Look! It's the Rocky Horror Picture Show!
Bear with me here....It's a rock. And rocks are, by definition, rocky. That bug is about 2 1/2 inches long, and some people are afraid of bugs, so it's a horror. Since it's just an image, that makes it a picture. And I'm displaying it to you, so it's a show. That makes it a Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Ok. You come up with a joke tying that picture to todays topic. Yeah....that's what I thought.
So, today if Friday. And since I showed a picture of a rock, that must mean that today is Friday Rocks! This is the day when I indulge my
hobby obsession with fossils.
Last week, I told you the story pf Gideon Mantell and how William Buckland screwed him out of credit for being the official discoverer of dinosaurs. And at the end of the post, I hinted at the story of a world class douche that we owe a large debt to. If you read all the comments to last weeks post, you got a small taste of the story. Today, you get some more details.
Richard Owen. A man who would scare small children just by standing in a room. He was a tall, thin, lanky, cadaverous looking fellow. And he was a dick. I'm sorry, but there is no other way to describe his personality.
As a young man, Owen took a liking to the natural sciences. And in the early 1800's, a gentleman of means could make their hobby their jobs. Own did just that. He became a very skilled naturalist. Regardless of what kind of man he was, he was very good at what he did.
Had he just done his job, he would be remembered as one of the most brilliant men of his time. His name would be known as well as Darwins. But, his actions have made history marginalize him.
So what exactly did he do? Well, he took his positions at various research institutes to block the research of people he didn't like. (and he didn't like many people). At the time, museums were not open to the public. If you wanted to see a collection, you had to apply for access. And if you were approved, you would be given a quick, guided tour. Then you would leave. You had very little chance to examine the items.
If you wanted to do actual research, you had to submit an application. Then go through an interview. And then, if approved, you got time to research whatever it was you wanted. Owen was one of the people who got to decide if you gained access. And manny times, he would listen to your ideas, go over your research, and then deny you access to the resources you wanted. He would then use their ideas to do his own research.
Or, he would take the papers submitted by people and resubmit them under his own name. Or, since he was in a position to do so, he would change the name of a species and take credit for it's discovery. (he did this to the iguanodon after Mantells death).
He even submitted papers for publication to societies claiming to hold a position he didn't in fact hold. It was an incident of this that won him a prestigious award. When his lie was discovered, he was allowed to keep the award, (revoking it would have been a public embarrassment to all involved).
Owen not only tried to make Gideon Mantells life a living hell, he was the only person that Charles Darwin was known to hate. He was in his late 50's when people finally got tired of him and his shenanigans. He was removed from positions of power, and relegated to doing research.
I have just barely scratched the surface of Owen's douchebaggery. But I don't have enough time to go into full detail. Because now I have to tell you all why we need to thank Richard Owen for what he did.
If he hadn't been such a dick, he never would have received his final job. He was put in charge of the collections at the British Museum. He would be able to continue using his vast knowledge to advance science, but wouldn't be able to be a hinderance to anyone any longer.
And it was at this job where he really made his greatest contribution.
It was Richard Owen who pushed to make the British Museum be open to the public. His idea was to charge a penny for anyone from the public to be able to come and see the wonders on display. He wanted to arrange the collections into glass cases to keep them safe, but to add cards describing what it was that a person was looking at.
As I stated earlier, museums at the time were solely for academic uses. And resistance to Owens idea was fierce. But as Own got older, he pushed harder, and eventually, The British Museum Of Natural History was opened to the public on a trial basis. It was opened mainly to shut Owen up. but from the day it was opened, it became one of the most popular places for people to go.
And people didn't just go once. They went a lot. For some people, it was a weekly outing with the family. For others, it was a daily stop on their way home from work. But the important thing was, it was a huge success. And now, museums that are open to the public are everywhere. And it's all thanks to Richard Owen. A dick. In fact, if you are lucky enough to visit the British Museum Of Natural History, you'll see a statue of Richard Owen in a place of honor on the grand staircase. Charles Darwin's statue is in the coffee shop.
So, that picture up there is a trilobite. And it got the name trilobite because it has.....three lobes. No, I'm serious. Trilobites are called that because they have three main lobes. The Cephalon, (head), Thorax, (body), and Pygidium. (tail). They also have three lobes going from side to side. the Pleural lobes, (the left and right sides) and the Axial lobe. (the center lobe). Generally, the three front to back lobes are easier to identify on trilobites. Depending on who you talk to, the term Cranidium will be used instead of cephalon to refer to the head, but that's not 100% accurate in my opinion.
The cephalon is broken up into three sections; the Glabella, the Librigena, and the Fixigena. Together the glabella and the fixigena are called the cranidium. This ignores the librigena, and as such, I refer to the head as the cephalon, like most others do. (calling it the cranidium is from the past and has fallen mostly out of use).
Now, I know most of you have no idea what I'm talking about. Well, to put it into human terms, the cephalon would be our face, minus the mouth. (a trilobites mouth was on it's underside. So if we transpose a human head to a trilobite, it would put the mouth on the back of our heads.)
A humans glabella is the space between the eyebrows, just above the nose. (that spot is called the glabella on humans). While humans don't have librigena or fixigena, I can approximate them for you. The librigena would be our cheeks, and the fixigena would be the rest of the face. (the two crescent moons on the librigena, next to the fixigena, are the eyes.)
The librigena are also called the free cheeks. Since a trilobite has an exoskeleton, it has to shed when it needs more room to grow. The free cheeks would split away from the cephalon and fall away. This would allow the trilobite to crawl out from under it's shell. One way of determining if a trilobite is a molt or a complete fossil is by the presence of the free cheeks.
The trilobite pictured at the top of the post is called a Phacops rana. It's a fairly common trilobite, and the can be found prone, (pictured), enrolled, or 'flying'. Flying means it was found prone, but due to the matrix it was preserved in and the condition of the fossil, most of the surrounding matrix can be removed to make it look like it's flying.
One of the basic methods of defense for a trilobite was to enroll. That is, they would roll up into a ball, much like a Pill Bug, or an Armadillo.
This is a Phacops rana, (much smaller than the prone one), in the enrolled position. The first is looking at the cephalon, and the second is a side view, with the cephalon on the right. (I'm really sorry. I'm not a photographer, and the only camera I have is my phone.)
When they sensed danger, most trilobites would enroll. They depended on their hard exoskeletons to keep them safe. Some species of trilobite had various spines that would add to the defense. (and yes, I have some of those and I'll be showing them later)
I'm going to stop for now. I'm going to be going into a lot of detail about trilobites because they are my area of expertise. Plus, I have a lot of them to show off. So the next few weeks will be on trilobites. But don't worry. I'll keep it interesting. there is as much variety in trilobites as there are in insects.
Have a good weekend, and I'll see you all Monday, when I make something up. Or I don't. You'll just have to wait to find out.
I understand I am tossing a lot of science at you guys. Please ask any questions you have in the comments and I'll answer them as best I can. And if you want me to go into more details about something, let me know. If I don't feel it would make a good post, I'll still answer in a reply.