Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out how ancient organisms used to eat. Part of the problem is that we can never actually see extinct animals eating (until we invent time-travel.. *taps fingers impatiently at physicists*), and often it can be hard to work out how something ate based just on its anatomy. Sometimes though, the fossil record chucks up something truly spectacular, and gives us amazing insight into the spectacular diversity of ancient life.
I’m in Berlin. I’ve just managed to find a chicken donner kebab, and am pausing research briefly to write this. I’m currently on leave from London, with a ridiculously hectic couple of months ahead: I’ve just been to Munich to see a dwarf crocodile specimen, Alligatorellus beaumonti (from Bavaria), which conveniently happened to coincide with Oktoberfest, and am now here to visit another specimen, Theriosuchus ibericus, from Spain. Preliminary glances at the material in Berlin makes me think the Spanish material may be a new genus altogether (whatever that actually means), and another broken up specimen of Alligatorellus might be a new species, based on what I can tell from it’s body armour (yeah, these crocs were awesome!)
Alligatorellus beaumonti, holotype specimen. Copyright: Bavarian State Collection, Munich
Well, according to Sesame Street, all you need to do is sing the palaeontologist theme song!
So forget studying, research, and years of training. Actually, it is pretty cool – it does show this; all you need to do to become a palaeontologist is have a fascination for the natural world, and get your hunting hat on!
Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal) is an annual event where early career researchers get to demonstrate their research to an equivalent audience in a reasonably informal atmosphere. It’s also renowned as a mega p*ss-up, as everyone knows palaeontologists are chronic alcoholics (hence the dinosaurs with feathers hypothesis). This year, it was in the vibrant and cosmopolitan northern UK city of Leeds. Some of the research communicated there was pretty freaking sweet. You can find recordings of all of the talks on Palaeocast (at some point in the future), and the Twitter feed was #progpal if you want to see a historical live version of the event.