Forest Service Scientist Makes Tracks with Science Sprouts

Amira Hargrove explores fossils at the Colburn Museum in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Bill Hargrove.
Amira Hargrove explores fossils at the Colburn Museum in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Bill Hargrove.

The first week of November found U.S. Forest Service scientist Bill Hargrove  making tracks through the Colburn Earth Science Museum in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dinosaur tracks, that is, and he wasn’t the only one making them.

Hargrove, research ecologist with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, led seven second-grade Science Sprouts on a journey into the Mesozoic Era, the period some 65 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

“My seven-year-old daughter Amira is a rock hound, and has gone to classes at Colburn since first grade,” said Hargrove. “I was there with her one time and I started discussing their fossil collection and identifying some of their specimens. Next thing I know, I’m invited to teach the Sprouts about fossils and dinosaurs.”

Fossils of dinosaur tracks allow scientists to make assumptions about how they moved—whether they walked on two legs or four, for instance.

“We rolled out paper and then dunked our hands and feet in paint to simulate dinosaur trackways,” said Hargrove. “We made bipedal tracks and then got down on hands and knees to make four-legged tracks. Then we compared what we made to fossilized theropod and sauropod trackways at the museum.”

Making tracks like a quadrupedal dinosaur. Photo by Bill Hargrove.
Making tracks like a quadrupedal dinosaur. Photo by Bill Hargrove.

Each student also got to excavate their own fossil out of a plaster of Paris matrix, compare a cut ammonite fossil with a cut shell from a chambered nautilus, examine insects preserved in amber, and look at a wide range of fossils.

“The students really liked the Megalodon and Carcharodon shark teeth and hearing about Leviathan melvillei that actually ate blue whales,” said Hargrove. “They also liked the fossil of the Orthoceras, a long extinct straight-shell ammonite, they were given to take home. Most of these kids started in the first grade as rock hounds, and all of them have rock collections.”

For more information, email Bill Hargrove at whargrove@fs.fed.us

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