Monday, October 26, 2020

Dinos in Pop Culture - Playgrounds Featuring the Dino Death Pose

 While playing with my daughter at a local park, I came across this hidden dinosaur, that brought up a couple of questions in mind. First off, what was this model based on? And why was the dinosaur positioned the way it was? I had my thoughts based on previous research I had done but I figured I would delve into it deeper. 

The dinosaur in question could be found on the back side of this rock climbing wall. 

To answer the first question, the mold appears to be modeled on the Gorgosaurus specimen at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. Gorgosaurus is a tyrannosaurid that is most closely related to Albertosaurus (hence the original identification of the below fossil as an Albertosaurus). It lived during the Late Cretaceous time period between 76.6 and 75.1 million years ago in Alberta, Canada and potentially Montana, USA. 

Gorgosaurus from the Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta. Image courtesy of the Royal Tyrell Museum.

The first thing that is noticeable about the playground mold is that it is not an exact match for the museum specimen though. The mold skull is far smaller, the neck has many fewer vertebrae, and the curve of the neck isn't as pronounced, among a host of other issues. But the general feel of the playground dino is the same as the actual fossil. The location of the limb bones is near exact as well as the general posture of the dinosaur. It's as if someone tried to create a simplified image of the real dinosaur to the point of being wrong but "close enough".

Death Pose

Another noticeable thing about the dinosaur (in both cases), is the position of the body. This position is frequently referred to as the "death pose" (technically called the "opisthotonic posture"), and this is far from the only fossil to be found in a similar situation. Typically, what you see with this posture is that the head is curled backwards towards the tail and the tail is curled forward (as much as possible) towards the head. But why are so many fossils found this way? 

Upon initial discovery, it was thought that the animals lived like this while they were alive. However, that has proven to be false, so something must of happened to their bodies between the time that they were healthy and alive to the time that they were locked in stone (i.e. fossilized) forever. There are a couple of theories on what can cause this body position, but they can be boiled down to two: 
  1.     Things that happened to the animal while it was alive.
  2.     Things that happened to the animal after it died.
Scientists have been debating this for decades but it likely comes down to both sides are potentially correct. There are things that can cause the animal to be posed like this during life and after death. 

In life, this posture is possible by severe neurological (brain) damage, which would result in a curved spine while pulling the head and heels backwards. This situation can be produced by multiple causes including meningitis, tetanus, poisoning, asphyxiation, as well as a host of other diseases. While these causes have most notably been recorded in humans, animals are not immune from them either, specifically brain damage from drowning or asphyxiation and/or poisoning. These are instances where the "death throes" that produce this posture could be created in life, or more accurately called "perimortem", or near death.

There is also research that shows this posture can be created after death (postmortem). The bend of the spine is most naturally backwards. In most animals bending the neck downwards takes a lot of force, while upwards is quite natural.  But after death, although the muscles initially relax, ligaments and tendons start to contract, forcing the spine around as they shrink. Desiccation of the corpse has also been attributed as a cause of post-mortem spinal curve.  

As a side note: The tail on a dinosaur does not typically curl backwards as it does in mammals. You can actually see this in the Gorgosaurus fossil above, where the tail, even though it is bent upwards, does not actually curve towards the end. Dinosaurs have vertically stiff tails that stick out to counterbalance their heads. This stiff tail is not capable of bending up or down, but can sway side to side. This stiffness is preserved in death.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Geologic State Symbols Across America - Idaho

   The next state up for the Geological State Symbols Across America is:


You can find any of the other states geological symbols on my website here: (being updated as I go along).

                                                                                                  Year Established
State Gem: Star Garnet                                                                     1967
State Fossil: Hagerman Horse Fossil (Equus simplicidens)              1988

I also have some Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures that I have done for Idaho previously. These include:

State Gem - Star Garnet

67-4505. STATE GEM DESIGNATED. The star garnet is hereby declared to be the official state stone, or state gem, of the state of Idaho. 

History: [67-4505, added 1967, ch. 33, sec. 1, p. 56.]
Prior to being polished, the star garnet will be found with the same dodecahedral crystal pattern found in other garnets. Image courtesy of

Garnet is typically thought of as one specific mineral, however garnet is actually a series of very similar minerals. This mineral series varies in chemical composition, resulting in different mineral names, however the chemical composition of all of the garnets share a generalized chemical composition: X3Y2(SiO4)3, where "X" can be Ca, Mg, Fe2+, or Mn2+, and "Y" can be Al, Fe3+, Mn3+, V3+, or Cr3+. Along with the different chemical compositions, there are different colors and hardnesses associated with each one as well. Crystals of garnet typically form in 12-sided "balls", that can be easy to identify within the rocks that they are found in. The name "garnet" comes from the Latin, "granatus" meaning "like a grain" because of this ball-crystal habit. Garnet is formed from the metamorphism of shale minerals, and can be found in most foliated metamorphic rocks such as schist and gneiss. Garnets can also be found in some igneous rocks including granites and granitic pegmatites. Garnet has been used as a gemstone since ancient Egypt, however recently garnet has obtained significant usage as an abrasive. Since garnet is a rather hard mineral and has no cleavage, it typically breaks into sharp edged fragments, and therefore produces a good grit for water-jet cutting or sandblasting. Garnet is a very common mineral and even high grade gemstone quality specimens can be fairly cheap.

A polished example of a star garnet. Image courtesy of

The Star Garnets are a rare variety of garnet which contain an "asterism", which is the star effect across the surface of the gem. This feature is more commonly seen in sapphires and rubys as well as other minerals. The star effect is caused by the inclusion of the mineral rutile within the garnet crystal. Star garnets are typically a deep brownish-red or reddish-black, producing almost a purplish hue. After careful polishing, the alignment of the rutile produces a reflection of light that produces a 3-dimensional star light pattern. The most common stars are the 4-rayed star (as pictured), however a 6-rayed star is possible, although very rare. The Star Garnet has most commonly been found in India and Idaho, however small amounts have also been found in Russia, Brazil, and North Carolina. Within Idaho, Star Garnets are found in the northern parts of the state near St. Maries, an area known as the Emerald Creek Garnet Area. The public is allowed to collect here for a small permit fee.

State Fossil - Hagerman Horse Fossil (Equus simplicidens)

67-4507. STATE FOSSIL DESIGNATED. The Hagerman Horse Fossil (species Equus simplicidens originally described as Plesippus shoshonensis) is hereby designated and declared to be the state fossil of the state of Idaho.  
History: [67-4507, added 1988, ch. 44, sec. 1, p. 50.] 
Some select representations of horse species over the past 55 million years. Image courtesy of Biology LibreTexts

Horses are one of the modern day species that has a remarkable fossil history. One of the earliest known relatives to modern day horses is the species Hyracotherium, more commonly known as eohippus or the "Dawn Horse" (although there is some scientific debate about whether Hyracotherium and Eohippus are two distinct species are just different examples of the same species). Hyracotherium lived around 55 million years ago and was about the size of a modern dog, much smaller than modern day horses. Evolutionarily, horses are within the order Perissodactyla, which are the odd-toes ungulates. This means that horses and their relatives, tapirs and rhinoceroses, typically have one or three toes. Hyracotherium was initially adapted for tropical forests, however as the landscape slowly dried and cooled over time, new horse species evolved to be adapted for the dryer, prairie habitat. With the development of the prairies approximately 20 million years ago, the new horse species had evolved larger and more adapted for grazing. Over the last 55 million years, over 50 species of horses evolved, with lineages often branching and living coevally, however the only horse genus left alive today is Equuswhich includes not only horses but zebras and donkeys as well

Fossil of the Hagerman horse, Equus simplicidens, from the Hagerman Fossils Beds National Monument Visitor's Center.

Among the myriad of horse species that have evolved was the species known as the Hagerman horse, Equus simplicidens. The Hagerman horse, first named in 1892 by Edward Drinker Cope, is the oldest known species of Equus. Equus simplicidens lived during the Ice Age, specifically the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, approximately 1.8 to 3.5 million years ago. Despite the name, the Hagerman horse is actually closely related to a modern day zebra, Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi). It is known from fossils all over North America, however the densest concentration of fossils is in Idaho where over 200 individuals had been found at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. The fossil beds are comprised of two distinct bone beds, one of which was thought to be a periodically dried up river. There is some debate about how the horses died, but one theory is that the horses came here to drink, but upon finding the water not there died of thirst. Seasonal rains then came in, swept the horses up, and piled them upon a riverbank, where they were then covered over with sediment and eventually fossilized. Another theory is that the horses were killed during a flood while trying to cross the river. However, because so many of the horses were found within one location, it has helped scientists to determine that these horses were likely herd animals. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Craters of the Moon

My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is a park we visited back in 2012 that I had wanted to hit up since it was close enough to me in southern Idaho.

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

My standard park sign picture, but this time with the little one.

Here is a lava tube entrance. Craters of the Moon is located within a region of the US known as the Snake River Plain. The Snake River Plain was created as the North American plate slid of over the Yellowstone Hotspot. A hotspot is a volcano that stays in one place while the plates slide over it, like Hawaii. 

Pathway of the Yellowstone Hotspot across Idaho. Image courtesy of the Digital Geology of Idaho. Craters of the Moon falls to the northwest of the Picabo Volcanic Field, which is dated to 10.3 million years ago. This is the time when the Yellowstone hotspot was located at this point and had erupted. However, the volcanic activity that we see at Craters is not directly related to the Yellowstone hotspot. 

At Craters we can see the result of that volcanic activity by the remnants of lava flows, lava tubes, and other volcanic features. Here we can see a pretty good view of the landscape that has many trees and shrubs but is still pretty barren. There are three separate lava fields within the National Park that range in age from 15,000 years to 2,000 years old, all far younger than the 10.3 million year old Picabo eruption. Craters of the Moon is found along a track of land known as the "Great Rift". 

Within the are there are a lot of dead trees hanging about. The Great Rift is an area of crustal thinning associated with the expansion of the Basin and Range area, as well as deflation of the crust following the passage of the hotspot. So, although the volcanic activity is not a direct result of the Yellowstone hotspot, it still played a role. The combined effect of the crustal thinning and the deflation produced areas of increased volcanic activity, with one of the largest areas being Craters of the Moon.

The above shows multiple rift zones within the Snake River Plain. The large grey areas aligning with the Great Rift represent Craters of the Moon. Image courtesy of the NPS

Within the region remains a lot of extinct volcanoes including this cinder cone. A cinder cone is a volcano that is created by the eruption of lava blocks that eventually pile up to create this rather steep sided pile of rock. He we are climbing up the largest of the cinder cones, Inferno Cone.

 Panoramic view from the top of Inferno Cone.

 View from Inferno Cone of a couple of smaller cinder cones.

Another view of the same lava flow, this time a little further up. You can see both types of basaltic lava flows here, pahoehoe and 'a'a. Pahoehoe lava is the smooth lava, that often has a ropey texture, while 'a'a lava is a more blocky, sharp lava. 'a'a' lava was named for the sound people made when walking across it barefoot. Here you can see a nice transition from the pahoehoe to the aa style lava.

Some nice 'a'a, splatter lava.

 View of an 'a'a lava flow showing large chunks of volcanic rocks.

A lava tube is formed when flowing lava starts to solidify when it is contact with the air, eventually forming a crust on the lava flow. The crust continues to build up as the lava continues to flow through the tube, eventually forming this open space within the lava flow. Here I am entering one of the lava tubes.

 Some nice ribbon pahoehoe lava. I really love the fine cracks that run perpendicular to the ribbon folds.

View looking out of one of the smaller lava tubes, Dewdrop Cave.

Within the largest lava tube in the park, Indian Tunnel. Several places along the length of the tube, the ceiling has caved in giving visitors a nice walk even without the need of a headlamp.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Geologic State Symbols Across America - Hawaii

  The next state up for the Geological State Symbols Across America is:


You can find any of the other states geological symbols on my website here: (being updated as I go along).

                                                                             Year Established
State Gem: Black Coral                                                1987

I also have some Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures that I have done for Hawaii previously. These include:


State Gem: Black Coral

ACT 9 S.B.NO.411 
A Bill for an Act Relating to the State Gem. 
Be lt Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Hawaii: 

SECTION 1. Chapter 5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by adding a new section to be appropriately designated and to read as follows: 

“State gem. The black coral is established and designated as the official gem of the State.” 

SECTION 2. New statutory material is underscored. 

SECTION 3. This Act shall take effect upon its approval. 
(Approved April 22, 1987.)

‘ekaha ku moana, a Hawaiian black coral. Image courtesy of the Garden Island.

Coral is an invertebrate animal that belongs to the group Cnidaria. Cnidaria also includes the well known jelly fish and sea anemones. Corals are a sessile organism, meaning that they live most of their life in one location, mainly rooted to the ocean floor. The coral animal, called a polyp, is a tiny organism that typically secrets a calcium carbonate "shell" around itself, like a clam. The accumulations of many of these shells is what most people think of when they think of coral. Neighboring polyps also secrete a shell and attached themselves to other polyp shells. This creates an apartment building type complex with tiny animals, each about the size of a nickel, living within each shell all attached to one another. Over time the animals die and new corals attach to the upper surfaces creating new structures. The coral animals themselves typically form a symbiosis with an algae called a zooxanthellae, where the algae creates the food from the sunshine and the corals eat the food. The corals then provide the algae with protection within their shell. Corals are generally found within fairly shallow and warm waters. These waters allow many corals to grow and the algae to create food. Over time the coral skeletons/shells can eventually build up and form a reef.

Black coral jewelry, genus Leopathes . Image courtesy of

Black corals, an Order of corals known as Antipatharia, however have many features that are not "typical" of most corals. Black corals do not form calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, but they create a much softer protein and chitin skeleton. They also do not have the symbiotic zooxanthellae algae. This means that the black corals can live at depths far deeper than most corals, since they don't require the sunlight that provides energy for the algae to create food. They are therefore found at all depths the oceans, but are restricted to salt water environments. Since black corals are not able to obtain food from a symbiote, they must harvest their own food, and are active predators of zooplankton using their stinging tentacles to ensnare and kill them as they swim past. Black corals are also not often black in color, but range in a variety of colors including white, red, green, yellow, brown, and rarely black. The bright colors, as seen in the image above, come from the polyp itself. Once the coral dies, the skeleton, which is black in color, remains behind. Of the ~200 species of black corals found across the world, 15 can be found around Hawaii. To the ancient Hawaiians, the black coral was used as medicine. When ground up it was thought to cure lung issues and diseases of the mouth. In modern day, the black coral was frequently collected and polished for jewelry. However because of over collection and invasive species the black coral has become an endangered species. The Hawaiian government has since put protections in place to save the black coral by limiting which specimens may be collected.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures - Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

My next series of posts about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is for a set a parks we hit up while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii at the end of March in 2018. We were able to visit all four parks across the big island. 

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


The last of the four parks on the Big Island, happens to be the one directly next to the Kailua-Kona Airport. Each of the four parks are directly impacted by different volcanoes on the island with this park containing lava flows from the fifth volcano that I haven't talked about yet, Hualālai. 

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park protects the native Hawaiian fishponds along the coast as well as other native features that come with living within the lava flow fields in this region of the Big Island. There are three different dates of lava flows represented within the park, all from the Hualālai Volcano, a volcano that is still considered active. Directly surrounding the visitor center is the youngest lava flows within the park. These, seen here, are dated from 1,500 to 3,000 years old. 

These basaltic lava flows are all generally 'a'a in structure. The two main types of lava flow types are 'a'a and pahoehoe. Although the same in chemical composition, during eruption of the lava there are two main types of lava that can be produced with different physical characteristics. Basaltic 'a'a lava flows, as seen here, are blocky and have sharp surfaces. They are named for the sounds people utter when walking on them barefoot. 

The other type of lava flow, seen here, is pahoehoe. Pahoehoe is a smoother lava flow that often forms a ropelike texture on the surface. Of the three main ages of lava flows within the park, this here is the second oldest lava flow, dated from 3,000 to 5,000 years old. 

Over time the lava flows stack upon each other. Here you can see the youngest lava flows (1,500-3,000 yo) lying on top of the second youngest lava flows (3,000 - 5,000 yo). Within the park you can also catch faint glimpses of small lava tubes (seen here in the older lava flow towards the middle of the photo) that have slowly collapsed over time. Lava tubes are formed from quickly flowing lava that crusts over by the cooling action of the air. The crusted over lava streams are then insulated and able to flow longer. Once the lava source is cut off, the lava in the tube flows out, leaving behind a basaltic lined pipe, aka a lava tube. 

The oldest lava flows within the park are located along the coast and date from 5,000 to 10,000 years old. These generally consist of basaltic lava, which are pahoehoe in structure. The lava flows also created tidal pools along the coast, allowing for the native Hawaiians to build their fishponds, such as the ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap seen here along the shore. The rock piles were likely created using the younger 'a'a lava flows, since the older lava flows are generally below the coastal sediments. 

Here is a recreation of a native hālaus, a long house, along the beach shore nearby to the fishponds. 

The trail along the shore contains many of the parks oldest lava flows (5,000 - 10,000 yo) pahoehoe structures standing out in sharp contrast thanks to the sand filling in the gaps between the ropey strands. 

Some more of the pahoehoe ropey structures along the shoreline trail.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures - Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

 My next series of posts about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is for a set a parks we hit up while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii at the end of March in 2018. We were able to visit all four parks across the big island. 

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


The third park we were able to visit on the Big Island was the one furthest to the north on the western side of the island, nearby to the oldest volcano on the Big Island, Kohala Volcano. 

For the other National Parks on the Big Island, the entrance sign pictures I had taken had mostly been lost to storage issues, but luckily I still had this one. This one also includes the local volcanic basalt building stones. 

Within the picture above is the Pu`ukoholā Heiau, the largest restored heiau in Hawaii. Heaiu's are sacred temples for the Hawaiian people, and the Pu`ukoholā Heiau was built from 1790 to 1791 by Kamehameha the Great to fulfill a prophecy that if he were to build a temple here and dedicate it to the family's war god Kuka'ilimoku, that he would be able to conquer all of the Hawaiian islands and unite them. 

Pu`ukoholā Heiau sits at the crossroads of two volcanoes. Lava flows from both Mauna Kea and Kohala overlap within the park. The hill that the heiau sits upon is called Pu`ukoholā, which translates to "the hill of the whale", and is thought to be formed by lava flows from Mauna Kea. There is also the possibility that the raised hill itself is formed by a lava dome. Even though the temple sits upon Mauna Kea lava flows, it is thought that the rocks used to build the temple were transported from as far away as the Pololū Valley on the north flank of Kohala Mountain. Human chains were made 30 km long to transport the rocks from the valley to here. These basaltic rocks, formed from the lava flows of Kohala Mountain, are some of the oldest lava flows on the island, dating to 700,000 years old.

Within the park there are two other heiaus as well. The one directly below Pu`ukoholā is the Mailekini Heiau. Here the same rocks were used to construct the temple. Within all of the temples though, the use of mortar was not used, creating structures that were temporary and would eventually decay with time.  

The third heiau on the site is actually no longer visible. It is the Hale o Kapuni Heiau located just off shore directly ahead. You can see some of the stones sticking out of the water within the harbor. 

Shot of the Mailekini Heiau with the larger Pu`ukoholā Heiau sitting higher up on the hill behind it. 

View of the harbor with the Hale o Kapuni Heiau sticking out of the water surface.

Distant shot of the Pu`ukoholā.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures - Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

My next series of posts about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is for a set a parks we hit up while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii at the end of March in 2018. We were able to visit all four parks across the big island. 

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


The second park we were able to visit while in Hawaii, was the more cultural park, that happens to sit upon a lava flow. 

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park sits on the western wide of the Big Island of Hawaii, and is therefore isolated from the ongoing volcanic eruptions from Kilauea. The lava flows located here are from the Mauna Loa volcano and date from 1,500 to 750 years ago. The lava flow is named the Kau Basalt and is basaltic in composition (meaning they have essentially no silica (quartz) content). For the more geological minded the basalt flow consists of  tholeiitic basalt, olivine tholeiitic basalt, and picritic tholeiitic basalt. 

The shoreline at the park varies with the majority of the buildings being located adjacent to a basalt shore platform with tidal pools a plenty. Tidal pools are areas that are generally sheltered from the waves and replenished with fresh water during high tide. The sheltering allows for tidal animals to flourish, such as corals, sea anemones, starfish, and other marine organisms, while the tides provides a fresh source of food for the tidal pool inhabitants. 

The lava flows associated with the Kua Basalt are typically pahoehoe in structure. This means they are generally smooth and have a ropey texture. The alternative is the a'a lava, which is much courser, blocky, and has a sharp surface. The ropey texture of the pahoehoe lava can be seen really well in many of the surface features, such as here.

The lava flows are so prevalent within the island, that they are the primary building stone. Here the basaltic lava flows were carved into building blocks to construct what is known as The Great Wall, behind which would be the Pu'uhonua, otherwise known as the Place of Refuge. 

Rocks abound in this region, being used not only for building materials but also as tools. Here are the remains some of the mortar and pestles. 

The volcanic rocks are also used for game boards. Here is a game using dark and light colored pebbles, which are placed on a basaltic block. The block has divots carved into it is used for a game known as Konane.

A little less geological, but important nonetheless, is the Hale o Keawe heiau, which is the only recreation of a hale poki (consecrated house) on the Big Island. Heiaus served as royal mausoleums and temples, with the Hale o Keawe built for Keawe-i-kekahi-aliʻi-o-ka-moku in ~1700 CE. It was eventually torn down in the mid 1800's by Queen Kaʻahumanu. In the 1900's, efforts by the NPS recreated the heiau as closely as possible based on historic accounts, drawings, and other available information.