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October 11, 2017 is National Fossil Day! Kallie Moore, the collections manager at UM’s Paleontology Center, talks to Hank today about why fossils are important, and how you can get involved in this national holiday! (Psst. at 12:20, there's a snake)
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Hank: Hello and welcome to SciShow Talk Show on National Fossil Day.  It's that day where we talk to interesting people about interesting things and today we're talking to Kallie Moore.  

Kallie: Yes!

H: Hi. 

K: Hello.

H: Of our new show,  

K: Yes.

H: That was a great high five.

K: That was a good one.

H: And you are the collections manager at the UM Fossil House?

K: Almost!  Fossil house, I'm gonna change the name.  University of Montana Fossil House.

H: Fossil home.  Home for old fossils.

K: Yes, a home full of fossils.  No, the Paleontology Center, yeah, I'm the Collections Manager, so I'm like a fossil librarian.

H: Yeah, yeah.

K: At my fossil house.  

H: That's pretty good.

K: Yeah.

H: Fossil librarian either is a librarian that died a very long time ago, or a very good job.  So are you dead?

K: No.  No.  

H: Then you have a very good job.

K: I have a very good job, yeah, yeah.  

H: That's great.  How many specimens do you have in your fossil home?  

K: Mm!

H: You have no idea.  

K: No, not yet.  We haven't done a full inventory yet.  I assume, I guess--

H: How old is the fossil home?

K: How old is the fossil home?

H: Yeah, how long has it been there?

K: Oh man, our first specimens came in with like, the very first students at the U of M, so 1899 or so.

H: So you haven't done a full inventory yet.

K: Since 1899, no.  No.  

H: That's--you're getting to it.

K: Getting there, we're getting there.  I mean, we're volunteers.  Obviously we're volunteers, yeah, going through I think 50,000 specimens, probably, which is a lot.  A lot of specimens.  It tooks us three years to get through 5,000 specimens, so.

H: Well, so you can 30 years (?~1:35)

K: Job security!  There will always be specimens to curate and count so.

H: Cool, and how did you get that job?

K: Right at the end of my undergrad, I was like, oh, do I go to grad school or do I get a job and um, I found the job announcement in the back of a magazine and I applied and I got it and so I had four weeks from when I graduated to moving up here to Montana, so it was a whirlwind.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Yeah, it was awesome.

H: Well, welcome to Montana.

K: Yeah, I've been here for like, a long time though.

H: Yeah, I don't know how long you've been here.

K: Since 2008.  A little while.  I guess it's not a long time in the grand scheme of geologic history, it's pretty short.

H: Very, very brief amount of time, yes.  So speaking of, I see you've brought me things.

K: Of course.

H: Is that what you want to talk to me about?

K: Sure.  So, each year for National Fossil Day, they have a new logo, some new artistic representation of a fossil, and so they've done like, a mammoth, they've done all sorts of other things.  I can only think of the mammoth right now 'cause it was my favorite one.  It's got like, the aurora borealis in the background, so pretty.  Anyways, this year is called a (?~2:38) and it's this armored jawless fish.  Unfortunately, we don't have any specimens of that, so I brought the closest thing.

H: Okay.

K: To a (?~2:49)

H: So there's an armored, jawless fish.

K: Yeah.  So--

H: Why do you need armor if there aren't jaws yet?  

K: I don't know.

H: Or were there jaws?

K: There weren't jaws yet, very close.

H: There were no jaws.  

K: Yeah, these guys were some of the first jawed stuff that I'm gonna show you.

H: So the (?~3:06)

K: The (?~3:08) had no jaws.

H: Had no jaws, lived in a time before jaws, but were covered in armor.  To protect themselves from...?

K: Running into things?

H: The thought of sharks?  Just like, we had this idea that maybe there would be jaws someday.

K: Someday, preparing for the worst, I guess they were the ultimate preppers.  

H: Yeah.

K: Yeah, and they had no pectoral fins either.  They were these weird, like, torpedos almost, with no jaws, yeah, but anyways.

H: You brought me a relative.

K: A relative, yeah.

H: Okay.

K: So, we now have jaws.  You can see that from there.

H: This is a really beautiful fossil you've brought.

K: It's awesome fossil!  No, this is a little model, so it has jaws and pectoral fins now, but the fossil that I brought is of this little character.

H: This is actual rock that was found in--

K: Quebec, mhmm.

H: Okay.

K: Yeah, and this is from the (?~3:56), so the jawless armored fish are from a little earlier in the (?~4:01), and this guy, so here's the head shield here.  

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Head shield here.

H: Yeah.

K: And one of those little pectoral fins behind this.

H: That is a weird fish.

K: Yeah.  We think they were detritovores, so they just like, cruised along the ocean, the bottom of the ocean and--

H: Eatin' the dead stuff.

K: Eatin' the dead stuff, yeah, what a wonderful life.

H: And their tiny eyes, can you see--oh my God, I broke this thing.

K: You broke it!  No, it fixes.  

H: I'm looking for the eyes, but it's not showing(?~4:29)

 (06:00) to (08:00)

K: Yeah, it is kind of an explosion of life, but there was lots of life before it.  It was, again, just squishy and so at the Cambrian, the base of the Cambrian, you get biomineralization, so--

H: It's much easier for that stuff to fossilize.

K: Exactly, yeah.

H: Do you have a--like, a jellyfish, hard to get a jellyfish fossil.

K: Hard to get a jellyfish fossil.  Very hard.  There are some out there, believe it or not, but they're very rare.

H: Ever since Eons started out, I've been looking at lots more of this stuff.

K: Oh yeah.

H: And those like, weird animals that are sort of on the edge of what an animal is.  Sponge-like, jellyfish-like things.

K: Yeah, the (?~6:30) fossils or (?~6:31), tomato, toma-toh, um, those things are so weird, like, we have no idea how they even relate to just even Cambrian forms, let alone the rest of modern life, so that's a weird time period.

H: Yeah, we're like, it's in the script and it's like, wait, we don't know if this is an animal?  Like, how do we not know if it was an animal?

K: It could be--I'm pretty sure it's like the base of the tree before everything splits off.

H: Yeah.  Right.

K: It's all the things in one, mhmm.  

H: I mean, I guess I could ask where this thing lived, but like, where is anything?  It's in Quebec.

K: It all moved around.

H: And the ocean isn't there anymore.  

K: No, yeah, so, I'm pretty sure, during the (?~7:05), Quebec was closer to the equator than it is now, mhmm, and so this would have been more of a tropical sea type environment that these guys were living in, mhmm.

H: Eatin' all the stuff on the--

K: Eatin' all the stuff on the bottom.

H: So you have no jawless armored fish in your collection?

K: We don't have any jawless armored fish.  I looked, I was just like, no!

H: If it was, I mean, there's--the thing to rememeber, 50,000 of all life that has existed so far on Earth.

K: This is a little part.  We do have a wide-ranging collection, so I thought, well, hey, why not look?  I mean, you never know, maybe we do.  We did have an old nasty plastic model of one, but it was like, not impressive at all.

H: Didn't want to show it off?

K: It broke a couple of kinds, you know, it's a teaching specimen.  These are a little bit better.  I'm gonna actually put these into a display case later this year, so actually, hopefully it will be in the display case.

H: When you say these, do you mean this and that?

K: Mhmm, yeah, it helps people visualize.

H: I'll try to put it back for you.

K: With models.

 (08:00) to (10:00)

H: It looks like there's, like there's the fish going into this clearly, like a mech suit that a fish has put on.  

K: It is so strange, like, what?  You did that?  

H: I'm gonna make this happen.

K: But they weren't, you know, they weren't sluggish, even though you think, like, oh a fish weighed down by armor, that's not gonna be very quick and agile, but they were.  They were very streamlined.  They were quick.  Like, (?~8:28) would have been extremely terrifying back in the day.

H: That's the 30 foot one?

K: Yeah, mhmm, and it is--I hope we do an Eons episode on that.  

H: I mean, I'm sure we will.

K: Well, I'm sure we will.

H: There's lots to cover.

K: There's so much.  There's so much to cover.

H: But we'll get there.

K: We'll get there.

H: So what's up with National Fossil Day?

K: So National Fossil Day is like a national holiday.  It's put on by the National Park Service and Geosciences Institute and uh, it's a day to celebrate fossils and bring awareness and stewardship to the educational and scientific value of fossils and make people see that these are non-renewable resources, you know, like one T-Rex doesn't equal as many T-Rexes as you want, and so we need to keep them safe and keep them in museums like where I live.  

H: Uh-oh.

K: I know, well, or, you know, display.  

H: On my shelf.  

K: I know, you guys got a few.

H: I know, we've got fish.

K: And then you've got the big giant pterabird.  

H: Well, that's not a fossil.

K: It's a model, I know.  But it's a model, they're still cool.

H: Those are renewable resources.

K: Those ones are renewable.  You can make as many casts as you want.  

H: You can make as many of those as you want.

K: But we need to keep real things safe.

H: When I first discovered that you could like, walk into a shop and buy a fossil, I was just like, okay, here goes all my money.  Like, I never will have money ever again.

K: Yeah.

H: And there's so many of these fish in South Dakota.

K: Oh yeah.  I mean, there are some that seem renewable, but some day, we will work through that entire unit and it won't be there.

H: I mean, I hope we do.  I don't know that that's the case. 

K: It's a really big lake.

H: The other thing to remember is that there's a lot of Earth that has not been fossil searched at all.

K: Ohh, yeah, yeah, so like, a lot of people think our picture of geologic time is very incomplete, and in some ways, it is, but I feel like the more paleontologists go out and search in new places, the more that picture is gonna get filled in.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

H: Sure.  Yeah, absolutely.

K: Yeah.

H: We did an episode of Eons talking about these like, times when we thought something went extinct but then we found it again after like, tens of millions of years later than we thought it went extinct, even to the point of like, the (?~10:25), which still is alive.

K: Still is alive.

H: And we thought that it had been extinct for millions, tens of millions of years.

K: Just really good at playing hide and seek.

H: And also hangs out in places where, like, fossils don't form well.

K: True, that too.

H: So that is a--that matters a lot.

K: That is a complete bias on the part of fossilization is that not everywhere is really great for fossilizing.

H: Especially if you're like, trying to fossilize like, a giant fish.

K: Exactly.

H: There's very specific circumstances where you--to get these weird Pre-Cambrian squishy things.

K: Squishy things, and that had a lot to do with the microbes more than anything, so I call it the age of microbes and so they actually formed a crust over those dead things and that's what we're seeing.  The fossil is of the microbe crust creating like, almost like a death mask over these squishy things, so it's not even the fossil, it's not really an imprint, it's more of a cast made by other tiny little organisms.  It's bizarre.

H: That's cool.  

K: Yeah.

H: I did not know that.

K: Yeah.  

H: Do you have anything else (?~11:24)

K: Everybody go and find a fun thing to do on National Fossil Day.  There's stuff going on all over the country.  Since it is part of the National Park Service, any national park that has fossils will probably have something going on.  For example, Glacier National Park has like, one and a half billion year old (?~11:42) all the way to like, I think one cave has some (?~11:46) stuff, so almost like the whole gamut of Earth history can be found at a national park, but most museums that have fossils, anywhere that has a fossil will probably have something going on for national fossil day, so check out the National Fossil Day page and find something cool to do and celebrate today.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

H: Thanks.  This is amazing.  I feel honored being in its presence, 'cause it's not--it's not like the South Dakota fish, is it?

K: No, this is a little rarer.  A little rarer.

H: Well, let us meet, I think, this is actually pretty exciting.

K: I know, this is really exciting.

H: You know what we're about to see?

K: Oh yes.  I do.

H: Cool, me too.  

Jessi: Hey guys.

H: Hello.  It's funny, she doesn't seem that long because of how thick she is.

J: She's pretty thick, and she's all twisted up.  This is Daisy.

K: Oh my gosh, that was my grandma's name.  Oh wonderful.

J: Daisy is a red-tail boa. Her--boa constrictor, and she's--

H: Oh, cloudy-eyes.  Is she about to shed?

J: Yeah, so she has--looks like white or blue-ish tinged eyes, and that's because, yeah, she's about ready to shed.  She's going to molt, go through (?~12:52), and get rid of this outer layer of her epidermis.  These scales on the outside.  So when a snake is like this, if you have a snake at home or you're ever around a snake like this, probably shouldn't handle them.  

H: Well, what are you doing?

J: So if you know that they're going to be a little bit more nervous, then you can handle them in an appropriate way, and the reason that they're more nervous is just because they can't see very well and so you know, quick movements and like, anything like right in their face is gonna make them on edge and they may go through defensive maneuvers.  She is doing pretty good, and actually, can I set her back on that knee?

K: Sure.

H: How much does Daisy weigh?

J: Like a really awkward 35 lbs.  

K: Very awkward.  That's so crazy.

J: It isn't that heavy, but it's like--

H: Hard.

J: She's squeezing and then like, like, all her weight is like, over there and then like, yeah.  Or she like, wraps around one leg and you're like, okay.  

H: Yeah.  There's leverage involved.  

J: Yes.  She's very strong.  She has a lot of muscles.

K: Yeah, it's like, just muscle.

J: She's gonna find a comfortable spot, and usually I hold her standing up, so she's gonna try and wrap around me where she's most comfortable.

 (14:00) to (16:00)

A lot of people get scared, they're like--you doing alright?

K: Yeah, no, I was just thinking, wrapping around you, you know?

J: Yeah, a lot of people get like, nervous.  They're like, aren't they--isn't she gonna like, squeeze you to death and try and eat you?  Snakes, they're not robots, and they're a lot smarter than what people imagine they might be, and they can definitely know your size.  They look at you and they can see your size.

K: I guessed that.

J: And they're like, I can't fit that thing in my mouth.

K: I can't eat you.

J: She would go after a lot of rodents, mostly warm-blooded things, so she would be eating parrots and small monkeys and lots of different things.  Rodents and other little things in the jungle where she's from, and if she's like, stretching out like this to you and like, she's looking at you as like, a branch.

H: Yeah.  Yeah.  Right.

J: She wants to like, lean on you, but if she's like (?~14:47) neck like that--

H: I can very quickly--

J: Do that, the punch of the face.  Like, that's what snakes do, is they like, the punch things with their face with an open mouth, and she doesn't have like, the big fangs.

H: It's an interesting way to say bite.  They punch you with an open mouth.  

J: I mean--

H: No, and it's different from being bitten.

K: Open mouth punch.

H: 'Cause it's being like, it's like getting hit with a sharp, like, club with fangs in it.

J: It's a stunning punch, it is, yeah.  I've been bit by a smaller snake and I got a little, like a little bruise right there.

H: Yeah.

J: It was a corn snake.

H: But it was a smaller snake.

J: It was a small snake.  It was like a five foot snake with a head like that big.  Little one.

H: If you get punched in the head by Daisy, it's gonna hurt.

J: It's gonna hurt a lot.  It's gonna make your hand swell.  The puncture, you know, she does have long teeth, but they're not like, like, pit viper teeth, you know, she's not (?~15:33), but she does have a lot of curved teeth and so when she does, you know, grab something, she's going to wrap around it and she's going to--

H: It's not easy to let go.

J: Yeah, yeah, so it's stuck on there.  It's really awkward if they like, bite it on the side because they can't fit an animal sideways.  I mean, mostly they want to eat it by the head because it's like a little, like a little torpedo that goes right into their mouth.  They can eat it backwards first, but it's hard.  It's difficult.  

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