Paleontologists at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences care for a collection of more than 125,000 fossil specimens, including over 27 holotype specimens. The vast majority of our holdings are local representatives—approximately 85% of paleontological specimens come from the state of North Carolina. Our staff’s research spans the evolution of vertebrate and invertebrate life across the last 550 million years and requires a multitude of biological and geological techniques including scanning electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, phylogenetics, advanced three-dimensional visualization, comparative gross anatomy and histology.
Staff and students of the museum’s paleontology division are spread between labs and offices in the Nature Exploration Center (NEC), Nature Research Center (NRC), and College of Sciences at North Carolina State University. You can learn more about our staff member’s research and the museum’s vertebrate paleontology, invertebrate paleontology, and paleobotany collections by clicking on the links below.
Vertebrate Paleontology Research
The vertebrate paleontology curatorial staff primarily studies the evolution and diversity of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems, with special emphasis on the unique Late Triassic record of North Carolina, Cretaceous dinosaurs of North America and Asia, and the emerging field of molecular paleontology, which tackles the preservation of soft tissues in the fossil record of life.
Invertebrate Paleontology Research
Research conducted at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on invertebrate paleontological specimens encompasses a wide variety of taxonomic groups and geologic time periods. The primary research focus is on coleoid cephalopods and the North Carolina Ediacaran fauna, but also includes work on Triassic bivalves, as well as Mesozoic and Cenozoic echinoderms.
In particular, research on fossil and extant coleoid cephalopods concentrates on taxonomy of fossil cuttlefish, and biochemistry of fossil and extant squid, octopus and cuttlefish from North Carolina and elsewhere. The bulk of this research involves gross morphology, and the chemical and ultrastructural composition of the internal shells of these organisms. The purpose of this research is to understand evolutionary changes within coleoid cephalopods and is conducted in conjunction with national and international colleagues.
Research on the North Carolina Ediacaran biota, a soft-bodied fauna that lived during the Ediacaran Period, includes taxonomic, paleobiogeographical, and other studies of body and trace fossils. The Ediacaran Period was a time when there were few or no predators and the ocean floors were covered with microbial mats. This unique combination allowed soft-bodied organisms to be preserved. The purpose of this research is to see how the North Carolina biota fits with other similar biotas world-wide, and to see what these organisms can tell us about where a portion of North Carolina, known as the Carolina Terrane, might have come from. This research is conducted in conjunction with the Curator of Geology, as well as, with colleagues at other institutions.
Research interests also include taxonomic studies of Eocene crinoids (sea lilies), Mesozoic and Cenozoic echinoids (sea urchins) and Triassic freshwater bivalves from North Carolina and the southeastern United States. This research is conducted in conjunction with North Carolina Fossil Club members, the Curator of Aquatic Invertebrates, as well as, with other national and international colleagues.
Due to an upcoming collections move the Paleontology Unit is not currently accepting loan requests. Specimen rehousing and transfer is expected to continue through 2018, during which time large portions of the collections will be unavailable for visitation and research. Requests to visit the collections will be considered on a case by case basis; however, requestors are advised to expect and plan for significant delays in access. For more information, or to schedule a collections visit, please contact the appropriate curator or collections manager.
- Paul Brinkman
- Khai Button
- Susan Drymala
- Terry “Bucky” Gates
- Lisa Herzog
- Mary Schweitzer
- Patricia Weaver
- Lindsay Zanno