The fossils of Madison County (Montana)

ALDER, MONTANA – Standing at the foot of the mountains, I look to the east. It’s still early and I have hiked up here alone to gather my thoughts. I can see why they call this “Big Sky Country.” The tree-covered foothills of the mountains behind me give way to rolling scrubland. Stunted trees mark the edges of dry creek beds cut into the soft rocks below. This is southwest Montana, and I’m here to hunt.

Go behind the scenes with paleontologist Sam Heads as he hunts for fossils in Montana in this article from the U of I News Bureau.

New study reveals evolutionary patterns of grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids over the past 300 million years

INHS orthopterist and paleontologist Sam Heads was co-author on a recently published study determining the evolutionary relationships of the grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. The current study is based on genetics rather than morphological characteristics.

The Origin of Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets: A New Study Resolves the Evolutionary Tree of the Orthoptera

Decades-old amber collection offers new views of an ancient world

Illinois Natural History Survey paleontologist Sam Heads, left, and laboratory technician Jared Thomas are screening 160 pounds of amber collected in the Dominican Republic in the late 1950s. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads, Jared Thomas, and Yinan Wang found a new pygmy locust embedded in amber. In a paper released today, the species was described and named Electrotettix attenboroughi, in honor of Sir David Attenborough. Attenborough narrated a video about their research. To find out more, read this article by the U of I News Bureau.

INHS entomologists comment on fossil stick insects

Following the discovery of fossil stick insects by a team of Chinese and French scientists, INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads and Illinois State Entomologist Chris Dietrich were contacted by National Geographic to comment. Heads told National Geographic that the discovery of fossilized plant mimicking insects, “is yet more tantalizing evidence of early insect-plant coevolution.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140319-ancient-stick-insect-science-plants-evolution/

Ancient ‘fig wasp’ lived tens of millions of years before figs

INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads found an ancient fig wasp that pre-dates any known fig trees. According to Heads, “This is a tiny parasitic wasp, it’s the smallest fossil wasp found in this particular deposit and it’s the oldest representative of its family. More importantly, it’s possible that this wasp was fig-associated, which is interesting because it’s Early Cretaceous, about 115 to 120 million years old. That’s a good 65 million years or so prior to the first occurrence of figs in the fossil record.”

https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204687