Lincoln, NE

My lecture on Carmel Church was scheduled for 3:30, which gave me plenty of time in the morning to meet with students and visit the Nebraska State Museum (free admission with your VMNH membership card). This large museum has nice collections of mounted fossil skeletons, concentrating on Eocene to Pliocene land mammals that are found in Nebraska. One of the most spectacular is Dinohyus, a giant entelodont found at Agate Fossil Beds in western Nebraska. The entelodonts were related to pigs and peccaries, but reached much larger maximum sizes, and may have tended more to carnivory. The Agate Fossil Beds are a fantastically rich bonebed from the early Miocene; the museum has a reconstruction of part of the bonebed:

Besides the mammals, the museum has an excellent series of dioramas depicting the sea life from each time period in the Paleozoic Era. This one is from the Pennsylvanian Period:

There are a number of Mesozoic fossils on exhibit, including several dinosaurs. One that I found interesting from a personal standpoint was this full size model of an Allosaurus. This model was featured in a story in the World Book Encyclopedia Childcraft Annual, “Prehistoric Animals”, in 1976. When I was in elementary school my grandmother’s copy of this was one of the only paleontology books I had access to, and I poured over it endlessly. As soon as I saw the model in the museum on Friday, I immediately recognized it from my readings 30 years ago.

There is also a skeleton of Allosaurus on exhibit, which was mounted in the late 1960’s and was the basis for the model:

It provides an interesting contrast with VMNH’s Allosaurus, which was mounted in 2006:

During the nearly 40 years between the mounting of these two skeletons, our understanding of dinosaurs as living animals has changed dramatically. Allosaurus is no longer seen as a slow, lumbering creature, lazily dragging its tail along the ground as it walked, but as a dynamic, energetic hunter that used its tail as a counterbalance as it ran down its prey.

Thanks to my grandmother, Mary Dettweiler, for looking up the title and publication date of the Childcraft book (she still has it!).

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2 Responses to Lincoln, NE

  1. Doug says:

    Ooh, lucky. I want to go to that museum so much!
    I have most often read that entelodonts were scavengers ( and particularly nasty ones at that). But there is evidence that they did ocassionally hunt, butprobably quite rarely. But that Dinohyus is way bigger than the entelodonts I’ve seen.

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    Dinohyus is a monster; even knowing that there were big entelodonts like that, it’s still stunning to walk up to one.

    There’s pretty good evidence that one of the smaller entelodonts, Archaeotherium, was actively hunting camels. They were likely doing a lot of scavenging, too; there is evidence of Dinohyus scavenging at Agate Fossil Beds. I suspect they were regularly doing both.

    To a certain extent the distinction might be meaningless. Among modern mammals, there are almost no pure hunters or scavengers. Most predators will take any free meal they can get. Even lions, which anatomically are adapted for hunting, get a significant amount of their food by stealing it from other carnivores, including hyaenas. And while hyaenas are adept scavengers, they take down a lot of live prey as well. One of the only pure predators among mammals is the cheetah. I suspect that the cheetah would scavenge if it could, but all the other African carnivores are stronger than cheetahs, and even a minor leg injury can be fatal to a cheetah.

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