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Earth History and Clues from Fossils

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This Smilodon is Not Smiling
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This Smilodon is Not Smiling

Credit: Phil Scoville
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/philscoville/122990117
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

For 30,000 years, untold numbers of animals got stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. The museum there displays the fossils of some of these amazing Ice Age creatures!

Amazing But True!

Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Smilodon_and_Canis_dirus.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Canis dirus and Smilodon californicus fight over a Mammuthus columbi carcass - La Brea Tar Pits [Figure2]

  • The Los Angeles basin is loaded with petroleum. Many of the oil fields have been exhausted and are no longer in production.
  • The La Brea Tar Pits tap into these rich deposits. Crude oil seeps up from underground through an earthquake fault line. Some of the oil biodegrades to make thick tar that collects in pools.
  • In the past, water, dust and leaves covered the surface of the pool. The pool became a death trap for animals that would go in for a drink. Predators would attack these vulnerable animals. Few of these animals got out alive.
  • The tragedy of all these animals is a boon for us since the La Brea Tar Pits are a fabulous fossil locale.

Can You Apply It?

With the link below, learn more about fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why are fossilized pollen grains important?
  2. Why are the fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits so well preserved?
  3. Why is a Smilodon no longer called a saber-toothed tiger? What is a saber tooth?
  4. Paleontologists gain lots of information beyond just bones from good fossil sites. What sorts of information can they gain beyond just what the animal looked like?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Phil Scoville; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/philscoville/122990117; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Smilodon_and_Canis_dirus.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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