Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just let this one get away...

Day Two of the Great Eastern Expedition.

After Darwin's finches and after I finally appeased my blood sugar level on the first day, we were fortunate to have a chance to visit with Dr. Ruth Patrick, now 99 years young and still coming in to work at the Academy of Natural Sciences. The local paper recently called her the "Den Mother of Ecology," but I'm still not sure I feel comfortable with such a title for the first person to develop a model using diatoms to measure water pollution. And she was an upstart woman, to boot.

The next day I was twitchy to get around to other parts of the Academy... a great place to visit if you're ever in the 'hood. The "Scoop on Poop" exhibit was a must-see (dung beetles to homo saps) of course, although I must say I'm glad I witnessed it without a horde of school kids along. I walked past later when the hall was occupied by mini-mites and it was QUITE vociferous in there.

The Academy has a nice live butterfly exhibit, but first I felt a need to visit an old friend in the dinosaur hall. Not a splashy T. rex or stego... but a non-dino fish. I love this critter for its ferocious aspect, even as bone remnants. And because I just can't figure out precisely what it ever did with those protrusions other than make prehistoric orthodontists see dollar signs.

The Xiphactinus audax was a large predatory bony fish that lived in the shallow prehistoric sea that once covered what is now the central United States. (This makes it possibly a beast of my home turf, although I don't know enough about local prehistoric natives to say for certain.) The name Xiphactinus means "Sword Ray," an apparent homage to its pectoral fins.

Xiphactinus audax is believed to have grown to a length of 18 - 20 feet. Its "fangs" were as much as 2" long. (This one was nearly that big.) It was discovered in 1870 by Joseph Leidy who christened it from a pectoral spine fragment he discovered in the Smoky Hill Chalk of Kansas. Xiphactinus probably looked like an overgrown tarpon, except for the fact of those lovely protruding spikes on its mouth. A face only the mother of all bone fish could love. Or some goofy pencil-wielding itinerant artist from the west.

No comments:

Post a Comment