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Paleoart of fossil fish

Dr. Brandon Peecook et al just published Freshwater fish faunas from two Permian rift valleys of Zambia, novel additions to the ichthyofauna of southern Pangea in Journal of African Earth Sciences. The paper describes the fishy fragments and surprising diversity of small to medium-sized sharks that lived in the area. We also compared these freshwater fishes to others from 'southern Pangea' in Chile, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia today, showing that, like the land-living animals and plants, the fish communities were very similar.

During the Permian and Triassic periods the continents were united in Pangea. Brandon’s work in Zambia takes place in what was then the middle of the supercontinent. Most of the fossils are found belong to land-living animals (including early relatives of mammals and dinosaurs), but occasionally there are bits of fishes that lived in the freshwater rivers and lakes.

Some of the fossils were discovered in the 1970s, and Brandon found them in a museum during his PhD research. Brandon says, “I wanted to find more, so we relocated the site in 2019 when conducting fieldwork in Zambia with a National Geographic grant I received.”

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Image by Alain Beneteau

Dr. Leif Tapanila, IMNH director, is a co-author on a scientific paper published this summer in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History that describes the Trans-Saharan Seaway in Mali, Africa, and the strange creatures that existed there 50 to 100 million years ago.

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Of the seven new species of prehistoric Idaho creatures Idaho State University Department of Geosciences affiliate researcher and Museum Affiliate Curator Dr. L.J. Krumenacker was able to help document and name in scientific journals that were published this month, his favorite is Cimolodon akersteni, named after his former advisor and paleontological mentor Bill Akersten, who retired from ISU about a decade ago.

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IMNH Anthropology Curator, Dr. Andy Speer, publishes The Seagull Bay site—Clovis technology from American Falls on the Eastern Snake River Plain. “We are interested in the animals that died off right when this Clovis culture was at its peak,” Speer said. “We ask questions like ‘did these people kill all these animals, was it climate change or was it both?’ In North America alone, 90 genera of animals over 100 pounds died off during the Clovis period at the close of the Pleistocene 11,700 years ago,” Speer said.

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Idaho Museum of Natural History’s buzzsaw sharks featured story in December National Geographic Magazine

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Museum Making History with 3D Printed PPE

Brandon Peecook

Dr. Brandon Peecook, Vertebrate Paleontology, is one of 30 co-authors on a recent publication with Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I was part of a research team conducting a meta-analysis on the disproportionate benefits of active learning – as opposed to lecturing – techniques in the classroom to student populations underrepresented in STEM fields,” Peecook said. “We found significant results for grade improvement and retention in the discipline for key student groups. We're expecting this data to help drive large movements in pedagogy across the country.”

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Dr. Leif Tapanila, IMNH director, recently published a paper with Benjamin Rendall that documents the remarkable recovery of marine life after the 360 million-year-old Alamo Impact near Las Vegas, NV. The Museum holds all the fossils collected on this project that took over a decade of field mapping and collecting by Tapanila's lab.

3D printed mask with filter

3D printers to produce coronavirus PPE

“I think we will really be able to help the needs of the university and our region,” said Leif Tapanila, director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, who is coordinating ISU’s campus-wide effort. “These kinds of efforts are widespread across the state and country, to make models for 3D printers, find the plastic supply and answer the call to meet the needs for personal protection equipment.”

Read more about how the Museum is leading the way on 3D printing PPE 

Dire wolves were the last of an ancient New World canid lineage

An artists depiction of what dire wolf hunting would have looked like

Paleoart by Mauricio Anton

New research published Jan. 14, 2021 turns our idea of the iconic dire wolves of the ice age upside down. Researchers, including our very own Affiliate Curator Dr. Mary Thompson, sequenced five genomes from dire wolf fossils between 50,000 and 13,000 years old (two from American Falls, and permanently in IMNH collections and one is currently on display in Skulls). The surprising results showed that dire wolves belonged to a much older lineage of dogs. Dire wolves evolved in the Americas and had no close kinship with gray wolves, which came over from Eurasia more recently. The strong resemblance between the two, the researchers say, is a case of convergent evolution, whereby different species develop similar adaptations—or even appearances—thanks to a similar way of life.

Expanding on incremental dentin methodology to investigate childhood and infant

Satellite imagery of Taumako Island

Check out a new publication co-authored by our Collections Manager, Amy Commendador. This study examines prehistoric childhood diet in the Solomon Islands using stable isotope ratio analyses of human teeth. Instead of traditional bulk sampling, they expand on a new method that examines each tooth incrementally, allowing for explorations of changes in diet while the tooth is forming. In their case, they were able to track diet from 0 to 10 years of age. Overall, the data from their pilot study suggests that 1) in contrast to findings for adults, there were no differences in childhood diet based on social status; 2) children who died in childhood had lower nitrogen isotope values than those that survived to adulthood, suggesting a link between diet, nutritional health and morbidity; and 3) males and females may have had different dietary patterns throughout their lives. Though this was a pilot study it highlights the potential of this type of higher resolution analysis for insights into childhood diet. 

These Prehistoric Sharks Had Jaws Shaped Like Circular Saws and Sawtoothed Sciss

An illustration of the ancient shark Edestus heinrichi preying on a fish. Many ancient sharks had different jaws than modern sharks.

By Riley Black


APRIL 2, 2021

Imagine a great white shark with a set of sawtoothed scissors for a mouth. Ridiculous as that image might seem at first, such a creature once swam through Earth’s seas. More than 300 million years ago, Edestus giganteous bit through its fishy prey with a set of thin, blade like jaws with each serrated tooth set in line right behind the last. There’s nothing quite like this fish alive today, and paleontologists have only recently been able to piece together the relevant clues to understand Edestus and other strange shark relatives from the deep past.

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Unlocking the Secrets of the Dire Wolf

ISU researcher Mary Thompson collaborated with scientists from around the world to learn more about the dire wolf, the highly intelligent but terrifying beasts from Game of Thrones.