What are Fossils?
Fossils are the remains or traces of any organism preserved in the Earth's crust, and paleontology is the study of fossils. Through the careful collection and study of fossils, we can learn the stories of origins and endings-- life, death, and change-- played out over nearly 3.5 billion years of the Earth's 4.5 billion year history.
Why is Studying Fossils Important?
Scientists get clues from fossils left by everything from the tiniest bacteria to some of the largest creatures ever to roam the Earth, swim in its seas, or soar in its skies. These clues help us solve the fascinating riddles of how live on Earth evolved. Fossils illustrate how all forms of life are interdependent and affected by their environment. In addition, fossils are simply fun to study because of their natural beauty and the excitement, wonder, and understanding they evoke about life in ancient worlds lost in time, worlds that we can only imagine.
Where can I Collect Fossils?
All National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation lands are closed to casual collecting of fossils. It may be possible to casually collect reasonable amounts of plant and invertebrate specimens (small samples that are easily transportable by hand) without a permit on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. Certain BLM lands are also closed to casual collecting of fossils. You must check the land use plans or the local BLM office for these types of lands.
Remember, illegal collecting, including taking or damaging vertebrate fossils, is against the law. Your help is important to preserve America's natural heritage for future generations!
Thank you to BLM publication WO/GI-97/006+3032+REV11
What's Special about Hagerman Fossil Beds?
While best known for its fossil horses, Hagerman holds many titles, including
Newly Discovered Species of Fossil River Otter
Brief History of Otters
Otters are members of the Mustelidae, a family that includes weasels and badgers. Otters first appeared in the Miocene of Europe and are represented by 13 living species. There are 6 species of otter found in the Americas today, including 4 river otters of the genus Lontra, the giant otter of South America, and the sea otter. Our new otter is at least 3.8 million years old and is the oldest example of the genus Lontra.
What’s in a name?
The genus name, Lontra, is used to show this otters relationship to American river otters. Its species name (weiri) distinguishes it from all other otters. Weiri is derived from the word “weir”, which is a river barrier that directs fish movement. The name reflects the otters’ diet of fish. It is also used here to honor Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir.
Why Is This Otter Important?
Ancestors of American otters entered North America from Eurasia by crossing the Bering Land Bridge. Paleontologists thought that this occurred in the Pleistocene, due to an absence of fossil American river otters in older deposits. Genetic studies of modern otters pointed to a much earlier origin, in the early Pliocene. Lontra weiri supports the genetic data. Advancements in paleontology are made with each new discovery as we slowly piece together the ancient history of life on earth!
Last updated: June 26, 2019