Dinosaur Hunter Shaking Things Up Lisle Paleontologist Makes Key Finds
Stevens, Susan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Susan Stevens Daily Herald Staff Writer
As a paleontologist, Michael Parrish recognizes the constant threat of having his foundations rumble.
Sometimes he does it to himself.
Earlier this year, Parrish and a colleague published a report challenging the traditional swanlike neck posture of the giant apatosaurus.
And this month, he and other researchers published their discovery of a jawbone fragment that pushes the age of modern mammals back 25 million years.
"I think it's the same thing that appeals to archeologists and treasure hunters: the possibility of finding something that's never been seen before," Parrish said. "It's quite exciting."
Parrish, of Lisle, is a professor and chair of the biology department at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, which he says is ratcheting up a strong record of important finds in paleontology and archaeology among its faculty.
Parrish counts himself among paleontologists who became enraptured with toy dinosaurs as children. He renewed his interest in the 1970s, when he was a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, followed by graduate work at the University of Chicago. He has been at Northern since 1989.
Despite media portrayals of exotic expeditions and fame, the profession is hardly glamorous.
"What you see on TV doesn't compensate for the time you spend looking at the ground," Parrish said. "Even the lab work is arduous."
The latest find, a new mouse-like mammal species called "ambondro mahabo" was picked out under a microscope by Field Museum volunteers sifting through 50 pounds of gravel, grain by grit.
The dirt was collected during a 1996 trip to Madagascar by Parrish, Field Museum geology chair John Flynn and other scientists. They visited a region that spans nearly the entire age of dinosaurs, 250 million to 70 million years ago.
"There's almost the same range in North America, but it tends to be in different regions," Parrish said. "What's unusual about this is it's all in one sedentary basin."
Using local accounts of dinosaur bones and geological and satellite maps, paleontologists located a site rich in small fossils. …