How many fingers do you have? Hopefully, 5. Do you think that’s the normal condition for all animals? Do you think that’s air you’re breathing right now? … OK, so I watched the Matrix last night, but still, do you think all tetrapods (dudes with 4 feet, including you, and anything else with four flippers, wings, or feet) have 5 digits on each limb? Actually, there’s a pattern within tetrapods of limb reduction in various lineages – our earliest ancestors seemed to experiment with digit numbers and went a bit berserk by growing extra fingers from their fishy flippers.
Palaeontology probably isn’t the most difficult of sciences, but it does incorporate aspects of chemistry, biology, and physics to a certain degree, as with many other geoscientific disciplines. Palaeontologists are also well known for the mysterious and unintelligible ‘science-speak’ that they use in research papers, fueled by this combination of a multitude of various sciences, the insane taxonomic system that we employ to identify fossils, and the standard anatomical descriptive phrasing too. I guess the aim of this series of posts, is just to break down some of the more complex terminology that you may come across online or in papers, and gain a bit more of an understanding of Palaeontology and related fields in the process. Yeah, it’s pretty much a glossary. With dinosaurs. Suggestions for words welcomed!