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New Method to Measure Body Temperature (Image 3)

December 8, 2010
University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist Richard Hulbert demonstrates how fossil tooth enamel is poured into plastic vials for analysis. Hulbert is coauthor of a study that appeared in the May 23, 2010, online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that introduced the first method of directly measuring body temperatures of extinct vertebrates using carbon and oxygen isotopes in fossil teeth. For the study, Hulbert selected and identified 12-million-year-old rhinoceros and alligator fossils similar to those pictured in the background from the Florida Museum of Natural History collections and helped interpret the study data. The new "clumped-isotope" paleothermometer method could also be used to help researchers reconstruct temperatures of ancient environments.

The method used in the study analyzes two rare heavy isotopes, carbon-13 and oxygen-18, found in tooth enamel, bones and eggshells. The researchers first tested the method on modern species: the white rhinoceros, Indian elephant, Nile crocodile, American alligator and sand tiger shark. The study confirmed the rhinoceros and elephant, like all mammals, are warm-blooded, and their tooth enamel forms at about 37 degrees Celsius. Researchers confirmed the accuracy within 2 degrees Celsius by measuring teeth of modern sharks from temperature-controlled aquariums. In the next stage of the study, researchers tested fossils of mammoths and older extinct Florida alligator and rhinoceros species. To learn more about the study, see the Florida Museum of Natural History news story "New study first to directly measure body temperatures of extinct species." [This research was funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant.] [Image 3 of 3 related images. Back to Image 1.] (Date of Image: May 2010)


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