Index Fossil Fun Facts That You Wouldn't Have Heard Before! | Kidadl


Index Fossil Fun Facts That You Wouldn't Have Heard Before!

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Imagine walking around with a 5 ft (1.5 m) penguin right behind you, or admiring the beautiful blue sky with a giant parrot flying across it.

Now, try thinking what a mess it would be if you got pooped on by giant parrots! It would probably be a vet’s nightmare to help a gigantic mammal give birth to her 38 offspring.

Thanks to some huge catastrophes, these beasts are extinct from the face of our planet today. Now, we don't have to worry about being trampled under the foot of some giant mammoth. But how do we get to know that creatures like the dinosaurs actually existed on Earth some millions of years ago? We can ascertain their presence with the study of fossils, known as paleontology. Most of these fossils are found deep in the earth’s crust and are detected and dugout.

If you are intrigued by the million-year-old index fossils that they showcase in museums, well, you are in the right place. We have found some unique and fun trivia about index fossils that you must remember! So, let’s get right into it.

If the sciences behind index fossils seem exciting to you, make sure to check out our other articles on the rarest animals on Earth and midnight-zone animals.

What is an index fossil?

The word ‘fossil’ is derived from the Latin word 'fossilis', which means 'dug up'. Fossils found in caves and salt pits are dry and mummified. But you need to know that not all decomposed animal bones are fossils. Fossils are formed over a span of several years. We can record the key features of the different periods and which creatures evolved during those periods by looking at the original specimens. There are a few criteria that scientists use to determine if the findings are of any paleontological and geological value.

The meaning of ‘fossil’ has changed through the years. Now ‘fossil’ means 'preserved remains', unlike its Latin origin which means 'dug up'. Whatever is dug up is not a fossil. To qualify as a fossil, an unearthed object has to meet some criteria.

If excavators find bones or teeth, researchers call them 'body fossils'. Sometimes, they can find footprints, nests, eggs, and even excrement, and these are called 'trace fossils'. Types of fossils range from huge rocks with impressions of dinosaurs to tiny rocks with microorganisms, which were abundant during the early period of the Earth's geological evolution.

Characteristics Of An Index Fossil

When you are thinking of distinguishing characteristics of index fossils, don’t be fooled by thinking fossils are only of gigantic dinosaurs and huge mammoths that lived a million years ago! The oldest fossil ever discovered belonged to a kind of bacteria. These index fossils are called 'microfossils'. These could be anything that you can't observe with the naked eye such as microscopic organisms and pollen grains.


What is special about an index fossil?

Index fossils are very special because they tell us all about the history of our planet. When the dead animal tissue is devoid of oxygen and it is under some specific conditions such as high pressure or extreme temperature, a fossil is formed. From this fossilized body, we can tell about many characteristics of the organism. In the case of marine organisms, the skeleton of the organism might lie on the floor of the sea, and then, it might get buried by the sediments and then it will be fossilized. Sometimes, the land animal might also get swept away to the ocean and buried in sediments.

The sediments around the bone harden like stone and after a long time the bone dissolves due to water but it leaves an impression shaped like the bone. This is an example of a natural mold. Minerals present in the water seep into the natural mold and the cavity is filled. Crystallization of these minerals occurs in that natural mold and the same shape of the bone is cast but no other internal features of the bone are present.

Index fossils are so special that people went to war over fossils. This may sound silly, but this is a fact! All scientists wanted to discover fossils, and get credit for their work. The ‘Bone War’ that arose due to this was also known as ‘The Great Dinosaur Rush’.

What are the oldest fossils?

The oldest fossils are found embedded in the deepest layers of the soil. Then, newer remains fall on top of them and they are covered in deposits and form newer index fossils. This is known as the stratification of fossils. Fossils that are found in the layer of the topsoil are the most recently formed ones, and the fossils found deep inside the earth are old. So, scientists determine the age of a particular organism by the theory of stratification.

Most of us are used to keeping cute and colorful parrots with beautiful feathers as pets. Now, imagine going to your friend’s place one day and finding out that they have got a new pet, a 3 ft (0.9 m) tall parrot! You’d probably scream and run for the hills if you don’t pass out at the sight of the creature right on the spot.

According to a journal named ‘Biology Letters’, the fossil of a parrot that lived on Earth nearly 16-19 million years ago was found by some scientists in New Zealand. The bones were misunderstood for that of an eagle because nobody could think of it as a huge parrot. The bird was named ‘Squawkzilla’ and is believed to have weighed nearly 15 lb (6.8 kg). It was a treat for paleontologists to discover the largest parrot that ever lived on Earth. Paleontologists believe that the parrot had a hard and strong beak that could crack anything such as nuts and wood. The diet of the giant primeval parrot could have been basic parrot feed or they could have even fed on other parrots.

While the size of this bird is astonishing, researchers have claimed that the bird was flightless, unlike its descendants that are prevalent nowadays. The family of this giant bird was wiped out as the climate cooled down.

The parrot fossil was discovered in an abandoned gold mine on a lake bed near Central Otago. The site is well known for its rich and varied fossil deposits. Paleontologists are expecting to find more such exotic organisms upon further excavation there.

Closeup of many ammonite prehistoric fossil on the surface of the stone

What is an index fossil used for?

These preserved remains provide a huge scope for numerous studies. Just the mere traces or imprints of these ancient species tell us about their height, the way they walked, and a lot more fascinating stuff. Even fossilized poop is of great value to paleontologists. Ideal fossils are extremely rare to find and once someone manages to discover a fully formed, whole fossil, they are found carefully preserved by specialists.

Whenever we think of fossils, if it’s a common animal fossil, we think of bones and teeth, and if it’s a common plant fossil, we think of leaf imprints. Contrary to popular belief, fossils aren’t just bones. A paper on microfossils was published by American paleontologist J. William Schopf in 2017.

According to Schopf, there is evidence of microbes as old as 3.46 billion years in the microfossils, and this makes them the oldest fossils to be ever discovered. But when he first started talking about this form of fossils, he was criticized by many experts because those specimens had similarities with simple minerals and that did not seem to prove there was any biological specimen in them. It took about 25 years to prove these rocks contain microbes.

Do you want to know more about index fossils? Yet another form of fossil is trace fossils. These include feces, nests, and eggs, or burrows that belong to ancient creatures. Trace fossils are used to observe the behavior, structure, and overall lifestyle of a primordial organism. This kind of fossil is a rare find. Body fossils are the most commonly unearthed fossils and they also constitute a major proportion of all fossil types.

Speaking of fossils, we must mention petroleum and coal, which are examples of fossil fuels. These are a type of chemical fossils. Chemical fossils or chemo-fossils are present as organic compounds or proteins trapped in a bed of rocks.

How do you recognize an index fossil?

Famous archaeologists and paleontologists recognize an index fossil using several scientific techniques like radiocarbon dating, DNA fingerprinting, and VNTR sequencing. But before going into that, you must know how the fossils were found!

In the old days, fossil hunting majorly took place in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. These are the areas where the infamous Bones Wars took place. This is the period when most original dinosaur fossils were discovered. In the 19th Century, celebrated paleontologists, people who analyze the sciences behind fossils, like Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, and many others were in a cutthroat competition to discover, identify, and name dinosaur species for fame and affluence.

Other details about index fossils include the way the fossils are named. Apatosaurus was named by Marsh in 1877 and in 1879, he named the Brontosaurus too. But later on, Elmer Riggs stated Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were of the same genus in 1903. A study in 2015 that examined 81 sauropods, reported that the Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus are different species. Brontosaurus has a prominent neck that is higher in comparison with the Apatosaurus, and it is narrow too.

Did You Know...

The first fossils ever discovered are thought to be mollusks. Mollusks are similar to mussels, clams, snails, slugs, and cuttlefish. they are invertebrates. From the radiocarbon studies of the trace fossils of these creatures, we know the extended history of the evolution of mollusks.

The trace fossils of mollusks have a higher chance of being preserved for a long time because of siliciclastic strata on them. Body fossils of mollusks are extremely rare. The trace fossils of mollusks are generally found as fan-shaped carvings.

Trace fossils play an important role in the study of the evolution of mollusks. The extinct creatures like ammonites and belemnites are classified under Commander Mollusks. A major example of this particular type of organism is the nautilus, a pelagic marine organism that was abundant during the Devonian age. The nautilus is present in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. When the study of index fossils was not that popular, people believed the rocks containing impressions of these mollusks to be actual snakes, and they called them ‘snakestone’.

In 1974, a 3.2-million-year-old remain of a hominid was found in Ethiopia. Donald Johnson was the one who found it. He was listening to the Beatles song 'Lucy In The Sky' along with his team. Then, a team member suggested naming the fossil Lucy. Lucy is one of the most well-preserved remains of a human discovered until then. But as of now, there have been many other discoveries of still older hominids. Maybe we need more Beetles songs to name them after? Lucy is an Australopithecus afarensis specimen. According to scientists Lucy was 12-18 years old when she died. Lucy was short and had a smaller brain than human beings today. The discovery of Lucy proved that early humans habitually walked on two legs. Lucy has also got an Ethiopian name Dinkinesh which means 'marvelous'.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for index fossil fun facts then why not take a look at radial symmetry animals, or what animal produces the loudest sound.

<p>With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies.&nbsp;</p>

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