Fossil Friday: Insects Part 2

Some people know enough about prehistoric life to know that flowers and grass did not appear until the Cretaceous period, near the end of the dinosaur’s reign here on Earth. So surely butterflies, bees, and all those kinds of insects didn’t show up at least until about the same time as flowers right? Wrong!

When tracing back through the many insect groups (boy did I open up a can of worms there!) I was surprised to discover that there were members of the butterfly and wasp groups already around during the Jurassic period, long before any flowers grew.

Technically the groups are called Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, and ants), and the critters flying around weren’t exactly like the butterflies we see fluttering from flower to flower or the wasps buzzing around an angry nest in the tree, but…they’re still relatives, and what on earth are they doing when there are no flowers around?

Continue reading

Fossil Friday: Insects Part 1

Insects and their fellow creepy crawlies have been around for a long, long, looong time. Long before dinosaurs ever showed up on stage. A common misconception is that creepy crawlies in prehistoric times were limited to just dragonflies, millipedes, and perhaps spiders, and they were all giant. I’m thinking about a certain eagle-size dragonfly and six-foot long millipede in particular. But there was only one period of history that insects and their other arthropod relatives (like spiders) were truly giant- the Carboniferous period. The Permian Period- the Age of Amphibians- is the span of time between the Carboniferous and Triassic period. The Triassic Period, of course, is when the first dinosaurs came on the scene.

The reason for the giant size of creepy-crawlies during the Carboniferous, and no other period, where the high levels of oxygen from the boom in forest and tree growth around the world. By the time the Jurassic Period rolls around, oxygen levels are a bit more like they are today, and bugs are about as big as they get today. The “bugs” in this series are only a tiny fraction of the diversity there was during the Jurassic. They are delicate creatures and do not fossilize easily, so who knows how many there really were? Most of these still have surviving species today that look very similar to how they looked so many years ago, and they provide a tiny glimpse to the many strange and wonderful insects that flew in the air and crawled in the leaf litter during the Jurassic.

Continue reading

Critter of the Month: Stegosaurus

Meet Steggy.  She might not have very much of a brain, but she makes up for that with the softness of her heart.  There’s not a whole lot that’ll surprise her (thanks to Pete’s training), and she’ll let just about anybody clamber on her back. 🙂

I say “just about” anybody, because there was that one time some kids wanted her to be their fortress in a water balloon battle.  That was a bit too much for Steggy.  But that class of preschoolers who came to visit were adorable.  Steggy just sat there and let them climb all over her (Pete stuck a few tennis balls on her spikes, so they wouldn’t be so sharp).  The kids had a great time painting stars and hearts on her big plates.

Continue reading