Kansas Fossil Search

Re-posted from the BioRx blog – http://wp.me/p4PfB2-1f

I finally had the chance to evaluate my sediment samples that we collected from the Flint Hills last week (I may or may not have been missing a PD meeting at the time… I was eager).  The beautiful sediment striation made me think that surely there would be some great micro-fossils in the soil.

Checking the samples.
Checking the samples.

Sadly, the dirt in the area is almost entirely eroded rock.  Under the microscope it looks almost like brown sugar.  It is possible to see where water bubbles had formed as the dirt was repacked after the weathering, which would allow some discussion with students, but nothing more substantial.  I was initially disappointed.  Then…

Alas, what yonder lies?
Alas, what yonder lies?

Well that is certainly something!  I cleaned the subject with a small painting brush from which I had cut/plucked most of the bristles for a very fine point.  I used the brush and a wire probe (an inoculation loop with the loop snipped off using metal nips) to center the find and turn it over.  Here is what I saw after the preparation:

IMG_20140807_122644

I wanted to jump to a trilobite identification, but something was bothering me.  This shape looked too familiar.  I spoke with a couple colleagues in my department, and no one could make a confident identification.  I worried that these remains may be a pill bug carapace that had been sun-bleached.  My department chair suggested that I evaluate the hardness of the sample, because fossilized remains should be harder (due to their replacement of many constituent substances with sediment) while more recent remains should be frail and brittle.  Using forceps I performed this evaluation and found that indeed the sample was highly fragile and was destroyed quickly during manipulation.  Ultimately I was left with one confirmed fossil in the entirety of my new collection.

IMG_20140807_141200
The lonely spoils: a gastropod impression.

Despite the low density of “keepers”, this exercise would have been great for students.  Acting on an informed prediction, testing a sample with multiple explanations, and ultimately confirming the less desirable explanation but still contributing to the understanding of the location are all a big part of the scientific process.  I will have to look elsewhere for local sources of fossils, but my understanding of the area is more complete now and I had a ton of fun doing some real paleontology.

Recollections from the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Field Trip

As one of the trip coordinators for this year’s field trip, I must say that even though I was a bit stressed when our journey began and not everyone decided to take advantage of the free van transportation, it didn’t take long for me to relax as I watched the participants striking up conversations with each other in the field.

IMG_2266
Our first stop was at the Headquarters of the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge where we met with Kim Martin, Federal Law Officer at the refuge.  She showed us a 12 minutes video introducing us to the history and growth of the national wildlife refuge system.  She then talked and answered questions about the Marais des Cygnes refuge and her duties in federal law enforcement.

IMG_2326
After our introduction, we check 15 small mammal traps that had been baited and set the afternoon before.  The traps were set in a recently burned restoration area, a non-burned restoration area, and a non-burned area that within a remnant tallgrass prairie.  We had no success in either of the restorations but captured a single hispid cotton rat and lone deer mouse in the prairie remnant.  While traversing the prairies the young naturalist in our party enjoyed netting the numerous great spangled fritillary butterflies we observed pollinating a stand of dogbane.

IMG_2353
IMG_2343
From there we travel to another prairie restoration along Yardley Road to search for Mead’s Milkweed.  This federally endangered plant is known to exist naturally at three locations on the NWR property.  The plants we saw were individuals that had been planted into one of their restorations.  Participants were able to find a couple of plants that were in full bloom.

IMG_2372
From there we returned to Linn County Park for lunch and a short siesta.  When finished, we returned the NWR and headed to Stick Pond adjacent to the photoblind to check 4 turtle traps that had been baited and set the evening prior.  Three of the traps were hoop traps and one was a cage trap.  Each were baited with creamed corn and mackerel.  Interestingly enough, three of the traps had not a single turtle while one of the hoop traps contained 13 turtles of three species – 1 large snapping turtles, 1 painted turtle, and 12 large sliders (2 males and 10 females based on fore fingernail length).  It took us awhile to safely position the snapping turtle for removal from the trap and get a few pictures.  You’ll have to check out the KABT Facebook site for images of the turtles.  I had my hands full and didn’t want to get my camera wet.

IMG_2300

After our interactions with the chelonians, we traveled a wooded area surrounding an abandoned coal mining operation.  We were in search of the only stand of swamp white oak in the entire state of Kansas.  We read the informative email from MdCNWR Biologist, Tim Menard, which contained the following information –  “As you walk west from the state line parking lot, the swamp white will begin to appear before you get to the old service road, and definitely before you get to the flowing creek.  many of these trees are forked at the base.  Then you can see many more as you walk to the northwest.  The leaves look like chinkapin (which are just on the other side of the hill).  However, look for last year’s acorn caps with the long stem attached.”  We successfully found the trees.  At this stop we also witnessed a ringneck snake and the caterpillar of the pipe-vine swallowtail butterfly.  Chris Ollig from Blue Valley North High School introduced the group to dendrochronology and the appropriate use of the increment borer.

IMG_2399

IMG_2429

IMG_2411

IMG_2439
Next, we traveled to Turkey Foot Pond, a man-made pond resulting from previous coal mining activities.  There we checked four additional turtle traps as well as surveyed for freshwater mussels known to occur at the site.  As the name implies, Turkey Foot Pond has three fingers.  On our descent to the western most finger, we encountered a lush stand of equisetum.  Two young snakes were observed – a plain-bellied water snake and a northern water snake – and a horsehair worm was discovered swimming in the pond along the shore.  We found a number of mussels the most abundant of which was the three ridge mussel.  The identities of the other mussels encountered awaits verification by mussel experts.  In the second finger we searched, we captured two sliders in one of four traps deployed.  Check out the aged slider that doesn’t look like a slider anymore in the images below.

IMG_2467

IMG_2457  IMG_2480

IMG_2489
Finally, we travelled to the Marais des Cygnes River itself to search for the mussels beds that eluded Kelley Tuel and I on our previous trip to the refuge.  The group rallied their remaining reserves of energy to make the 1/2 mile walk into the site.  Along the way a number of gravid ribbon snakes were found hanging out in a warm ephemeral watered ditch.  Most of the kids and only two adults made there way into the river.  Not thinking, I swam downstream looking for mussels and found a few weathered shells and a young slider basking on a log.  Otherwise, the kids enjoyed this final swim one of the parents of the big muddy.

IMG_2504 IMG_2509 IMG_2528 IMG_2536

On Sunday, those that were left travelled to the Smith Ranch newt pond.  We encountered a large plain-bellied water snake (check out the story on the KS Herpetology Facebook), a worm snake, and a ground skink.  None of us braved the muddy pond to seine for newts.

IMG_2545 IMG_2574

IMG_2568

IMG_2586 IMG_2595

I will be adding some links in the future, and subsequently will be creating individual posts for some of the information that we planned on sharing but didn’t seem the time to.

Enjoy!

 

 

Teaching Food Safety through Food Science

Professional Development at the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute
at K-State Olathe Campus

When: June 13-16, 2011, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Who: Middle and High School Teachers
Application Deadline: May 13

Classroom and laboratory instruction focusing on:

  • Food safety and food borne illness prevention
  • Chemistry and microbiology of food
  • Food safety and public health career pathways
  • Field experience in industry & horticultural settings

The lessons will be led by researchers from KSU, and participants will be taking field trips to Sysco, Danisco, and The K-State Research and Extension Horticultural Center at Sunflower as well.

The workshop includes a $1000 scholarship to offset potential expenses, and can be taken from for Graduate Credit.

See the following Flyer or website for more details, and contact Roberta Robinson at robertar@ksu.edu or 913.307.7316 with any questions.