"Fish-Within-A-Fish" at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas

Feasting Fish

My excitement and nervousness rose as the powdery gray dust puffed up from where both my friend and I carefully chipped away at the flaky gray rock, revealing tiny areas of black, little by little. Those little areas of black were not rock, but part of the fossil we were excavating.  And they weren’t just any part of that fossil – these little black sections of bone belonged to the skull and gill areas of a large fish fossil. It had been almost a year since we had found this four-foot long fish fossil (read about the original find in Fishy Finds), and here in the final stages of excavation and preparation, uncovering the skull would be essential to properly identify what kind of fish we had.  From the skull, tail, and other features, it was determined that this fish fit best under the genus, Gillicus.

The Gillicus fish fossil from Kansas finished with the longest stages of excavation

The Gillicus fish fossil from Kansas finished with the longest stages of excavation Sara Bruegel (L) and David Mikkelson (R)

There is another very interesting Gillicus fish fossil from the same region of Kansas.  Not only was this fish preserved in rock, but it was also preserved inside a larger fish! This Gillicus was about six-and-a-half feet long, but in the belly of a different type of fish that was about thirteen feet long.  Together the two make up the famous “Fish-Within-A-Fish” fossil.  A display replica of the two can be seen at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas.  According to “Oceans of Kansas” paleontology research website, this “Fish-Within-A-Fish” is probably the most photographed fossil in the world.

Of course, when we see the “Fish-Within-A-Fish” fossil, we tend to think right away that the bigger fish must be eating the Gillicus.  Although it’s important to not jump to hasty conclusions about fossils, judging by the other fossils found in the area and other fossils preserved while eating, it seems reasonable to say that the Gillicus probably was being eaten.  The larger fish may have “bit off more than it could chew” and died due to the squirming of the smaller Gillicus inside of it.  Whether the larger fish died for this reason, or just due to the perils of the global flood, we can tell that they must have been buried very quickly together to be beautifully preserved, like we see them today, without getting picked to pieces by other creatures in the sea.  A normal ocean environment like we see today could never preserve fish like these – their burial is much better explained by mud flows from a catastrophic, global food.

Dragonfly Fossil.  Photo Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, February 2016

Dragonfly Fossil from the Solnhoffen. Photo Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, February 2016

Similar fossils have been found in Kansas and other places as well, like the Solnhoffen formation.  This rock formation in Germany features tons of different spectacularly preserved fossils, including extremely delicate jellyfish and dragonflies. One of these German fossils is a set of three creatures making a food chain – a pterosaur that just swallowed a small fish, but got dragged into the water and drown by a larger fish.   All three were preserved together, and the small fish inside the pterosaurs’ throat looks like it hasn’t been digested yet.  This set of violent fossils, like the Kansas “Fish-Within-A-Fish”, must have been buried extremely quickly to be preserved.

Although these creatures are eating one another and dying, they have been beautifully preserved.  Death and destruction were not part of God’s original “very good” creation, but a result of sin (evil) coming into the world through Adam and Eve.  Yes, there was pain, death, and destruction during the flood and we still have them today.  But, take a look at the message we can see through these fossils.  We see death and destruction in these fossils, but we also can see spectacular preservation in them.  Although sometimes God’s justice will require death and destruction, His mercy can do wonders preserving and making something beautiful out of it, and it was because of His great love that He created them (and us) in the first place.

© Sara J. Bruegel, October 2016


Spider web strung between bridge railings .  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, September 2014

Master of Web Design

A gentle fog lingered in the autumn morning air.  As I walked across the damp grass, I was excited to see the rain gauge after the stormy day before.   I stopped suddenly to gaze at the glistening barrier between me and the rain gauge.  Dew drops clung to the thin, lacy spirals of the large spider web strung across my path, right in front of my face.  I watched a little bug struggling near the center of the nearly invisible sticky trap.  Suddenly the host spider ran out to catch her prey, do her work quickly, and run back to a safe corner. The spider either saw me or decided it was getting much too light for her taste, because soon after her meal was taken care of, she began to quickly and carefully disassemble her web.  Spiders definitely aren’t my favorite type of creature to keep in the house, but there is something very alluring and beautiful about their webs.

Spider web with mist on it. Notice the spider in the middle - it is wrapping up a bug it caught

Spider web with mist on it. Notice the spider in the middle – it is wrapping up a bug it caught

A spider uses very special glands and incredibly tiny, intricate structures to create its silk and spin that silk into just the right kind of thread for the job.  There are several different types of silk thread a spider can make and use for the right purpose.  There are special types of silk for making an egg sac or wrapping up their freshly caught meal.  When a spider weaves its web, it first creates a y-shape to anchor the web, and builds other support strands that look a lot like the spokes of a bicycle wheel.  The silk for these supporting spokes is not sticky.  After those supporting strands are made, the spider will make a quick “auxiliary spiral” made of non-sticky thread to keep it together and act as a pattern for the sticky spiral.  This sticky spiral silk is made with a special glue that will help catch the bugs that the spider will eat.  The spider waits on a sensitive area of the web and pounces out, tiptoeing carefully on the non-sticky threads, and wraps its meal in a different type of silk.

A spider’s silk, though incredibly thin and flexible, is stronger than any man-made fiber.  Not only are the silks perfectly designed to be sticky, strong, flexible, and easily taken down, but the web is also incredibly engineered.  When under pressure, the whole web will gently bend.  But if the pressure becomes too much, the part of the web under the most pressure will actually stiffen and crystallize, actually causing just that section to break. The rest of the web stays intact and can easily be repaired.  In fact, a web with a few strands broken is actually specially designed to be even stronger than the original web! Not only were spider webs specially made to be able to break and be easily fixed, but the structure of an ordinary orb web looks very similar to a flower when they are both put under an ultraviolet light.  This tricks some bugs into thinking they’re headed to a nice flower when they are actually about to be trapped in a spider web.

Thinking about all of these amazing features of just a spider’s web (not even the spider itself) that scientists still cannot make on their own should turn our eyes towards the Master Web Designer, God, Who created the way spiders form webs.  Some people try to say that the spider and other creatures are just a product of random-chance accidents over millions of years, but the ability to make a web with all the right types of silk spun the right way and with the right chemicals, then woven in an ideal structure would require way too many different things to be “just right” all at once.  Fossil spider webs that look just like the orb webs we see today have been found preserved in Amber in the same layers as dinosaur bones (buried in the Jurassic rock group).  This was a big surprise to people who held to the view that spiders evolved slowly over long periods of time.  The spider web shows intricate patterns of being perfectly designed from the beginning, just a few thousand years ago.  Next time you see a spider web, before you brush it away, take a minute to marvel at its design and praise our Creator.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, October 2016


  • Sarfati, Jonathan. Spider silk: both strong and smart. Creation Magazine 34(3):56. July 2012. Creation Ministries International. Last accessed 10-14-16
  • Sarfati, Jonathan. God’s webspinners give chemists free lessons. Creation Magazine 23(2):20–21. March 2001. Creation Ministries International. Last accessed 10-14-16
  • Sherwin,Frank. 2006. Spiral Wonder of the Spider Web. Acts & Facts. 35 (5). Institute for Creation Research. Last accessed 10-14-16
  • Thomas, Brian. 2012. The Masterful Design of Spider Webs. Acts & Facts. 41 (4): 16. Institute for Creation Research. Last accessed 10-14-16
  • Thomas, Brian. 2012. Scientists Decode Key to Spider Web Strength. Evidence for Creation:::God’s Design Is an Engineering Wonder. Published March 19, 2012. Institute for Creation Reseach. Last accessed 10-14-16
  • Thomas, Brian. 2009. Amber-Trapped Spider Web Too Old for Evolution. Evidence for Creation. Posted November 20, 2009. Institute for Creation Research. Last accessed 10-14-16.
  • Wilson, Gordon. The Ultimate Web Designer. Design in Nature. March 13, 2016. Answers Magazine. Answers in Genesis. Last accessed 10-14-16

Colorful Colorado Clay

Sara Bruegel sorting through clay - some chunks are colorful

Sara Bruegel sorting through clay – some chunks are colorful

Wham-splat! The pick axe hit the muddy wall, then stuck there.  I pried it off and scooped off the wet, heavy chunk of clay into a debris bucket. Behind that chunk I noticed a rich variety of colors. Amid the mundane grays and browns, there were shades of a lovely sage green and nearly lilac purple.  They were quite stunning, but their colors really only showed when they were wet, either from being newly exposed to the air or after rain.  Once those chunks of color dried, they became much more muted, blending with the other colors around them and losing their vividness.

Digging through this mud was in some ways easier and in other ways more difficult than digging through the hardened mudstone of the Morrison formation, excavating dinosaur bones. It was a blessing that the rain decided to stay away from the dig site or only give us a light afternoon sprinkling during the weeks of the dinosaur dig.  I had heard many stories of what it was like trying to go up and down the steep hillside of the dig site after heavier rains.  The bentonite clay would not only feel thick and heavy on durable hiking boots, but also make that hill like an extremely slippery mud slide.  But, this clay also has a story to tell.

Dry, cracked clay

Dry, cracked clay

The dinosaurs buried here in the Brushy Basin part of the Morrison formation, same as Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, are surrounded by bentonite clay.  This clay comes from volcanic ash, formed shortly after the ash settled. Different parts of the Morrison formation have more or less of this volcanic ash, but the Brushy Basin has the most of it.  Finding this ash in the mudstone burying dinosaurs gives us some important clues to how these dinosaurs died and were buried – there must have been some kind of volcanic activity.  Like I mentioned in last week’s article on the burial of these dinosaur bones (read the article Bone Mix), seeing this evidence of volcanic activity points towards the “fountains of the great deep” that broke up during the flood, like the Bible mentions in Genesis 7.

At this Colorado dinosaur graveyard there were many bones all jumbled up.  We see evidence of a violent death and sudden burial – some dinosaurs are still put together while other bones are thrown into the mix.  There are clues that point us to a disaster – ashes from a volcano.  Yet, seeing the way those striped rock layers looked from a distance at sunset, and the vivid array of colors up close in the clay I was thinking about how beautiful they were.  Yes, we see the destruction and judgement from the flood, sent by our perfectly good Creator because of sin, but we also see the miracle of God’s tender mercy to turn even death and ashes around and make them into something spectacularly beautiful.  Truly, this green, purple, gray, and brown clay is literally beauty for ashes

“To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” ~Isaiah 61:3

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, October 2016

Below is a short video showing what the clay is like very wet from a previous year – thank you to David Mikkelson for this video footage


  • Keller, W.D. Clay Minerals in the Morrison Formation on the Colorado Platau. 1962. US Geological Survey Bulletin 1150.  Last Accessed 10-7-16. http://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/1150/report.pdf and extended abstract: http://www.clays.org/journal/archive/volume%207/7-1-293.pdf
  • Austin, Steven A. and Hoesch, William A. 2004. Dinosaur National Monument: Jurassic Park Or Jurassic Jumble?. Acts & Facts. 33 (4). Institute for Creation Research. Last accessed 10-7-16. http://www.icr.org/article/dinosaur-national-monument-park-or-jurassic-jumble/
  • Grim, Ralph E. and Wahl, Floyd M. Bentonite. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of the Geologic Sciences.  Page 53. 1978.


Working on preserving another fossil just exposed beside a bigger previously found one - probably a sauropod leg bone

Bone Mix

Working on the Colorado dig site Photo credit: David Mikkelson, 2016

Working on the Colorado dig site
Photo credit: David Mikkelson, 2016

I could feel the bright sunlight beams gently warming my back as they slowly made their way around the nice shade.  Sitting up tall on the ground, I traded my chisel and hammer for a water bottle to give my eyes a quick break from the careful work around a delicate fossil. Looking across at my fellow-diggers, I asked how progress was going. They were finding more fossils . . . one that could be pretty big and complete, going deeper into the rock below, another that looked very interesting. Brows furrowed. Oh dear: another fossil.  That could be discouraging to find on a dinosaur dig, right? We all laughed.  In general, people would think that finding another cool fossil on a dinosaur dig is very good and exciting – and it really is exciting!  After all, discovering and digging fossils is the point of a paleontological dig.  But, working in Colorado, the fossils are so close together and usually all jumbled up, making it hard to properly excavate one fossil without running into or endangering other fossils.

One of the touchable fossils, displayed at the quarry at Dinosaur National Monument

One of the touchable fossils, displayed at the quarry

Digging up fossils in the Morrison Formation in Colorado is a little like playing a game of “Pick-up Sticks”, but using huge, fossilized leg or shoulder bones from a dinosaur instead of thin, plastic sticks.  Just as the sticks can get tangled together and mixed up, making it challenging to remove one of the sticks without disturbing the others, getting the desired fossils out carefully can be a challenging puzzle.  In the same rock formation, but west of where I was digging, some historic dinosaur finds were made near Vernal, Utah.  Of course, the paleontologists digging there encountered the same problems I did – the rich mines of bone upon bone made it practically impossible to take out some of the fossils.  They decided to go a different route with these fossils.  Instead of taking them entirely out of the rock formation, they built a 150-foot-long building around the steeply tilted layer, partially exposed fossils and all, making them into a museum of their own – known today as the Quarry Exhibit Hall of Dinosaur National Monument.

At Dinosaur National Monument and where I was digging in the Morrison formation, you can find many dis-articulated fossils, with bones separated and all mixed up with bones from different dinosaurs.  But, at the same time, there are some articulated dinosaurs, that have either sections of bone or most of the animal in the right order.  I could clearly see this looking at the wall of bones at Dinosaur National Monument – there was one Camarasaurus with its neck clearly bent backwards and most bones in their rightful places.  While there have been several old-earth models trying to explain how these fossils came to be preserved as we see them today, there are a number of problems with each of them.  The model currently taught at the quarry exhibit essentially says that these dinosaurs died beside a river, and were periodically buried by normal flooding along the banks.

Camarasaurus replica at Dinosaur National Monument

Camarasaurus replica at Dinosaur National Monument

But, taking a closer look at these fossils and the rock in which we find them reveals some big problems with  this model and other models.  Spread across several states, the sandstone from this section of the Morrison formation includes more than 4,000 cubic miles of volcanic ash and rock.  These are not the types of pebbles and sand you would expect to find along a river.  Furthermore, there aren’t any nearby volcanoes that this ash and rock would have come from in the currently taught model.  If the dinosaurs were buried where they lived (like according to the river model), we would expect to find plants buried with them, but only a few petrified tree trunks are there.  Preserving some articulated dinosaurs mixed with disarticulated fossils would also be difficult to explain in the local-flooding river model.


Part of the Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. Mostly disarticualted and some partly articulated fossils shown here. Petrified wood is circled at the top

Part of the Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. Mostly disarticualted and some partly articulated fossils shown here. Petrified wood is circled at the top

Instead of slow burial along a river, what if we use the Biblical global flood a model to explain how these dinosaurs were buried?  Volcanoes would have been going off underwater (the “fountains of the great deep” in Genesis 7), providing the ash and volcanic rock buried with the fossils.  Dinosaurs would have been swept away, swirled with logs and other things, separating some of their bones and carrying them away from their normal environment.  Other dinosaurs would have tried to outrun the flood before finally being buried with the scattered bones of their friends.  Rather than merely animals living and dying by a nice river, these dinosaurs are a monument to the catastrophic, global flood mentioned in the Bible.  It’s a monument to the justice of God met together with His preserving mercy, using even His judgement to make some spectacularly beautiful things – including the rock formations and fossils we see today.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, September 2016


  • Personal visit to Dinosaur National Monument Quarry Exhibit Hall. Vernal, Utah.  August 2016
  • Answers in Genesis. July 31, 2008. Wonders of Geology: Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Last accessed 9-30-16
  • William A. Hoesch and Steven A. Austin. 2004. Dinosaur National Monument: Jurassic Park Or Jurassic Jumble?. Acts & Facts 33 (4). Last accessed 9-30-16
Working on the Colorado dig site
Photo credit: David Mikkelson, 2016

Behemoth Burial Ground

The author on the dig in Colorado. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

The author on the dig in Colorado. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Ping, ping, ping! Thud. Thud. The high pitched clanging of hammer and chisel against hard rock mixed with the dull noises of digging picks hitting damp clay.   Dark blue-gray clouds tauntingly circled the sky above, showering rain in the distance, but conveniently avoiding the ridge where our group was excavating enormous dinosaur bones. Last month, I spent several weeks in Colorado working on a paleontological dig site and learning more about dinosaur bones.  The dig was in western Colorado, close to the Utah boarder – a region well known for a variety of different dinosaurs, fossils, and incredible rock formations.

The rock layers we dug in are part of the Morrison formation. These Morrison rocks are classified as part of the Jurassic rock group, which means these dinosaurs would have died during the Biblical global flood about 4500 years ago and been buried during the middle part of the flood   (more about rock groups and the geologic column here).  As the team excavated these dinosaur bones out of the rock, we were uncovering parts of a dinosaur bone that had not seen the light of day since that dreadful global flood. Whether it was another long rib or giant vertebrae, each discovery of a new section of bone sticking out was filled with mixed excitement and mystery.

Made to scale sauropod model next to a man

Made to scale sauropod model next to a man

Some of the most memorable fossils were from sauropods – those enormously heavy four-footed, long-neck dinosaurs. Although the bones were not fully identified in the field (final identification and intricate preparation is done in the controlled environment of a lab), one of the fossils we excavated looked like a sauropod leg bone.  Seeing this giant bone and knowing that it was just part of one of these creatures’ legs was truly something to marvel at.  While visiting some other fossil museums in the region, I saw leg bones to even larger sauropods, including a humerus (front leg bone on the top, connecting to the shoulder) of a western Colorado dinosaur, originally named “Ultrasauros macintoshi”.  The naming of this dinosaur was debated, and now the bone is thought to belong to a Supersaurus.  These Supersaurs could weigh up to 100 tons.

Leg bone of a s

Leg bone replica of a Supersaurus in Colorado

The awe-inspiring size of these dinosaurs reminds me of what the Bible has to say about Behemoth in the book of Job, chapter forty.  The creature described in this passage has bones like bars of iron and a tail like a Cedar tree.  While some Bible commentaries say that this “Behemoth” must be an elephant or a hippo, neither of those animals have tails that look anything like a Cedar tree.  Overall, this Biblical description is a much better fit for a sauropod dinosaur.  Just as this passage in Job reminds us of the power, glory and sovereignty of God by describing an enormous sauropod, may you be reminded to worship our Creator when you see or think about these awe-inspiring dinosaurs.

Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; he eats grass like an ox.
See now, his strength is in his hips, and his power is in his stomach muscles.
He moves his tail like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit.
His bones are like beams of bronze, his ribs like bars of iron.
He is the first of the ways of God; only He who made him can bring near His sword.
Surely the mountains yield food for him, and all the beasts of the field play there.
He lies under the lotus trees, in a covert of reeds and marsh.
The lotus trees cover him with their shade; the willows by the brook surround him.
Indeed the river may rage, yet he is not disturbed;
he is confident, though the Jordan gushes into his mouth . . .”
~ Job 40:15-23~

The author under a diplodocus (Type of sauropod) display in Utah. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

The author under a diplodocus (Type of sauropod) display in Utah. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Article Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, September 2016


  • Harold Levin.  2010. The Earth Through Time, 9th edition.  Pages 430-34.  John Wiley & Sons Inc.  United States.
Ankylosaur - photo credit, David Mikkelson, 2012.  Used with permission


A type of hadrosaur (Corythosaurs) model at the Sternberg Museum. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

A type of hadrosaur (Corythosaurs) model at the Sternberg Museum. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

Wait -what?” The question echoed in my mind when I first glanced at the display back in one of the corners of the museum.  “Oh really? Now, That’s awfully interesting!”  I thought, my excitement rising and interest becoming more piqued as I continued to study the display.  There was something very different about this display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas. Most of the other fossil displays were about sea creatures or pterosaurs that would have soared above the waters.   However, this display was about hadrosaurs and ankylosaurs – dinosaurs.  They were land animals, found in the Niobrara formation with fish, clams, mosasaurs, and pterosaurs . . .  the very same layers in which I was digging for fossils that week!

Why in the world would there be fossils of land animals buried together with all of those sea creatures? Using the viewpoint of evolution and an old earth (millions of years), the Niobrara rock formation in Kansas is thought to be an ancient sea in the middle of North America.  Supposedly, fossils of the creatures living in this sea formed when the creatures died and were covered by mud at the bottom of the sea, slowly preserving them over the course of many years. To explain why we have land animal fossils buried with sea creatures, the evolutionary model says that when the waters rose and flooded, some of the surrounding land it picked up and drowned some land-dwelling dinosaurs.  As the story goes, those dead dinosaurs would have floated farther into the sea, with their bodies full of gasses and made a nice snack for sharks and other sea creatures with a hearty appetite and been buried with the remains of sea creatures and the things they ate.

Corythosaurus (type of hadrosaur) skull - like one type of dinosaur found in Kansas

Corythosaurus (type of hadrosaur) skull – like one type of dinosaur found in Kansas

Fish Fossil from Kansas

Fish Fossil from Kansas

Taking into account all of the rock and fossil formations of the area, there are a number of problems with this evolution and long-ages model, and the Biblical global flood gives a much better explanation for what we see in Kansas and worldwide.  Yes, this area of North America would have been underwater during the global flood of Noah’s day.  Sea creatures would have lived and died in the drastically swollen waters created by the flood.  They probably would have enjoyed snacking on the decaying land animals, floating in the water above, like the small armored dinosaur, Niobrarasaurus (a type of ankylosaur).  Some of the land-dwelling dinosaur fossils from Kansas have been found with shark tooth marks.

Niobrarosaurus (type of ankylosaur) foot bones display at the Sternberg Museum. Photo opyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Niobrarosaurus (type of ankylosaur) foot bones display at the Sternberg Museum. Photo opyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Beginning with one of the first American dinosaur bone diggers, Othniel Marsh (more about him here), and continuing through 2007, eight different land dinosaur discoveries have been made in Kansas.    One of the first ankylosaur plate armor sections discovered was thought to be part of a turtle shell, but after being looked at in more detail, this case of mistaken identity was cleared up.  With the ideas of long ages and no global flood firmly set in the minds of people examining these plate armor fossils, it took them a while to figure out what the fossil really was. The ideas and starting points in their minds made it hard to come to the right conclusions about the fossils they saw. In a similar way, if we allow our minds and hearts to be influenced or swayed by the messages bombarding us every day in this world, we can set ourselves up for “mistaken identities” as well.  Be sure that you stay firmly grounded in the Truth of God and His Word so that you can properly identify the people, ideas, and circumstances you encounter.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, August 2016


  • Mike Everhart. Niobrarasaurus coleii. Remains of a plant eating dinosaur from the Smoky Hill Chalk. Copyright © 2003-2014 by Mike Everhart. Last updated 03/08/2014. Last accessed 8-5-16 http://oceansofkansas.com/Dinosaur.html
  • Mike Everhart. New specimen of shark scavenged dinosaur (hadrosaur) remains from the Smoky Hill Chalk (Upper Coniacian) of western Kansas. Copyright © 2005-2014 by Mike Everhart. Oceans of Kansas Paleontology. Page created 06/19/2005. Updated 03/08/2014. Last accessed 8/5/16. http://oceansofkansas.com/New-dino.html
photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, February 2016

Pterosaur Touchdown

Blue Jay feather.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Blue Jay feather. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

The stunning, blue color made a dramatic contrast to the bright green summer grass.  It was just a single Blue Jay feather sitting on the grass. Feathers always remind me of the incredibly intricate and beautiful way our creator gave birds the ability to fly (more about flight and fossils here).  But, the beautiful birds we see today are definitely not the only creatures that have been given the special ability to fly, and there is a vast variety of ways that these creatures fly.  Hummingbirds fly differently from sparrows.  Bats use air travel in a different way than insects or birds.  Dragonflies and butterflies have different ways of flight, too (more on butterflies and dragonflies here).  And although you probably haven’t seen a pterosaur flying around your backyard bird feeder, they too, have a specially designed ability for air travel (read last week’s article introducing pterosaurs here).

One thing that makes pterosaurs especially interesting is that we know these creatures could walk on all-fours, based off the tracks and pterosaur bones in the fossil record.  Sometimes people question how some of the giant pterosaurs with forty-foot wingspans (about the length of a school bus) could take off.  Wouldn’t they be too heavy for those thin, delicate wings to carry?  Actually, the special way God designed the pterosaur would make it quite the graceful sky glider.  The way their weight compares to their wing size is ideal for gliding over long distances. Your normal backyard birds bear most of their body weight on their two feet (back limbs) and use those to take off.  However, the pterosaur would use all four limbs to help it take off.  Based off fossil footprint patterns, we can tell that pterosaurs had graceful landings.  They did not end in a running land like ducks, but continued at a consistent stride, walking after landing.

Let’s take a look at pterosaur wings.  Stretch out both of your arms with the palms of your hands facing down and imagine you are a pterosaur.  Your pinky finger would be extra long – that finger alone would be longer than your entire arm length, added to the end of your arm.  Your kite-like wings would stretch from the tip of that long pinky finger all the way down to your legs, ending at either your thighs or ankles. Instead of your normal thumbs on your hand, imagine moving those thumbs up close to your elbow and flipping them so they point toward your head, instead of away from your body like all the other fingers.  This “thumb” is a good way to imagine one of the key features of pterosaur flight – the pteroid bone.  Another section of thin wing stretches from this pteroid bone up to your shoulder or neck.  These special flaps of wings allowed the pterosaur to take off and fly with more ease and grace.  More sections of wing between the legs helped allow the pterosaur maneuver more gracefully.

Notice the pteroid bones on the wings of each pterosaur (circled in the picture)

Notice the pteroid bones on the wings of each pterosaur (circled in the picture)

The careful design and intricacy of flight in pterosaurs speaks beautifully of our caring, intelligent Creator.  Evolutionary ideas try to explain pterosaur evolution by telling us that there are still just lots of undiscovered ancestors in the fossil record, also called “missing links” or “ghost lineages”.  Thousands of pterosaur fossils have been found all over the world, but never one of a creature turning into anything like a pterosaur.  With all the different types of flying creatures, the ability to fly would have had to “evolve” many different times and places if evolution were true.  With no fossil evidence of these “ghost lineages” among pterosaurs and other flying creatures, perhaps it would be good to consider an alternative: that God delicately designed all flying creatures with their special abilities on the fifth day of creation week, just a few thousand years ago.  The flying pterosaurs draw our eyes upward, to the One who made them and us.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Terrifying pterosaurs
Photo by Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Tackling Pterosaurs

The cheerful sunshine radiated through the large windows of the Kansas ranch-style chapel that warm June afternoon.  I was part of the team taking the last set of questions at a short creation conference after an exciting week of digging fossils.  Another hand went up from a group of curious boys in the audience.  He asked how we can know the difference between male and female fossils. A very good question and one I was glad to have the opportunity to answer, even if my answer at the moment wasn’t as helpful as the boy would have liked.  The same topic had come up earlier that week, when part of our group went to look at some of the fossils from around the area on display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.  One of the most fascinating fossil displays I saw there showed some of the differences between male and female pterosaur fossils and other differences between young and adult pterosaurs (pronounced “tear-oh-sore”).


Pterosaur display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. Shows some of the pterosaur fossils that are found in the same area where the author was digging fossils

Pterosaur display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. Shows some of the pterosaur fossils that are found in the same area where the author was digging fossils

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles, or dragons, commonly called “pterodactyls” or “flying dinosaurs”.  Although familiar, the name “pterodactyl” really isn’t quite right for what is usually shown in movies and books.  Pterosaur is the correct name for the broad category of familiar flying reptiles you usually see grouped together with dinosaurs.  A real Pterodactylus is fairly small – around the same size as common modern birds.  The large size of the scary-looking flying monster you see in movies is actually more like Pteranodon. Both Pterodactylus and Pteranodon fall under the broader category of pterosaurs, but one of their main differences is that pteranodons do not have teeth.  The general name “pterosaur” means “flying lizard” and the more specific name, “Pteranodon”, actually means it’s a toothless flying lizard.

Display at the Sternberg Musuem showing differences between male and female pterosaur bones. Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

Until recently, the differences between male and female pterosaur fossils were a mystery with little real evidence to confirm ideas people had about them.  Around 2010, a pterosaur fossil, nicknamed “Mrs. T”, was found preserved with an egg, showing that this one was definitely female.  Knowing that this one must be female, scientists have been able to see some similarities between this confirmed female and other pterosaurs they aren’t sure about.  The hip bones of females were farther apart than the males.  Males tend to have a crest on their head while females had no crest or smaller crests.  In general, female are smaller than the males of the same species.  Or at least, these are the differences that seem generally accepted by paleontologists.  Of course, they may change their minds later on, knowing that this is science and what we do in science is grow in knowledge.

Recently paleontologists have come to realize that the creature they were giving a whole new species name is actually just a female of a species that was already named.  While naming a new species is a pretty exciting idea, remember that scientists are people.  We all sometimes change our minds or make mistakes.  But our Creator and what He says about everything is reliable – including what He says about the flying creatures, like pterosaurs, that He formed just one day before people. Next week, we’ll learn more about pterosaurs and how they grow and fly.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Making Mosasaurs

Mosasaur tooth tip found on the Kansas dig in June 2016

Mosasaur tooth tip found on the Kansas dig in June 2016

Sunlight gleamed off the dark, smooth surface of the object, revealing a depth of color that dramatically contrasted the light colored dirt it sat on.  It was a familiar, fascinating fossil . . . a mosasaur tooth.  Exploring the area around that tooth showed that it must have washed out from one of the layers above and the rest of the creature was probably long gone and scattered.  Three years ago, digging at a different site in the area, our team dug out what looks like part of the top of a mosasaur skull (read more about that here).  Mosasaur fossils are one type that is usually known to be found in the Niobrara rock formation of Kansas that I was digging in last month (more about the dig here).

After seeing what this creature might have looked like alive, most people would think of mosasaurs as dinosaurs that lived in the water.  For practical purposes, thinking of a mosasaur as a “water dinosaur” works, but technically only land-dwelling creatures are officially “dinosaurs”.   Probably the most accurate common name for them is “sea dragon”.   Although all creatures had vegetarian diets before the first people chose to rebel against God, we can tell from the fossil record that mosasaurs were eating other creatures by the time of the global flood.  Some ammonite fossils have been found with bite marks that match up with mosasaur teeth (more about ammonites here).

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Mosasaurs lived in the water, but breathed air and gave live birth to their young, much like whales.  The dynamic tale of how whales supposedly evolved says that whale ancestors started out in the water, eventually moved to the land, and apparently changed their mind by evolving back into a watery home.  The evolutionary story of how a mosasaur came to be is quite similar. Komodo dragons and even snakes are said to be related to mosasaurs.  Just because mosasaurs existed does not mean there must be a wild evolutionary story to explain how they got here, why they are extinct, and what other things they might be related to.  Here’s an illustration to help you understand a problem with the evolution of whales, mosasaurs, and evolution in general.

Mosasaur model at the Sternberg Museum Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel and edited by David P. Mikkelson

Mosasaur model at the Sternberg Museum
Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel and edited by David P. Mikkelson

For college math courses, I remember “proving” different equations using different “identities” (things we already know are true) from trigonometry.  There was one homework problem I worked on for quite a while filling up an entire page of college-ruled notebook paper with each step in small handwriting, but couldn’t quite figure out.  I ended up asking my professor about it and the hint she gave me has really stuck with me ever since.  She said I was way over-thinking it, trying to use complex proofs, when the answer was actually very simple.  And that simple answer was rather profound. In math and science, the more complicated a theory or proof gets, the more likely it is to be wrong because there are more opportunities to make mistakes.

What in the world do trigonometry proofs have to do with mosasaur sea dragon fossils?  The tales of mosasaur and whale evolution are a lot like my math problem – a complicated answer that takes a lot of time, energy, and effort, but ends up not working out or making any sense.  All you really need to figure out where mosasaurs and whales came from are the simple, yet profound “identities”, those things we can already know are true about the origins of everything because they are in the Bible.  Yes, mosasaur evolution is way over-thinking  the simple (yet profound) origin of air-breathing sea creatures:

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

“Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.’ So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” ~ Genesis 1:20-21

Purple poppy mallow on the dash

Purple Poppy Mallow


By the Kansas state sign – wildflowers are behind the camera

Captivated by the vibrant magenta color dotting the patchy grass, I gently plucked one of the roadside wildflowers by the Kansas state sign.  I had been admiring those colorful, cup-shaped flowers out the car window for at least the past twenty miles.    Back inside the car, I admired the way its five delicate petals folded around the pale center of my wildflower.  It sat on my dash for the next several miles . . .  until the intense afternoon sunshine coming through the windshield wilted the poor thing.  Sad to let it go so soon after finding my little treasure, I rolled down a window and let the air sweep it out of my fingers.

During the same trip, going to a fossil dig in western Kansas (more about the dig here),  I noticed many other patches of the same flowers, only a slightly different color.  These purple/magenta colored wildflowers are commonly called “purple poppy mallow” or “wine cups”, and their scientific name is Callirhoe involucrata.  The root system of these plants is designed with a single, deep taproot, allowing these flowers to grow well on rocky terrain and drought conditions.  In some plants that live for several years, these roots can grow big like a carrot and historically have been eaten by Native American people.


Purple poppy on the dig in Kansas

Poppy mallow can be seen blooming from late spring through mid summer.  Like tropical hibiscus flowers, another type of “mallow” plant, poppy mallows thrive in warm conditions.  The flowers open in the mornings, two to three hours after sunrise, and close for the night around sunset.  They continue to open for six to eight days after first blooming.  A rarer Texas species of Callihoe that looks very similar to the Kansas flowers is called scabriuscula.  When this type of flower is ready to form the seeds that will start the next generations, the petals are permanently closed within ninety minutes of being pollinated.

The flower essentially has to give up its own dandy lifestyle by permanently closing so that seeds can form.  Speaking of those seeds, to plant your own poppy mallow, it’s recommended that you rub the seed between pieces of sandpaper to help grind down the hard outer coating of the seed.  Planting in the fall, you can leave that seed in the ground all winter.  There the seed waits, buried in the dark, cool, rough soil. When the spring time comes, that seed dies.  Or at least, so that poor, sanded seed seems to die, as it gives up everything it has ever known living life as a seed.  There’s no going back to that relatively safe, comfortable seed-life. It takes full commitment to becoming the plant it has always been destined by the Creator to become.   The plan for that seeds life, including the death it takes to become a plant, is written in its DNA – the set of instructions originally designed by God, built-in with a little room for variety.  By “dying” according to that plan, the seed can truly live the life it was meant to live . . . as a purple poppy mallow flower!

Seeing that our Lord dots the grass along highways with these stunning flowers and perfectly orchestrates their life cycles, how much more does He orchestrate the life cycles of His most precious creation – you, me, and all people?  Many of those poppy mallows that I saw in Kansas were gone the next week.  The life of the seed, as well as the flower that gives up its life for the seed, may look a little rough and painful.  Like the seed, choosing to be fully committed to new life in Christ will also require death – death to my own plans, will, desires, flesh, etc (see Romans 6 &7).    Choosing to let those things “die” doesn’t mean that they must not be “good”, merely that they are not necessarily the God’s best for my life plan. Seeds are good, but they were meant to become flowers that point people to God.  Dying to self merely means choosing to be fully committed to God’s plan, for you, too, were meant to bring glory to Him.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Like a rose