What Is Paleontology?
Paleontology is a discipline of science concerned with studying the fossils of animals and plants. Although the field is largely known for its focus on dinosaurs, paleontologists study many different fossils to better understand the evolution of organisms on Earth and their interactions with each other and their prehistoric environment.
Paleontologists who choose to study prehistoric creatures often specialize in either vertebrate paleontology or invertebrate paleontology.
Vertebrate paleontology is the study of fossils of extinct animals (including dinosaurs, fish, lizards, snakes, birds, and more) with the intention of uncovering how these creatures lived, behaved, and reproduced. Fossil vertebrates are classified as such when they possess vertebrae or a notochord (i.e. a spine made of bone or cartilage that supports the creature’s body).
Invertebrate paleontology (also referred to as invertebrate paleobiology or paleozoology) is the study of fossil invertebrates, which are creatures that do not possess spinal chords. Commonly studied invertebrates include trilobites, snails, clams, oysters, squids, other mollusks, and more.
Other common subfields of paleontology include:
- Ichnology (the study of fossilized footprints, tracks, and trails)
- Micropaleontology (the study of microscopic fossils)
- Paleobotany (the study of fossil plants, algae, and fungi)
- Paleoecology (the study of primitive or prehistoric ecology and climate)
- Palynology (the study of pollen and spores found in rock, plants, and microorganisms)