Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Support Meaghan & Amy's Beer Fund!

Wanna purchase a sweet Christmas gift AND support a good cause at the same time? Well, look no further than the fantastic science gifts at Borealisbones and our CafePress stores! All the money made through these fantastic venues will go directly into the Vengeance Team beer fund, aka magic "write more dumb stuff on our blog" juice. 

See, while Amy was being job-blocked by the government shutdown she started making really incredible earrings out of caribou antlers. All the antlers were naturally shed and collected by Amy outside of the park's boundaries, so have no fear: Alaskan, but still legal for sure. 

Caribou Antler Earrings with Garnet Accent

Monday, November 18, 2013

Awesome Dead Shit: Squaloraja

Yes, that is a fossil not a sedimentary rorschach diagram - in fact, it is a cartilaginous fish. Our very own patron saint of paleontology Mary Anning found this bad boy in the early 1880's. Mary Anning sold the fossil to John Nash Sanders, but either she hadn't found the tail at the time that she prepared the fossil, or simply hadn't finished prepping it, but either way Squaloraja polyspondyla was originally described sans its tail, and sketched by Mary Anning as follows:

The body and tail were never reunited. Sad times... except that the body got asploded during the Bristol Blitz, and so the tail was the only part that survived (being housed elsewhere at the time). So yay?

Different Squaloraja, not exploded

So why was Squaloraja such an important find? Mary noted that the specimen shared characteristics of both living sharks and rays, causing general confusion. Remember how everyone thought nothing went extinct back then? Now we know that it is a member of the Order Chimaera (ratfish), one of the oldest and most diverse family of cartilaginous fishes. The closest living relatives of Chimaera are ratfish, though cartilaginous fish  split nearly 400 million years ago. Squaloraja showed up around about 200 million years ago, and it should not be too surprising that, considering its ancestry, it looks like a shark/ray hybrid critter. While epic in appearance, the Squaloraja lifestyle was pretty tame; it was a bottom feeder that lived in shallow marine settings.

Squaloraja is at the bottom
The Vengeance Team shares a little place in their hearts for cartilaginous fishes, especially since their Vertebrate Paleontology class. While studying the evolutionary history of fishes (fascinating mmhmm zzzzzz) they realized something, cartilaginous fish had bones, but then they lost them! Sharks and chimaera stem from bony fish ancestors (see shark family tree below) and some of these guys had bones. This means sharks and rays secondarily lost bones in favor of cartilage, oh snap.
Ray Troll beautifully illustrates the evolutionary tree of fish. Squaloraja would fit in up by the Chimaeras.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Message in a Bottle Privileges Revoked!

(Maybe this post should be called "When Douchebags Visit the Parks" but we're trying to be less abrasive in our titles.)

Last week, Amy found a message in a bottle (see exhibit A). 

She was hiking near the savage river with the park’s geology crew when she noticed the glint of green glass near her feet. The object caught her off guard: there isn’t much litter in Denali, and it was the first she’d seen all year. As a good Samaritan she picked it up, intending to recycle it, when she realized that there was a note inside of it bound with rubber bands.

Exhibit A: Treasure Map???

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

GSA 2013: The Good, The Bad, and The Coyote Ugly

GSA was full of its fair share of tummy aches, talks where squinting was the only option, and hilarious, fabulous geology. First off, I finally physically met my mentor, Kate Zeigler!
Amy, Kate, and their Paleozoic pal eurypterid!
Our meeting in person was almost more than the geology gods could handle, but we fortunately weren't struck down and made into fulgurites (heh) as we dined on burgers and milkshakes. I could finally ask some questions that are hard to phrase over email ("Erm soo paleomagnitude... that's like, yeah, basalt points north? Poles switch and it blows my mind?") I also got a chance to grill her on some hard hitting paleo-questions which will be featured in an upcoming Vengeance Team interview (Meaghan guest stars and wow, what a guest she makes...).

I hadn't realized how much I had in common with Kate, who has been my mentor through the Huffington Post Girls in STEM program from afar for a few months. We have plans to rock climb in New Mexico whenever my skin becomes so pale that the SW sun is the only cure to my vitD deficiency.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

SVP Summary Part 1: Dinosaurs are Surprisingly Relevant

We know, we know, there was no blog post last week. We're sorry. We were doing a science. We'll make up for it by posting too much this week instead!

Amy is still trying to pull together her thoughts from GSA (the beer there was free), but Meaghan has decided that instead of creating a cohesive summary she's going to vomit some grey matter on the page and let all y'all just deal with it. Today we're going to talk about Meaghan's favorite non-poster presentation which was, surprisingly, a dinosaur talk!