James Hagadorn, Paleontologist: Traces of Early Animal Life


In the Inyo Mountains of California, paleontologist James Hagedorn looks for clues in the rocks for organisms that lived over 500 million years ago—a hard thing to do since most organisms weren’t preserved. Instead he looks for tracks of the first steps animals took. Hagedorn finds these tracks in rocks from 560 million years ago when there was a revolution in body plans. The evidence he finds indicates that these animals were capable of hunting others, a development that changed the course of animal evolution.

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Whitey Hagedorn’s work shows how paleontologists learn about early animal life and the evolution of animals by studying trace fossils

Fossil tracks provide evidence that a very early worm-like animal moved through the sediment. Tiny fossil traces are evidence of the first animal movement.

Evidence from fossil tracks and the rocks they are found in explains early life on the ocean floor.

Whitey Hagedorn works in remote places that require wilderness skills as well as keen observational and analytical skills.

Paleontologist Whitey Hagedorn observes patterns in trace fossils to explain what ancient animal made those tracks.

Scientist in this video

"I'm playing detective in deep time. I mean, I'm trying to think what was on the seafloor 540 million years ago." --Dr. James Hagadorn