By Alisha Solaiman
For National Fossil Day, we’re shining the spotlight on our Collections Manager and invertebrate paleontologist, Alex Kittle. His interest in the field grew when he took a summer course in paleontology at Georgia College. His class traveled for about a month to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the Badlands of South Dakota to collect fossils. He started studying paleobotany, the study of plant fossils, which led him to eventually studying invertebrates.
After Kittle graduated, he landed his first job at the University of Florida’s invertebrate paleontology division, where he worked for about eight years. He developed identification guides for amateur fossil collectors, specifically in Florida.
The process of finding and excavating fossils depends on the region. In the Badlands, there is a lot of erosion and not all of it happened at the same rate. Coal slabs can be broken apart and many layers of plant fossils can be found. In the Badlands, Kittle excavated a skull of an oreodont (pictured here), which he keeps now in his office. In Florida, they traveled to limestone quarries for excavations. Where roads are built, the ground is torn up resulting in a mass of sand and sand. “It’s like going to the beach and picking up seashells, it’s really that easy,” he says.
Kittle has worked at DMNH for three years. On a normal day at the Museum, he organizes the Mollusk collection with more than 2 million specimens. He organizes them taxonomically through biological classifications including family, genus, and species. Some of these classifications have changed over the years based on new scientific knowledge, which is why the specimens are being reorganized to meet current standards. He says it will take a couple of years to finish organizing as well as uploading information onto an in-house database. Twenty-five percent of reorganizing the collection is completed.
New specimens continue to be added to the collections. Recently, DMNH received fossils from the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal dating to the cretaceous period. Currently, Kittle and his team of volunteers are sorting and uploading the information collected from the fossils into an in-house database.
Kittle says his experience with working in his field has been very interesting. “I like it because there are a lot of neat things going on, with invertebrates especially,” he says. “With fossils, you’re left with evidence, like some sort of bite mark or footprint. It’s almost like investigative work, a murder mystery.”