Fifty million years ago, the Western Interior of North America
was blanketed with a tropical rain forest. Colorado and Wyoming
were teeming with hot weather wildlife, such as early lemur and
tarsier-like primates, tapirs, rhinoceroses, crocodiles, and
Since the 1990s, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science has
been collecting fossil vertebrates from sites in Wyoming and
Colorado that range in age from about 54 to 45 million years old.
More than 10,000 specimens have been discovered, giving a rich
picture of the changes in faunas through the warmest period of
Earth history over the past 65 million years.
Recent work by Dr. Richard Stucky at a site located west of
Casper, Wyoming, in rugged badlands has resulted in the description
of a new hypercarnivorous creodont, Malfelis badwaterensis ("the
bad cat from Badwater, Wyoming"). It was the largest living mammal
50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch. Though only about the
size of a wolf, Malfelis badwaterensis lived up to its modern name,
preying on a variety of smaller creatures, from tiny and
medium-size rhinos to small three-toed horses and tapirs.
"A creodont is a very primitive group of ancient carnivorous
animals that lived just after the time the dinosaurs went extinct,"
said Dr. Stucky. "It was a complete flesh eater, with no additional
dietary proclivities. Hypercarnivores have very sharp teeth at the
back of the jaw rather than at the middle of the jaw, like
Over the next several years, an online resource will be
developed to provide in-depth information on the ecology, anatomy,
and natural history of the ancient creatures of the Eocene. The
online guide will include keys to the identification of fossils as
well as illustrations of what these animals looked like.
Denver Museum Teen Science Scholars
The Denver Museum Teen Science Scholars program is open to teens
from Colorado high schools who demonstrate through essay and
interview their determination to be successful and committed to
science. The program particularly seeks students whose access to
resources may be limited or nonexistent. The scholars receive real
hands-on opportunities to participate in the process of science and
encouragement to seek careers in the sciences.
The students may choose from one of three disciplines:
paleontology, zoology, or health sciences. Dr. Richard Stucky is
the mentor for the paleontology students. He and other
paleontologists take the students to a field site in central
Wyoming to search for evidence of ancient plants and animals from
50 million years ago. After collecting data and fossils, they
return to the Museum's laboratory to process the specimens and
analyze what they collected. Students even have the opportunity to
write their research discoveries, and past scholars have had their
research recognized by professional scientists.
"Instead of reading about something in a book, I'm actually
doing it," said Olivia Verma, a science scholar. "It's an amazing
feeling to be trusted to find fossils and to be trusted to be
careful with them."
Click here if you or someone you know is interested in applying
for the Denver Museum Teen Science Scholars program.