Central Oregon Daily▶️ Little Did I Know: Fossilized grasshopper eggs at John Day Fossil...

▶️ Little Did I Know: Fossilized grasshopper eggs at John Day Fossil Beds

Though the confirmation just happened a few weeks ago, a discovery out in the John Day Fossil Beds has been in the making for quite a bit longer. Millions of years longer, to be exact.

Last week, I made a trip out past the Painted Hills to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to follow up on a hot tip on an ancient find — a fossil that had been stored away for years was recently confirmed to be something that is a rare as it gets.

There’s a working lab that visitors can actually view when they arrive at the visitor’s center, but we are headed to a back room to a door that is under strict lock and key. To get my own eyes on something that really puts our universe in perspective.

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Nick Famoso with the National Forest Service makes the reveal: fossilized grasshopper eggs that are 29 million years old.

“In 2012, our field crew was out and one of our employees was looking up a particular slope of the of the rock face and found this kind of grapefruit-sized piece of rock, And so he picked it up, wrapped it up in some toilet paper, which is a really common thing that paleontologists use,” Famoso said. “Then we brought it back here to the visitor center and it was stored away in our kind of like to be prepared sort of place for a few years until about 2016.”

This discovery was not quite like anything they’d ever seen before.

“This particular fossil, this grasshopper nest fossil, was so peculiar because we had only ever found isolated eggs before. And that was part of the reason why we didn’t really know what they were, because we just found these little things and they look kind of like rice grains or Tic Tacs,” Famoso said. “The CT scans like, nailed it, right? Like that was the orientation of the eggs, the shape of the eggs and everything. That was how we knew, like, yeah, this is a grasshopper egg nest.”

But how did they know they were 29 million years old?

“When we’re looking to figure out the age of fossils in the John Day fossil beds, we can’t use something like carbon dating because carbon dating only goes back 500,000 years. But what we can use are other isotopes, And so we go to these different ash layers and we look for these little crystals and we blast them with little lasers and lasers, kind of look at the distribution of the different elements,” he said.

They used elements like Uranium and lead to reveal it’s age. Not as old as the dinosaurs, but sure a lot older than humans. And Oregon looked a lot different back then.

“The environment 29 million years ago here in Eastern Oregon is very different from what we see today,” Famoso said. ” And we know that because of the leaves that we find in the plants that were there. It was temperate, basically. It was a temperate climate, not like out here today, which is a sagebrush steppe.”

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