Sieving out the big picture

Dr Steven C Sweetman (UK) Fig. 1. Dinosaur model at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta of Canada. Ask any palaeontologist, professional or otherwise, to name the first fossil vertebrate or vertebrate group that comes to mind and the chances are that the majority will come up with something like the charismatic dinosaurs (Fig. 1), Dimetrodon, the saber-toothed ‘tiger’ or some other large and spectacular creature from the past. The chances of anyone coming up with, for example, albanerpetontids (Fig. 2), an extinct (Middle Jurassic to Pliocene) group of newt-sized, superficially salamander-like amphibians, are probably next to nil. Fig. 2. Reconstruction of an albanerpetontid from the Early Cretaceous of Spain based on an exceptional specimen displaying soft tissue preservation. Indeed, who except specialists have ever heard of the Albanerpetontidae (Figs. 2 and 12)? However, an understanding of the small animals that lurked in the shadow of the large and generally better known beasts with which they coexisted can often shed valuable light on ancient ecosystems and palaeobiology, and provides insights that cannot be obtained from study of big beasts in isolation. Fig. 3. Searching for small vertebrate fossils in the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta of Canada. Despite this, the discovery of beautifully preserved dinosaur and large fossil mammal remains, particularly in the badlands (Fig. 3) and tar pits of North America, has quite naturally generated much more public interest than the discovery of microfossils. Fig. 4. Part of a remarkable reconstruction of small theropod dinosaurs attacking a hadrosaur, … Read More

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