Alberta is home to six native species of snakes. They include the venomous prairie rattlesnake, the bull snake (that can grow up to two metres long), and the western hog-nosed snake that rolls over and plays dead when frightened. Snakes are feared and misunderstood by most of the human population and this can lead to their persecution and destruction. All of Alberta’s snakes are protected by provincial law, but this still does not stop some people from intentionally killing them, turning them into pets, or selling live ones.
Officer Zimmer spent several years working in snake country in the southeast corner of the province both protecting snakes and dealing with snake issues. In his presentation, he talks about identifying native snakes, how to prevent encounters, and protect native snake habitat. He also provides tips on what to do if you’re bitten by a snake.
The actinopterygians, or ray-finned fishes, are a substantial and significant component of modern vertebrate (animals with backbones) diversity. Ray-finned fishes are bony and have paired fins that are supported by rays (the actinosts) that insert directly in the body. Examples of modern ray-finned fishes include trout, eels, and bettas. Despite their prevalence today, the early evolution of this group is poorly understood compared to other major groups, driven by a lack of informative fossil data.
In his talk, Conrad Wilson explains how recent work on Early Carboniferous fossil sites from Nova Scotia and around the world provide new insight into the evolution of this group and how the development of the modern vertebrates may have been influenced by the mass extinction at the end of the Devonian Period (419 – 359 million years ago).
Mosasaurs were large, flipper-bearing swimming lizards from the age of the last dinosaurs, about 100–66 million years ago. Typically reaching the size of a pickup truck in length—and some nearly twice as long—over 70 mosasaur species are reported today based on the fossils collected from all over the world. Out of this highly diverse assemblage, halisaurine mosasaurs were small and seemed less well adapted to life in water since they lacked the well-developed flippers and tail fin of their larger contemporaries. Yet these small mosasaurs became increasingly more common in the fossil record towards the end of the Cretaceous, indicating their evolutionary success alongside their larger, fast-swimming cousins.
In his talk, Dr. Takuya Konishi, from the University of Cincinnati, explains why a recently discovered skull from Japan sheds new light on halisaurine mosasaurs’ potential survival strategy: that halisaurines evolved a pair of large, forward-facing eyes that would have increased their ability to see in the dark, allowing them to hunt at night.
Non-avian theropods are among the closest extinct relatives to birds, but our understanding of their diversity, evolution, and extinction are greatly hampered by their incomplete fossil record. Isolated teeth from the Western Interior Basin, though, provide a continuous sample of these taxa through the last 18 million years of the Cretaceous.
In his talk, Larson explains how the morphology of these teeth can be examined both within a single formation to recognize patterns of evolution and across formations to examine changes in morphology through time.
The extinction of mammoths is the most prominent of Late Pleistocene extinctions that wiped out nearly 70% of large mammals (megafauna) from western Europe through South America about 10,000 years ago. However, on small islands off the coast of Alaska and Siberia, populations of mammoths persisted for many thousands of years after mainland populations disappeared.
In his talk, Dr. Duane Froese from the University of Alberta presents new research on the extinction of mammoths and other megafauna from Arctic North America and the causes of the final extinction of a population on St. Paul Island, Alaska, about 6000 years ago.
The study of ichnology, or trace fossils, is a fascinating field of geology that provides a window into the behaviour of ancient animals. While body fossils help us to understand the morphology of an animal, trace fossils (whether they are footprints, bite marks, or nests) provide evidence that allows us to make inferences about how they lived their lives. Ichnology’s modern counterpart, neoichnology, the study of extant (living) animal traces, demonstrates what types of traces may be preserved, as well as letting us watch how those traces are created.
Dr. Noad’s talk covers examples of trace fossils ranging from termite nests to shrimp burrows, bird feeding traces to fish fin marks, and even traces that are interpreted to be from dinosaur urination. It encompasses a wide variety of both invertebrates and vertebrates, from worms to dinosaurs to mammals. Once you see the amazing diversity of traces, each of which captures a unique aspect of animal activity, you will never look at a mark on the ground in quite the same way!
Recent volcanic activity in western Canada is not widely recognised, despite the occurrence of at least four important eruptions over the last 4,000 years. This is not surprising given the low eruption rates, the remoteness of Canadian volcanoes, and the low population density in volcanic areas.
One of the few events with any confirmed observations is that of the 1700’s eruption of the Tseax volcano (Wil Ksi Baxhl M’ihl) in British Columbia. Although no written records exist, a rich oral history describes in detail the most recent eruption of the volcano, one of Canada’s worst natural disasters.
The largest recent explosive eruption in Canada occurred 2400 years ago at the Mount Meager Volcanic Complex, 65 kilometres northwest of Pemberton, B.C. This eruption was similar in size to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helen’s and sent ash over 530 kilometres east into Alberta.
In his presentation, Dr. Williams-Jones describes these historical volcanic eruptions and explain the importance of studying Canadian volcanoes to better understand their eruptive histories and forecast any future eruptions.