I like fossils and have collected a few but I don't know anything about them. Would the Society accept such a novice to be a member?
YES! Absolutely! Everyone who has an interest in fossils or any aspect of paleontology, is welcome and encouraged to join. We have members with a very diverse background in education and professional experience. Members without formal education in paleontology include blue collar workers, software engineers, (including non-science subjects), artists and medical doctors. We also have members who are teachers (including non-science), geologists and professor of geology and paleontology and professional paleontologists.
I have a class project. What are the duties of a professional paleontologist?
Below are several different areas in which a paleontologist may work. This may give you an idea that the question is not simple to answer. It should provide leads for you to follow regarding each type of work.
For most paleontologists, the principle task for a paleontologist is to study fossils in great detail. Fossils a measured in many way including length, breadth, circumference, distance between features, how many of a certain feature and so on. This informatin is used to compair one fossil to another. A paleontologist will determine the similar and different characteristics to determine if the fossil is known to science or is new or unknown to science. Not all paleontologist work directly with fossils in this way. Some study fossils to see what happened to the plant or animal during its life time. It has been determined that some dinosaurs had cancer, had broken bones that healed but probably gave them pain or discomfort for the rest of their lives. Paleontologist also study such things as bite marks on ammonites or turtles or other critters to try and find out what was attacking and probably eating them. Fecal remains, coprolites, are another way of knowing what something ate. (Coprolites are essentially rocks so there is no mess or smell.)
Paleontologists work for museums to oversee the museum's collection. Duties include helping with education programs regarding this field.
Many paleontologists work at universities. Usually, they are professors in the Department of Geology or Geoscience and teach paleontology, geology or geochemistry. A few paleontologists cross over or do double duty and are found in Math, Engineering, Biology and Chemistry Departments.
Paleontologist also work for petroleum exploration companies or in affiliated companies that assist with the exploration of oil and gas. These paleontologists work with microfossils (fossils so small that a microscope or even an electron microscope is necessary to view them). Certain fossils (Index Fossils) help paleontologist identify the age of subsurface formations. By identifying microfossils from drill cuttings, the oil company can determine if they have drilled deep enough to reach their target horizon.
What are the education requirements and job opportunities for paleontologists?
The first step is a Bachelor of Science degree (BS) is the minimum requirement. The BS is the usual four year degree in geology, earth science or biology. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) is not widely accepted because it does not require as many credit hours in upper level classes, especially math.
A Masters degree is a minimum of two years of study and often four after the BS degree. The purpose of the degree is two fold. Someone with a masters degree has specialized in a certain field of study and has gained knowledge about the scientific process and how to approach problems analytically. A field of study outside paleontology such as animal behavior, animal physiology, computer modeling or museum studies can provide special insight into paleontology.
Practically all professional paleontologist earn a Doctorate or Ph.D. degree which is a minimum of two years of study but may take many more. Some people will skip the Masters degree and begin their Ph.D. work after completing their undergraduate work but this in not the standard course of study. The Ph.D. is the most accepted level of education for a paleontologist interested in independent research. Independent researchers regularly publish their findings in professional journals. Research paleontologists usually work in for universities and museums.
Jobs in paleontology are limited. Most paleontologists are college professors and some work for museums. The government employs geologists and paleontologists at the USGS and the Department of Interior and Department of Energy. Of course, there is always a need for teachers at the high school level.
I am coming to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Where are some good sites to collect?
Easy answer: Almost anywhere you can find some kind of fossil within 20 minutes. If not move on to a different locality. Some areas are better than others. N. Texas sediments span a good portion of the Cretaceous Period. West Fort Worth has abundant ammonites, heart-shaped sea urchins and other invertebrates. The Arlington, and Grapevine/Colleyville area is pretty sparse for fossils. However, there have been some occurrences of dinosaur, crocodile fossils and ammonites. The Grand Prairie and Irving areas are good for collecting shark and fish teeth, vertebrae, and ammonites. The Eagle Ford Shale Formation produces ammonites with the original "mother of pearl." Any open bit of soil is a potential site. Try creeks and the slopes of hills were there is no vegetation for potential collecting sites.
Late fall, winter and early spring are a good times to collect in N. Texas. The snakes are (should be) in hiding and the 100 degree heat is only a bad memory. Depending on the severity of the winter, mosquitoes are often in full force.
It is a full day trip but well worth it is to head west of DFW to Mineral Wells. There they have the Mineral Wells Fossil Park. The Park has fossils from the Pennsylvanian Period which is much older than the Cretaceous Period. Fossils are all over the surface and typically no tools are need for digging or breaking out of rock.
I would like to trade fossils of a certain type, e.g., class or genus. Is there anyone there interested?
The Society promotes trading of fossils that do not have scientific value. Trading and selling of fossils is promoted by the Society. However, if the fossil is potentially rare and/or could be of scientific value, the collector is urged to contact paleontologists that have special knowledge of that class or genus. Our purpose states, "...the Society should be a net work for the exchange of data between professionals and serious amateurs." Once the scientific value is determined, it is the responsibility of the collector to loan, donate the fossil.
Some fossils are common and our members have interests in all phases of paleontology. Chances are good that someone will want to trade with you.
Are there any real paleontological digs around that I can help with?
Yes, sometimes. Mammoths, marine reptiles, fish and sharks, are found in North Texas. The Dallas Paleontological Society has formed a group, the Fossil Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to help museums in North Texas with their digs.
Requirements: You must be a member of the Society. Fill out one of the Dig Team application forms. The form states that any fossil that you find is the property of the museum or entity leading the dig.
Did people live and walk with dinosaurs?
Not the animals typically called dinosaurs had two variations. The non-avian group included sauropods. The avian group included Tyrannosaurus rex. Modern day birds are relatives of avian dinosaurs. Birds are as close as we get to walk with dinosaurs.