27 Paleontologist Fun Facts For Kids: Know More About Trace Fossils

Sridevi Tolety
Feb 26, 2023 By Sridevi Tolety
Originally Published on Dec 14, 2021
Edited by Sarah Nyamekye
Fact-checked by Sudeshna Nag
Fossil records for future generations

It is always fascinating to know the evolutionary history of organisms that lived before us.

Various ancient organisms that ever existed here left some of the other footprints as fossil records for future generations to know about them. Preserved remains, traces or imprints of organisms in the form of sedimentary rock(s) are known as fossils.

Discovered fossils help scientists called paleontologists to understand different features of extinct organisms as well as living organisms.

Any remains left behind by ancient animals and organisms like fossilized poop, soft body parts, teeth marks, bones may tell us exciting stories of the times they lived. Curious to know how an animal or an organism that lived before us left some of the footprints?

Isn't it amazing and fun to study fossil records to get to know other animals and life forms existed on Earth before us and the ancient climate they lived in?

If you are interested in other fun facts, please check out beach fun facts and fun facts about water.  

The Meaning Of Paleontology

A Paleontologist is a scientist who researches how life was on Earth in the past and reveals the history of life on Earth. A paleontologist should be well versed in various branches of science, especially in biology and geology or earth science.

While a paleontologist has to focus on the record of past life, his or her primary source of evidence is fossils in rocks which form part of the geology branch of science. Their area of expertise also overlaps with archaeology.

An archeologist primarily works with objects made by humans and human remains, while paleontologists are interested in studying the characteristics and evolution of humans as species. However, when dealing with shreds of evidence about humans, both archeologists and paleontologists may have to work together.

In addition, a paleontologist should know to use techniques from other sciences like biology, osteology, ecology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

The study of fossils tells us about the ancient life on Earth, and such study of fossils is known as paleontology. The fossils form from the remains of fungi, plants, single-celled living things, bacteria, animals, and other such organisms.

These remains have been replaced by the impressions of organisms preserved in the surface of the rock and explain the natural history of the time in which it lived. Fossil remains are used to study various aspects of extinct animals and living organisms.

Paleontology subdisciplines are categorized based on their focusses on the type of a specific fossil or a specific feature of the Earth, for example, its climate. 

Some of the major subdisciplines of Paleontology are listed below.

Vertebrate Paleontology: It refers to the study of fossils of animals with backbones. Vertebrate Paleontologists have shown the revolutionary history and reconstructed skeletons of cats, turtles, dinosaurs, and other animals from discovered fossil pieces of evidence. However, each paleontologist may have competing theories demonstrating how fossil pieces of evidence can be interpreted differently.

Invertebrate Paleontology: Invertebrate paleontology examines the fossils of animals that have no backbones called invertebrates. They leave behind fossilized shells, impressions of their soft body parts, exoskeletons, and tracks of their movement on the ocean floor or ground as evidence of their existence.

Paleobotany: Paleobotany is a subdiscipline of paleontology that studies the fossils of extinct plants. Such fossils may be the impressions of ancient plants that have been left behind on the surface of the rocks and preserved by rock materials.

These fossils help scientists to understand the diversity and evolution of plants. These fossils also play a crucial part in the study of ancient environments, called paleoecology and paleoclimate, also known as paleoclimatology.

Micropaleontology: The study of fossils of microscopic organisms protists for example pollen, tiny crustaceans, and algae is called micropaleontology.

From fossil evidence, the behavior of an organism can also be deduced. After observing evidence of social behavior, scientist suggests that duck-billed dinosaurs used to live in large herds.

The fossilization process varies according to tissue type and external conditions. Permineralization, casts and molds, authigenic mineralization, replacement and recrystallization, soft tissue, cell, and molecular preservation, carbonization, and bioimmuration are some well-known processes of fossilization.

Fossils, the preserved remains, vary in size from just a few micrometer long bacteria to dinosaurs and trees that are many meters long and weigh many tons. A fossil usually preserves only some portion of the dead organism like bones and teeth of animals or exoskeletons of insects by partially mineralizing them during their life.

That means minerals make a stone copy of the portion of the deceased organism. The marks left behind by the organism, such as animal tracks, can also create a fossil.

Two types of fossils exist, body fossils and trace fossils.

Body Fossils: Body fossils are the fossil record of the remains of parts of a plant, animal, or any organism, usually altered by later chemical activity or mineralization. Dinosaur skeletons, considered as preserved remains seen in a museum, are good examples of body fossils.

Trace Fossils: A trace fossil, also known as ichnofossil, is a fossil record of the biological activities of a plant or animal. Trace fossils may also consist of impressions made on or in the sediment by an organism.

It also includes the remains of other organic materials produced by an organism like droppings. However, many sedimentary structures, for example, displaced empty shells are not produced because of the behavior of any organism. Hence they are not considered trace fossils.

History Of Paleontology

Fossils were always studied, used, and understood in various ways by different civilizations throughout human history. Some of them in very ancient times used fossils for religious or decorative purposes.

However, some ancient Roman and Greek scientists knew fossils were the remains of ancient life forms. Early scientists such as Shen Kuo and Xenophanes formed complex theories based on fossil evidence.

Paleontology as a 'formal science of fossil description and collection' developed in the 18th century. During this time, scientists started describing and mapping the formation of rocks and began classifying fossils. Scientists discovered that rock layers were formed as a result of sediment buildup over millions of years, and they were not the result of catastrophes or single events.

After discovering radioactivity in the later years of the 19th century, paleontologists revolutionized the dating of rock layers and determined the age of the rock layers. Modern paleontologists use various tools like electron microscopes, X-ray machines, CT scanners, and advanced computer programs to describe, examine, and discover fossils.

With the help of electron microscopes, paleontologists can study even the smallest details of the tiniest fossils, whereas CT scanners and X-ray machines reveal internal structures of the fossils.

Activities of paleontology and geology became better organized in the first half of the 19th century. There was an increase in the number of museums and geologic societies and the growing number of fossil specialists and professional geologists.

After 'The Origin of Species,' published by Charles Darwin, a revolutionary change was brought in the focus of paleontology and in the evolutionary paths and evolution theory.

A remarkable discovery was made by paleontologists when the bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex were accidentally broken during a dig up in the 1990s. Paleontologists found soft tissue inside the bones. this was an important discovery as the soft tissues were rarely preserved during the process of fossilization.

Stromatolites are one of the oldest known fossils on earth. Stromatolites are the remains of ancient cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. These are the oldest fossils ever discovered. Cyanobacteria from Archaean rocks of western Australia are dated 3.5 billion years old. Sponges are the oldest animal fossils, that is 890 million-year-old, ever discovered.

Role And Importance Of Paleontologist

Who doesn't like stories? Especially, if the stories are about dinosaurs!

What stories can a paleontologist tell from fossil footprints such as that of a dinosaur? Paleontologists were able to understand that some types of dinosaurs traveled in large groups or tracks merely by studying many sets of dinosaur fossils like footprints or tracks.

Some tracks show that herds protected their young by keeping them in the centers of migrating groups.

Some other tracks show that dinosaurs did not drag their tails while walking. From some footprint trackways, paleontologists can calculate dinosaur gait and their speed. Footprints that are close together indicate that they were running. Footprints spaced farther apart might be showing that they have been walking.

The role of a paleontologist is to discover the ancient life that existed on Earth. They search and study fossils to uncover clues about life that existed on Earth long ago.

Anyone can find fossils if you know what you're looking for them. Some paleontologists study fossils of microorganisms which are living things that are too small to see without a microscope, while others study fossils of giant dinosaurs.

Just imagine, a small tiny rock may contain varied information about an organism's life and environment. Some of them even show how an organism lived. Paleontologists study amber, called 'fossil resin,' as amber can preserve tissues as delicate as dragonfly wings. Amber is nothing but the hardened, fossilized tree resin.

These sticky resins dripped down from a tree trunk can trap air bubbles and organisms as big as frogs and lizards. Such trapped organisms could exactly reveal what they ate and how they ate.

After analyzing the chemistry of the air in the trapped air bubble, scientists can even tell if there was any volcanic eruption or changes that happened to the atmosphere nearby.

Who Was The First Paleontologist?

Skills like proficiency in geochemical signatures from rocks help a paleontologist to discover when life first arose on Earth, or the knowledge of carbon isotope ratios helps to identify climate changes. A paleontologist is also supposed to know stratigraphy, compared to a jigsaw puzzle, to date fossils

Georges Cuvier and William Smith are known to be the pioneers of paleontology, who lived in the early 19th century. It was Georges Cuvier's theory that stated animals could become extinct, and some fossil animals did not resemble any living ones. This theory led to the development of paleontology.

It was said that Cuvier's disciple Henri Marie Decrotay de Blainville was the first one to print the word palæontologie in a French article published in 1822. In this article, he used this word while referring to the second edition of a work of Cuvier titled 'Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupèdes'.

This term coined by Blainville for the study of fossilized organisms became popular very fast and was translated into 'paleontology'.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy!

If you liked our suggestions for 27 paleontologist fun facts for kids: know more about trace fossils, then why not take a look at 21 facts about king Tut that are absolutely astounding or 31 facts about Mozambique that will make you want to pack your bags.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Sridevi Tolety

Bachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

Sridevi Tolety picture

Sridevi ToletyBachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.

Read full bio >
Fact-checked by Sudeshna Nag

Master of Arts specializing in History

Sudeshna Nag picture

Sudeshna NagMaster of Arts specializing in History

Having earned a Master's degree in History from the Presidency University in Kolkata, Sudeshna was able to refine these skills and broaden her knowledge base. Not only is she an accomplished fact-checker, but she is also deeply invested in gender research, societal interactions, and mental health. Her professional repertoire also includes experience in translation between Bengali and English content

Read full bio >