Fossiling in Florida by Mark Renz

The best chapter in Fossiling in Florida: A Guide for Diggers and Divers by Mark Renz is the one called Prehistoric Portraits–33 pages of nice black and white photographs of fossils that a fossil hunter would likely find in Florida and other southern states.  This makes the book a handy indispensible reference.  Its arrival in my mail box was timely–next week I’m going on an actual fossil-hunting expedition to the low country of South Carolina.  I found a site there readily accessible to the public where late Rancholabrean fossils (over 30 species) have turned up, mixed in with Pliocene-aged marine fossils and shark’s teeth.  In next week’s blog entry I’ll have lots of interesting photographs, hopefully of some specimens I discover myself.

Now back to the book.

Mr. Renz snorkles the backwaters of Florida’s alluvial fossiliferous deposits, feeling his way through sediment that is much richer in prehistoric treasure than that of most other states in North America.  His accounts of avoiding alligators and speeding boats, while searching for fossils, are some of the most entertaining parts of the book.  His wife’s sketches also add to the charm of this work.

One of the reasons I bought the book was because I thought it was self-published, and I wanted to see how another non-academic, self-published author tackled a similar subject to that of my book.  I didn’t know the University of Florida Press published this book.  I found his website–www.paleopress.net/paleo5.htm.  He has two other books: Megalodon: Hunting the Hunter and Giants in the Storm.  Those must be the ones he self-published.  I’ll have to check those out too.  The cover for the latter looks outstanding.

Anyway, stay tuned for next week’s blog entry.  I’m really looking forward to the upcoming rare opportunity to find some fossils.

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This week, I’ve been obsessed with a new paper I came across that was published last fall.  (I’ve only read the abstract.) Two scientists did a thorough study of Panthera leo atrox skulls.  They determined that the North American lion was more like a giant jaguar, or a completely different species altogether than a lion.  The skull does resemble that of a lion, but the lower jaw was more like that of a jaguar.  They theorize that when the glacier cut Beringia and Eurasia off from the North America that the large Panthera cat south of the glacier evolved into two species–Panthera atrox and Panthera onca.  The species of big cats from the Panthera genus in America then consisted of a giant jaguar and a large jaguar.  Panthera onca augusta (the Pleistocene subspecies jaguar)  is considered large compared to modern jaguars, but Panthera atrox was gigantic weighing on average 25% larger than modern African lions.

I think this study makes sense.  If specimens of an extinct cat are consistently that much larger than living representatives of the presumed species, than the chances are good it was a different species.  Moreover, atrox had a larger brain capacity.  This is evidence it may have  hunted in prides like African lions, but we’ll never know for sure.  Based on where most of its skeletel material has been found, it seems to have preferred open country.  The large size of the males would have made it difficult for this species to hunt singly.  At the very least, they must have hunted in pairs.

I’m going to try to get my hands on this paper, so I can give a more detailed discussion in a future blog entry.

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