How do you eat an ORLO?

25 March 2010. Edmonton, AB.

While talking about hyenas over lunch with my wife, we came across a mutant OREO cookie in a 550 g box.

"What's this, OREO in french?" asked my wife.

I took a look at this particular cookie, and on one side it said "ORLO" as if it was meant to be.

[Figure 1. J032510T01, an autapomorphic cookie of the OREO clade, not related to oreodonts]

How much of our current knowledge of fossil organisms is based on "ORLOs"?

A comment made by Dr. Michael Caldwell during a seminar talk he gave yesterday on marine lizards came to mind: the Discovery Channel asked Dr. Caldwell whether any mosasaurs ate dinosaurs. Well, he made a very rough estimate of the number of individual mosasaurs that ever lived (on the scale of trillions...error bar unknown), and said that it was possible ONE of them ate a dinosaur at least once, but there are only about 6,000 mosasaur specimens (representing fewer than 6,000 individuals) known to science.

I dare to make a statement that as far as the field of paleontology goes, and is probably true for all other scientific endeavors as well, our available data are outnumbered by reality.

If true, there are almost insurmountable odds against paleontologists accurately reconstructing past realities.

What if, eons from now, extraterrestrial scientists uncover fossilized remains of objects and creatures from the "Anthropocene" (a name some geologists have proposed for the 'Age of Humans'), and among them are cookies of some sort. Almost 99% of them say "OREO", but a few scattered throughout the former world we call Earth clearly say "ORLO".

What would they make of it? A new species or even genus of cookie objects? (I am assuming no one uses Phylocode beyond the bounds of humanity, and Linnaeus is already immortalized)

Does the identity of individual cookies even matter? Would you eat an "ORLO" differently than an OREO? Of course, the extraterrestrial scientists would not know right away, if no humans are around to tell them so (even then, only a small [but probably over-fed] fraction of the world population eat oreo cookies in the first place).

Over-analyzing what little we know is a slippery slope...suddenly my oreo doesn't taste so sweet anymore...


p.s. The figured specimen, J032510T01, has been destructively sampled by me.


Progress in the new mammal hall

Week ending on 20 March 2010. Los Angeles.

This week the fossil mammal skeletons came back from their vacation in Canada; our own vertebrate paleontology staff worked with technicians from Research Casting International to install the mounts into our new Age of Mammals Hall.

In addition to the refurbished skeletons from our previous Cenozoic Hall, several exciting new exhibit skeletons are added to the cohort of terrestrial and marine mammals.

Here are some photos taken during the installation:

[the entrance to the Age of Mammals Hall from the rotunda in the museum's old wing "1913 Building"]

[a mount of the sabertooth Smilodon fatalis looking out onto Exposition Boulevard on the north side of the museum]

[the installation of marine mammals "in the air" as viewed from the mezzanine level of the hall]

[the skeleton of Paleoparadoxia still in wraps]

[Dr. Xiaoming Wang (right) and RCI staff examining the skeleton of the bone-cracking dog Epicyon before it is mounted onto the gallery stage]

[Epicyon in action pose, chasing after horses]

The new hall opens in July 2010!