Bristol

Lagerstätten are fossil deposits containing exceptionally preserved remains of creatures from the past. Often soft parts have been preserved and snap-shots of organisms in life-like positions have been captured. The creation of such a fossil deposit is an enormously rare event, and as such, Lagerstätten have been enthusiastically studied.

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