Thursday, July 17, 2014

Field Work in New Mexico 2014

Greetings everyone!  It is time again to recap how Gary and I's time went last week doing field work in the badlands of New Mexico. 

Sadly I can't give you detailed descriptions on everything we were able to dig up, nor can I post photos of prepped fossils that have not been published.  (I wish I could there are so many exciting new things over at the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum!) I can, however show you bits and pieces of our experiences over there that might give you a feel of what it was like.

First things first lets look at the nature of the place.  As you know my background is heavily engrossed in biology, specifically the animal sciences, so whenever I visit a new ecosystem I am extra attentive to the creatures I can find around me.  Last year I saw two kinds of lizards.  This year I found another kind that I instantly recognized, a beautiful Collard Lizard!

Collard Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris, I managed to photograph in the field.

Collard Lizards get their name because of the black coloration that forms a ring around their necks.  Despite the fact that I didn't see any last year, they were the most common lizard I saw this year.  At the dig site I could Identify at least two individuals (a male and a female) who would appear nearby at least once per day.  The site must have become their territory sometime within the last year.

I also managed to see a few Whiptail Lizards.  These guys have beautiful spotted patterns on their skin, and possess an extremely long tail.  (Which is how they got their name.)

One of the several Whitpails we also saw out there.  This one was eating a caterpillar.

On one of the last days there I found a solifugae!  (Not a dead one like last year) The little arachnid was running across the motel carpet!  Despite the alien (even creepy) appearance of this animal, I made sure to gently let her go on her way outside.  Arachnids are not generally harmful to humans and play an important role in hunting other small invertebrates. (cockroaches and mosquitos for instance)

Solifugae I found in our motel room.  They can grow a LOT bigger than this.

 Speaking of cool invertebrates eating other invertebrates, we saw many beautiful dragonflies while in the field.  They would cruise around over the site in large groups, no doubt hunting the mosquitos and gnats that were pestering us.  Thanks, guys!

This striking orange individual favored our truck's antenna as a perch.

 Once we actually started digging it wasn't long before fossils started turning up.  I was privileged enough to get the opportunity to help excavate a juvenile Typothorax armor plate.  We have found many plates from these amazing reptiles before, some over a foot wide!  This one, however was the same shape as one of the larger ones (so we know its not just from another part of the body on an adult) just tiny.  Video!

Gary made a pretty rare find while he was removing rocks from the site, a freshwater clam!  Remember, this site used to be the bottom of a lake 200 million years ago.  We find plenty of Redondasaurus, Typothorax, Shuvosauroids, and Coelophysis, LOTS of fish, but not too often do we actually find mollusks.  We almost mistook the clam as just another rock at first!  Video!

Overall it was a pretty successful week!  Gary came up with the idea that anyone working paleo out in the field should take "field selfies".  Lets do this!

Gary Vecchiarelli
Our friend Donny, who is an intern at the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum, and currently working on phytosaur research!
Christopher DiPiazza (me)
Even paleontologist, Tony Martin, got in on the action from Montana!

That's all for this week!  Be sure to check out our facebook page for even more photos from the trip!  I have a few more videos I may put up there, as well! 


  1. I can't wait to read more. Just out of curiosity you said that spider can grow a lot bigger so how big was the one you found in your room? I am eager to read more about your finds in the future.

    1. Thanks, Jason!

      The one I found was about an inch and a half long. Keep in mind there are many different species of these guys as well. The biggest ones I have seen photos of are native to the Middle East and are about 5-6 inches long!

      Stay tuned on our facebook page I may post some videos that didn't make the cut on here.