Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Fossil Fish, Pt. II: A History

Fossil Fish, Pt. II: A History


– So see, he plowed up this giant rock here and it’s got a palm leaf on it. – Oh wow. – So we’re here with Lance Grande, who is the distinguished service curator at the Field Museum, and we are standing in a giant rock quarry in Wyoming – This is a great lake system, called the Green River lake system, which persisted almost 20 million years. – Oh man. – [It’s] one of the longest-lived lake systems that we know of. – Wow. – And we’re in the smallest and shortest-lived of those lakes, Fossil Lake, which probably only existed about a million and a half years. But that’s a long time for any lake, especially when you
consider the Great Lakes in North America. They’re only about 10,000 years old. – Wow, yeah, we got nothing on this lake system. – You have an entire community here that’s locked in stone. We’re out here lifting these slabs and we’re seeing all kinds of things that haven’t seen the light of day for 52 million years. – I think most people—when you tell them that you’re going on a paleo dig— —they assume you’re looking for dinosaurs. Clearly we’re not finding any dinosaurs of the typical kind out here, but we are finding an entire ecosystem, essentially. – Well, and it’s interesting that you bring up dinosaurs, because one of the interesting things about this site is… you know, about 65 million years ago, we had the extinction of most of what we think of as dinosaurs, except for the bird lineage. That was due to a meteorite impact off the coast of Yucatán, which left a 50 mile wide crater there. It extinguished more than 50 percent of all the species on the planet. And what we’re seeing here is how the Earth was recovering after that. – This is the largest or most complete representation
of early Eocene life in the world. – Oh by far. This is an amazing locality. This is probably the most productive fossil locality in North America. – Really?
– We have a lot of different birds coming in, in a sky that’s no longer ruled with pterosaurs. – Right. – You know, we’ve got mammals taking the place of all these terrestrial dinosaurs that existed before. And although they’re very peculiar when you compare them to mammals and some birds today, they’re nevertheless representatives of these modern families. – It is very hot. I’ve noticed this. It didn’t take me very long to realize there’s not a lot of shade around here, and it’s curious to me because we’re standing next to what is obviously and evidently evidence of a palm frond, which indicates that this climate is much different today than it was millions of years ago. – This high mountain desert is a real contrast to the subtropical environment that existed here 52 million years ago. We not only have these palms, that the bulldozer pried up yesterday, there was a crocodile found right over there. It was about 12 feet long. And you have chunks like this, which represent volcanic ash. There were active volcanoes around the lake. Remember, we’re talking about geologic time, so when we look at this quarry here and go all the way up to the top of the highest quarry here, we may be talking about 50,000 years or more. And if you think in ecological time how much can happen in even a hundred years or a thousand years, the fact that we find volcanic eruptions and maybe signs of earthquakes, that is just common and it’s compressed time because we’re
looking at geologic time. – So, in addition to finding random fishes, you’ll find little
schools of mini fishes and that sort of thing, but we’re also finding and discovering behaviors of animals that were previously unknown. – This site is so amazing and there was this flash preservation of things almost. And so I can come out and I can find fishes that are in the process of choking to death on other fishes. Fishes with stomach contents of other animals that they’ve swallowed… I can find leaves with insect chew marks and the insects
that made the chew marks. There’s even a stingray, a rare stingray here, called Asterotrygon. We have a mated pair that are actually clasped together. And then a pregnant female, and then another slab with a female that had just given birth with two young beside it. – A lot of the stuff that we’re finding here too—yes they’re extinct, but they’re not totally unknown or unrecognizable species. – Just the other day there were two 6 foot turtles found
in the quarry next to us. There’s a three-toed horse that comes out of this quarry, which is about 24 inches high at the shoulders as an adult. This place has been mined for fossils for more than 150 years, and there have probably been 3 million fishes excavated in that time. And there’s still a fish that’s only known by one specimen: a pike. In 3 million fishes, only one pike, and what that tells me is there’s so many things here that we haven’t found yet. It’s just this—you know, you need almost an infinite sample size to know what actually existed then. – We have a very pieced-together map of life on Earth as we know it, and by looking at places like this kind of locality, we’re able to find the puzzle pieces that fit into the timeline, essentially. – Well that’s exactly right. The evolutionary pattern’s a network, and we find pieces of it in almost every group. We have the bird that is a missing link between the swifts and the hummingbirds. We have fishes that link different families. We have all kinds of things here that literally answer questions about evolutionary trees that were previously unable to put together. – Do you think we’ll ever exhaust this area? Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where people
think we’ve found everything there is to find here? – No. It would be impossible.
– Yeah.

100 comments on “Fossil Fish, Pt. II: A History

  1. That was great, fossils rock! Hey thebrainscoop, in the next video I would like to see some more brain scooping please.

  2. Great video as always. Emily may want to heed a bit of advice. Cowboy hats and digging for fossils have much the same relationship as coke to whiskey. The former makes the latter much easier to take. Speaking of cowboy hat wearing paleontologists, Robert T Bakker would make for a great episode. The man posited the idea of sauropods with trunks, that's a brain I'd like to see scooped. Metaphorically. 

  3. Brings back memories of a family vacation, best time ever! We have so many fish that we dug up. This makes me want to go so it again.

  4. Although I'm not always in the mood to learn what you guys want to teach me (in a particular video) I just want to say that the fact that this channel (and others like it) exists, and is watched regularly, gives me hope for humanity. Honestly, I love you guys, and the work that you are doing is just brilliant. Keep it up!

    On a related note: I've been studying geopolitical industrialization today and, to me, it really is a no-brainer: The world would be a much better place if people like Emily were in charge. Shame things don't work that way.

    Anyhow, have a great day!

  5. I just love this <3 field trips are so much fun and for me as a palaeontolgist reconstructing eco systems by finding these fossils is just aaaah Im so exited g you never know what you will find and that keeps it interesting :3 

  6. i guess that when you're doing paleontology you realize so easily and so "overwhelmingly" how dynamic and alive is our planet, and how time is a matter of perspective and how it is almost alive

  7. Always something wonderful on The Brain Scoop! Emily is the world's foremost Curiosity Correspondent – I'd follow here anywhere!

  8. I think it'd be really cool to meet Tom McNamara in one episode. I feel like the cool thing about YouTube is that production is so small-scale, and that you're able to get to know the whole team. Certainly it was great when Michael Aranda was behind the camera, and him being a youtuber in his own right.

  9. I really hope that people continue to flock to this show. There was a time when I looked to the Discovery Channel for good science content. Save Mythbusters, I've learned that the best educational content is found right here on YouTube. I'm not even a kid. I'm old, like 40+, and yet I just can't get enough of this kind of quality programming. I hope other viewers of The Brain Scoop pass their love of this great show on to others.

  10. thx for this amazingly ha bisky vid i love this stuff so much i want to go on one of these digs it looks like fun

  11. I'm enjoying your field trip.  Nice editing, too!  You should carry lip balm in those hot and dry places.

  12. I absolutely love seeing the joy that everyone at the Field Museum takes in their work. It really shines through in every video.

  13. This made my day! It makes me want to go out and look for fossils like I used to do as a kid. I have a small collection of shark teeth and shells and one dinosaur fossil of an unknown type.

  14. "Just the other day two (fossilized) six-foot turtles were found in the quarry…" I knew it, the Ninja Turtles invented time travel. Looks like two of them didn't do well.

  15. These episodes from the dig site have been amazing. I feel so lucky to be given a way to experience it it. Thanks to everyone who makes it happen.

  16. Wait so what caused this "flash preservation"? I mean that seems like a lot of time so it really could have been anything, but is there anyway to know? Does anybody know what kind of research has been done and where I could look to find it out?

  17. These videos make my day.
    I study something that I'm worried that I'm not interested in. These show me I'm wrong. Or rather, they show me there's a lot of interesting things among the uninteresting.

  18. I've been watching the brainscoop so long that I just instinctually hit the like button right as the video starts. I never regret it.

  19. "Meteorite Impact"(1m50s)? I thought that they are called "meteor impact", and that meteorite is what's left of the meteor after the impact?

  20. Was getting fidgety with the long wait since the last video, but this did not disappoint! I can see why it took so long to produce these field trip videos. Great work with the slideshow as well – those are some fascinating fossils!

  21. I said it in person, but I've got to say it again: I love your show. Especially the episodes that don't feature pussy squirrel cheeks.

  22. Awesome video!
    Kind of silly, off-topic request. Would it be possible to include the titles and composers of the pieces you use in the description? Just thought I'd ask.
    DFTBA!

  23. I love these videos that you guys do. I never realized how much fun and interesting paleontology can be. Thanks for spending your time on making these entertaining and educational videos for the rest of us who work in a dark office. 🙂

  24. Dear thebrainscoop team,
    Should you be able to take a photo of that fossil pike Mr Grande was talking about, please upload it in one of the Ask Emily Videos or on facebook. Would be much appreciated! 🙂

  25. It's amazing to get this kind of detailed snapshot of earth's history in fossil form. And cool to have the Field Museum take an actual field trip! A nice change to going through natural history artifacts collections inside 😀

  26. We have nothing like this in the UK but I was wondering if this is a publicly accessible site in America? Could any fossil hunter try their hand at finding some fish or is it closed off to scientific bodies/permit holders? Fascinating place.

  27. Thank you, Emily & Tom, for all your hard work! As a scientist, I enjoy how clearly you communicate not just the sciencey bits, but your excitement about learning and discovery. Clearly you have not forgotten to be awesome! Can't wait for the next one…

  28. I mean this in the best possible way, the music and editing reminded me of a Wes Anderson film (specifically "Life Aquatic" or "Grand Budapetst"). Keeps getting better.

  29. As much as I like hearing about discoveries I already knew about (how the dinosaurs became extinct and so on), I really love hearing about new discoveries even more. So when I hear about pieces of the evolutionary network being found, I absolutely marvel at the work being done. This is one of the best BrainScoop episodes. Thanks, Emily!

  30. These episodes are capital-A Awesome!!! I have such a soft spot for fossils, always have since I was a kid, they're SO. COOL.

  31. Its insane to me just how different everything once was. I can't imagine palm trees and crocodiles in areas like Wyoming. LOVE THIS SHOW!!!

  32. Emily has such a nice way with the experts on her show.  She really listens.  It's not all about her.  Excellent job!

  33. When sawing or hammering down into the rock, how does one avoid damaging fossils? Do the saws stay above the 18-inch zone you mentioned in another video? Is damage just a small but accepted risk?

  34. Plural of Fish is still Fish! Or at least around here in St. Louis. Not used hearing "Fishes". Sounds so wrong.

  35. We went over to Michigan a couple years ago and I found a trilobite fossil on the beach, then a few years later I found a fossil of something that resembled a lobster tail in a lake in Texas. Finding fossils is awesome!

  36. I know I'm late but below is the summary of this two part series

    Part I: Emily gets to work
    Part II: Emily gets a sunburn

    But in all seriousness, great videos and great quality content

  37. I dunno why I get such a kick out of hearing, after the obligatory dramatic pause, Emily say "It still has brains on it." at the end of each video, but I do!

  38. These guys are finding fish and alligators. Meanwhile my collection and anything else I find is just a LOT of zebra mussels. I'm a tad jealous. xD

  39. The chances of any individual animal being fossilized is very very low, so even in a place where the conditions were good for fossilization, each fissile found there may have been thousands of animals that died right in that location that did not fossilize.
    They think that perhaps 10 billion fully modern humans have lived, but even that number means that the chances of any modern human dying in a location where he or she might be fossilized is so low that chances are, not one human has done it yet.

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