Bron­tosauruses never existed.
In his lecture to a diverse cross-section of campus last week, junior Matt Hoenig debunked this myth and addressed other chal­lenges and mis­con­cep­tions about pale­on­tology.
According to Hoenig, a 19th century pale­on­tol­ogist com­pleted a partial Apatosaurus body with the head from another dinosaur, cre­ating the Bron­tosaurus.
“Our ideas about dinosaurs are con­stantly getting better and changing,” Hoenig said. “We can make logical, well-sup­ported asser­tions about ancient life despite never having seen it alive.”
Hoenig walked his audience through the methods pale­on­tol­o­gists employ to make infer­ences about the lives of dinosaurs. He demon­strated that the fossil record proves T. Rex are car­ni­vores through brain shape, eye placement, and fos­silized teeth marks on other dinosaurs.
“I thought the pre­sen­tation was absolutely out­standing,” pro­fessor of biology Anthony Swinehart said. “I’m not one for excessive praise, so saying that is sig­nif­icant. Except for a few quibbles, I thought he could’ve been a pro­fessor up there.”
Hoenig kindled his passion for pale­on­tology last summer, digging fossils with Swinehart at the Hell Creek For­mation in South Dakota. They dug up Linda the Edmon­tosaurus, an her­bivore with self-sharp­ening teeth and the second most common dinosaur in the for­mation.
“He had essen­tially no training in pale­on­tology prior to this course,” Swinehart said. “Some of it he learned during course, he did some prepa­ration for the pre­sen­tation. Because of the course he’s become fas­ci­nated by it.”
Junior Lily Carville said she attended because she will be doing the same thing next year for her research at a similar site, but she’ll be digging up a tricer­atops. “I just wanted to see what to expect when I go.”
Hoenig explained con­cepts simply and clearly, “in laymen’s terms,” Senior Kristen Torvimen said. “I could under­stand things I didn’t think I could under­stand.”
In his con­clusion, Hoenig tran­si­tioned from long-dead dinosaurs to animals cur­rently going extinct. Of all the animals that have ever existed, he said, 99.9 percent have gone extinct. He showed three endan­gered species: the tiger, the kakapo, (the world’s only flightless parrot) and the coela­canth (a deep sea fish).
“Although we don’t have T‑Rex running around and eating stuff,” he said, “we have a lot of inter­esting animals to enjoy.”