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HMNS Field Expedition will Excavate Extremely Rare, Nearly Complete Dimetrodon Fossil Join Famous Paleontologist and Team to See Fossil Emerge First-Hand [12/11-12]


BY Alex Wang [ December 06, 2010 at 11:43:03 ]

HOUSTON — The Houston Museum of Natural Science Paleontology team has discovered an articulated specimen of a Dimetrodon on the Craddock Ranch in Baylor County . Join the team and Dr. Robert T. Bakker, renowned paleontologist and HMNS curator of paleontology, for a special expedition to Seymour , Texas as they pick away the soil to excavate this 287 million-year-old fossil dubbed “Wet Willi”, from Dec.11-12. For more information, call (713) 639-4604.

Video: See the fossil in the field.

“Willi” represents a subspecies, Dimetrodon giganhomogenes, originally described by Paleontologist E.C. Case in 1907. The type of specimen he used for his description had no head; “Willi” is the first example of this species found with the head attached.

The team named the fossil “Wet Willi”—“Wet” because it was found while excavating a drainage trench for the quarry, and “Willi” for Samuel Williston, a paleontologist and educator who was active at the site 100 years ago. Dimetrodon bones are common in the Craddock quarry, but articulated fossil skeletons, like “Wet Willi,” are extremely rare. Most of the Dimetrodon fossils on display in museums across the country and even globally, have come from this area of north central Texas .

In life, “Willi” was the dominant predator of his world, and he would have been 11 feet long with a four-foot vertical fin running the length of his body. The purpose of the prominent fin that defines this species has been debated since it was first discovered by Paleontologist Edward Cope in Texas in 1878. It was originally suggested that the fin was used for thermoregulation—self-regulation of body temperature, even when outside temperatures may vary drastically. However, it now seems more likely that this dramatic fin was for show—to intimidate enemies and fascinate potential mates.

“Wet Willi” will be the star of the Permian section of the Museum’s newly renovated paleontology hall, opening in 2012, and will serve as an ambassador from this geologic period for millions of patrons.

“I am delighted that the nearly half million school kids who visit the museum each year will have the opportunity to see this relic of Texas geologic history,” said David Temple , Associate Curator of Paleontology. “We are very passionate about science literacy and, in particular, geo-science literacy. The paleontology hall, in conjunction with our Energy Hall and Gem and Mineral Hall, will be powerful tools for learning and exploring the geo-sciences. Being introduced to specimens like “Wet Willi” creates ‘teachable moments’ in the minds of students, arousing curiosity and making the learning experience fun.”

The Permian outcrops in Texas are an excellent portal for learning about this important and enigmatic period in Earth’s history. The Permian ended with the worst mass extinction known, and was a direct precursor to the rise of dinosaurs. At present, the Museum has a mural of the Permian Period featuring a Dimetrodon, but no fossils on display.

Over the past five years, HMNS field crews under the direction of Dr. Robert T. Bakker, paleontology curator for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, have collected hundreds of bones, teeth, and coprolites, as well as complete skeletons of the smaller reptiles and amphibians that lived alongside “Willi.”

“There is a very strong Texas connection to Dimetrodon, and we are thrilled to be able to display one in Houston , along with the other animals that made up this ancient ecosystem,” said Dr. Robert T. Bakker, adding that the specimen is “jaw droppingly beautiful.” Area ranchers agree; local cattleman Donald Coltharp remarked, “The only thing prettier is a new born calf.”

The Houston Museum of Natural Science—one of the nation’s most-heavily attended museums—is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, including the Wortham IMAX® Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center , Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the Houston Museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.

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