Dragon Boat Festival, surprise at the top of the stairs

Due to the Dragon Boat Festival taking place beginning today, we worked both Saturday and Sunday in the ZMNH museum so as not to waste precious time with the specimens. However, once work was completed on Sunday, we got to be tourists for a little while! On Sunday afternoon, we ventured to West Lake (south of our hotel). However, due to our miscommunication between taxi groups, we failed to meet up at the lake. Instead, we explored on our own, taking in cultural sites. That night, a few of us went to the Night Market via the brand new metro system (opened in November 2012, on Hannah’s birthday!). 

Monday was awe inspiring for everybody.  We went to the Lingyin Temple southwest of Westlake and saw 72 sculpted works of art (mostly Buddhas) in the mountain side and a monastery.  Ethan, Dan, and Nick climbed too many stairs to count to the top of a mountain where they hoped to find an overlook, but instead were greeted by a booth selling drinks and snacks.  This side expedition option was outweighed by the numerous turtles that were seen.  Dan was very excited.

We hope to experience the Dragon Boat Festival before leaving for field work on Thursday, June 10.  We are excited about all of this; a unique, cultural festival and a break from the city life. 

Written by: Ethan Schreuder, 6/10/2013


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Hannah Wilson returns to China, describes doors IRES has opened for her

Ni Hao everyone! This is Hannah Wilson, taking over the blog from the 2013 IRES China trip egg-heads. I was a member of the 2012 trip group, and this is my third time visiting Hangzhou and the Zhejiang museum since then. I came to Hangzhou yesterday from Korea, where I’m spending the spring semester at Hallym University as an exchange student from Montana State University.

Much of the work done by students in 2012 and prior at the ZMNH will be published in Historical Biology’s next edition about dinosaur eggs and babies. The MSU IRES faculty, Drs. Frankie Jackson and Dave Varricchio, have been playing an instrumental role in the editing and production of the volume, which we’re all highly anticipating.

Ethan and Nick slave away over measurements of compression ridge angles on spheroolithus and dictyoolithus eggs.

Ethan and Nick slave away over measurements of compression ridge angles on spheroolithus and dictyoolithus eggs.

It has been a lot of fun to be back and to help out with the new students this year on their projects. As they’ve progressed, Ethan and Nick’s project has morphed into a great little study on compression ridge angles of crushed eggs, and Devra and Coralyn have been focused on furthering knowledge about clutch arrangement and egg spacing. Both projects have the potential to be very successful and we’re all excited to see the directions they take in their research in the coming weeks.

Coralyn measures eggs at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History.

This afternoon is the beginning of the Hangzhou “Dragon Boat Festival,” consisting of traditional-style boat racing and events on the many rivers snaking through Hangzhou. A lot has changed here since I visited last September, including the introduction of a brand new metro system and revamped street and stoplights. The food is great (I love Chinese food – Korean food is too spicy!), and right now the sun is shining and beautifully lighting up the walls of the nearby skyscrapers. We’re happy to have a relief from the typical June Hangzhou weather – 2 days of rain, 2 days of sun, 2 days of rain, 2 days of sun…

Devra works on her computer with a clutch.


For those of you new to the IRES program and these trips Montana students have been making the past four years, I want to give you a brief introduction to the grant and its purpose.

In 2009, Drs. Frankie Jackson and Dave Varricchio successfully applied for a $145,000 National Science Foundation research grant called IRES, which stands for “International Research Experience for Students” with which they planned to take nine students per year for three years to the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History (ZMNH) for a month each summer to make sense of the thousands of unidentified dinosaur eggs housed there. Most of the five-week session, which occurs from the end of May until the end of June, is spent in a lab at the ZMNH, but a week is spent at local field sites within Zhejiang Province, and the front and tail ends of the trip are spent sightseeing and being immersed in Chinese culture.

The program is now in its fourth year (2013), as frugal spending and budgeting have afforded five more lucky students the opportunity to participate in international research and networking. There are myriad purposes of the grant program, including opening doors for undergraduate research early on for Montana students (three of the four students in the 2013 group have just finished their freshman year at MSU), learning how to write scientifically and properly execute the scientific method, and gain field experience. But in addition to these values, I’d like to personally explain the influence of the program in my life.

For a year beginning in March 2012, approximately the same time I learned of my acceptance to the IRES program for 2012, I received an MSU research grant called the “Vice President for Research” (VPR) grant, allowing me to begin a research project about egg porosity with Dr. Frankie Jackson, during which I learned a lot about dinosaur eggs and the field of paleontology in general. The summer of 2012 consisted of traveling to China on the IRES grant, doing fieldwork at Egg Mountain in Choteau in July, and continuing a project about crushing on the ZMNH eggs from the China trip, all under the direction of Dr. Varricchio. By the end of the summer I had a poster ready for the “Fifth International Symposium on Dinosaur Eggs and Babies” held in Hangzhou in September. With part of my VPR grant I was able to travel back to Hangzhou to present my research from both my project with Frankie and my project from China. Christian Heck (a colleague from the trip, who also shares first authorship on our paper) and I worked on re-drafting our work in China all year, until just a few weeks ago when we learned of its acceptance into the next dinosaur egg edition of Historical Biology.

Since then I’ve successfully applied for a Korean Government Scholarship to fully fund all aspects of my semester abroad this spring at Hallym University, relying heavily on the cultural impacts China had on me on my application. I am confident that the international research and cultural experience afforded me by the IRES trip greatly contributed to my success in Korea and the financial support I’ve received for it. Thanks to the last dollars of my VPR grant and the generosity of Dr. Jackson in hosting me for this long weekend, I’m back in Hangzhou (visiting from Korea this time) for a third time in a year, discussing projects and sharing my experience with the new students. I’m so grateful for every door that has been opened to me as a result of the IRES grant and the investment Dr. Varricchio and Dr. Jackson have had in my research endeavors this year. I am so excited to see where this year’s projects will lead in the coming months.

Written by Hannah Wilson, 6/8/2013

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2013 team meets Dr. Jin, MSU mascot, unsuspecting eggs

After a long flight from Bozeman to Denver to Los Angeles to Shanghai, we finally reached our destination: China. We stayed in Shanghai for three days of sightseeing (a highlight of which was a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple) and settling in before we began the brunt of our work in Hangzhou.

On Friday, we met Dr. Jin at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History and toured the collection room of the museum where the majority of the eggs we will be working on are stored when they’re not on display. After leaving the collection room, we toured the museum’s large expanse of interesting exhibits, including geological specimens, mounted dinosaur skeletons from the local province, and an entire floor of taxidermy animals, including our dear mascot of Montana State University: the bobcat.

Over the weekend, we enjoyed the Hangzhou nightlife, the expansive silk markets and the delicious local cuisine. That following Monday, the research began. After two trips hauling specimens from the basement to the fourth floor labs, we descended upon the unsuspecting eggs. The first day, we finalized our research endeavors, with Devra and Coralyn writing a descriptive paper on Dictyoolithic eggs and clutch arrangement in multiple species of ootaxa and Nick and Ethan examining egg compression and are working to reconstruct what the eggs might have looked like before they were compressed.  


The 2013 IRES dinosaur egg study team works at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History in Hangzhou, China.

The 2013 IRES dinosaur egg study team works at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History in Hangzhou, China.

Written by: Nick Vergara, 6/1/2013

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Coda: Beijing

With our data collection and preliminary research papers completed, we set out for a final weekend excursion to Beijing.  In addition to sightseeing, our trip included a visit to the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), the national paleontology museum of China. 

Danny Barta unsuspectingly steps in front of a Monolophosaurus in front of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. (Photo by Christian Heck).











While there, we had the opportunity to view the exhibits on fossil eggs, in which we saw some of the first Spheroolithus clutches ever described, whose characteristics contribute to the definition of the oogenus and are important for comparison with the collection of Spheroolithus eggs we’ve examined for the past few weeks at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History.  Other interesting egg exhibits included a rare pterosaur egg with a preserved embryo, and a variety of other eggs types such as Ovaloolithus and Dictyoolithus, known only from Asia.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to visit several important cultural sites within and around Beijing.  Taken individually or collectively, their scale is overwhelming.  Tiananmen Square’s vast expanse, the hushed silence and well-guarded peace of the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the intricacies of Ming and Qing Dynasties’ imperial architecture at the Forbidden City, and finally, the dizzying heights of the Great Wall at Badaling swathed equally in smooth stone, gregarious tourists, and late afternoon mist.  On a culinary note, the delicious fried scorpions sold at the night market were not to be missed, either.

The entrance to the Forbidden City. (Photo by Christian Heck).

The Great Wall rises and fades into the fog-covered mountains. (Photo by Christian Heck).




















A full blog post could probably be written about each of these sites and more, but perhaps it is sufficient to reflect on the collective experience of the group’s visit to Beijing.  China’s capital is where history has a prominent place in the here and now, whether one tours a meticulously preserved symbol of imperial supremacy or simply walks back to the hotel along a hutong side street – neighborhoods that remained essentially unchanged as waves of social and political upheaval crashed around them.  Visiting Beijing is a singular look at a modern Chinese city at once coming to terms with its past and lifting itself toward a future of its own unique making. 

The hutong side streets buzzing with activity in the morning. (Photo by Christian Heck).

Persevering through a whirlwind pace and near 100-degree temperatures in Beijing, the group has arrived at the end of its Chinese journey.  However, our studies of dinosaur reproductive biology will continue at our home colleges and universities.  We leave excited about what the museum and field data gathered this trip might reveal.  As scientific collaboration between our countries grows, there has never been a more exciting time for students like us to travel to China. Though this is the last blog post, we continue to appreciate reader comments and questions, and will endeavor to respond quickly. We look forward to seeing friends and loved ones again soon!  Thank you again to the National Science Foundation, Drs. David Varricchio and Frankie Jackson, and the staff of the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History!

Zaijian for now,

Blog post by Danny Barta


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Down the rabbit hole we go

The research team with students from Zhejiang University at the Geo-park. (Photo by Hannah Wilson).









Introduction, methods, results, conclusions. These are the subjects that will form our paper. The introduction provides background information on the subject and introduces the reader to our study. The methods and results, well, that’s self-explanatory. That brings us to conclusions. Conclusions (or Discussion depending on which you prefer…and sometimes they are split into two sections!) are where we have to make sense of it all. This may seem like an easy task at first, because the results should show us all we need to know right? Nope. Let’s take Hannah’s and my project as an example. We start off with results on the compression of eggs. Easy enough. This is followed by possible explanations for the compaction the eggs seemed to suffer through. This is where one can get lost going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. Sediment overlay, transport, micro-faults, etc., etc. could be explanations for the compaction. Then we have to figure out if there is a way to arrange the clutch back to its original orientation. But what if the eggs were laid in a hole? What if they were transported prior to compaction? What if they were hatched, and how does that affect amount of compaction? What if a disgruntled dinosaur merely stepped on all of them? We have to consider everything when reconstructing the taphonomic histories of these eggs.

Dr. David Varricchio (Photo by Christian Heck).

One of the most important areas of research is the use of field observations and their incorporation within the study. We were lucky enough to be presented with specimens collected with proper stratigraphic data and in-situ orientation (remember those things from a few posts ago?). Although it’s only two specimens, they are of immense importance in our study. They could essentially raise our results to another level or tear down the foundation of our study. For our project on orientation, the specimens arose to the occasion and supported our data. True results and conclusions will have to wait until data from other groups is collected. Anita Moore-Nall’s research on reduction spots can provide further support for our results and Ian Underwood’s work on eggshell thickness variation is useful as well. The Hatching Window team’s research on defining a window has implications for level of compaction. Ian’s eggshell thickness studies could explain locations of hatching windows. Anita’s research could provide an explanation for eggshell thinning. Danny’s cladistics studies places all of our work within a framework of phylogenetics. We came to China as a group, split into teams, researched, measured different aspects of eggs, and at the end, all of our team studies will come together to help the entire group. That is what collaboration is all about. 

Shengxiao Gu (Photo by Hannah Wilson).

The excel sheets have been saved, citations have been found, calipers put away, specimens returned to collections, samples taken, goodbyes have been said, and bags packed. We’ve spent three weeks in Hangzhou calling the museum our home (and the hotel our second home). A week of rain, bugs, and fieldwork out in Tiantai and Dongyang gave everyone a glimpse of fieldwork. We’ve traveled through larger-than-life cities such as Shanghai (and soon Beijing) to small agriculture towns for fieldwork. Culture shock came and went, and we’re all better for our experiences here. We cannot even begin to express the appropriate amount of thanks to the entire museum staff and everyone who helped us here, but we’ll try. Thank you to Wenjie Zheng, Xiuti Li, and Shengxiao Gu for all of the help they provided us at the museum, dinners, and out in the field. We never would have survived without their patience and kindness. Thank you to Dr. Jin for allowing us to come to the museum to handle and study these amazing specimens. Thank you to all of the museum staff here for their help in every aspect of our work. A special thank you goes Li Ping Wong for being our amazing driver. As a group we would also like to thank Dr. David Varricchio for constantly pushing us in the right direction, for editing our papers, and for showing us around China among many other things. Thank you to past research groups for leaving us with data, descriptions, and a solid base of work with which to build upon. Thank you to Dr. Frankie Jackson and, again, Dr. Varricchio for selecting us for this research opportunity. Thank you to Evelyn and Bora for their great work on the blog posts! Most importantly, we would like to thank the National Science Foundation for giving us this amazing chance at hands-on research and cultural experience. Lastly, I would like to thank all of the group members for being extremely nice, outgoing, and workaholics. None of us would have gotten anywhere without each other’s positive re-enforcement, critiques, and scientific discussions.

Wenjie Zheng (Photo by Christian Heck).








All that’s left now is a three-day stint in Beijing before heading back to Montana to continue our research and re-acclimate to life in the western world.

Christian Heck, Xiuti Li and Hannah Wilson, from left. (Photo by Danny Barta).


Our amazing driver, Wong. (Photo by Christian Heck).



Blog Post by Christian Heck



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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ni Hao! We just hit the halfway mark of our time in China! The past few days have been spent in the Tiantai Basin, about two hours away from our “home base” of Hangzhou, where the Zhejiang Museum is located. Today was our fifth day of fieldwork, and the third site visited looking for dinosaur eggs, bones, trace fossils, and measuring sections of strata.

Anital Moore-Nall and Ian Underwood. (Photo by Christian Heck.)

Eggs found on previous trips were photographed and documented, and some fragments were collected for later analysis. Lots of GPS location numbers were recorded so future teams could return to the good spots we have found so far.

Our days have been beginning at around 7:30 a.m. (which is 5:30 p.m. the previous day Montana time), giving us enough time to Skype friends and family, eat breakfast, and board the van that transports us to our field sites. We spend the morning starting strata section measurements and prospecting until lunch around 11:30 a.m.

Taking strata section measurements and prospecting. (Photo by Christian Heck.)

We’ve been eating at “fast food” places where we’re given metal trays and get to pick out from a street vendor different dishes of potatoes, vegetables, rice, and tofu to eat in a tiny hole-in-the-wall dining area. Around 12:30 p.m.  or so we head back to the field, refill our water bottles at the van, and spend the rest of the day tromping through crazy bushes looking for bones and eggshell.

Looking for bones and eggshell. (Photo by Christian Heck.)

By the end of the day we’re very hungry and sweaty, and usually don’t have much time to change before our 6 p.m. dinner, which we devour before passing out in our rock-hard beds.

Almost everyone has found something so far during our time in the field. Danny found isolated fragments the first day in “Graveyard Hills,”

Taking a close look in the “Graveyard Hills.” (Photo by Christian Heck.)

the first site we visited in the Tiantai Basin, and on the second day both he and Heather each found two more eggs! Anita was the first person to find bone on our trip, so that was exciting for everyone. Paul and Michael have found lots of trace fossils, like pupa cases, worm burrows, or root systems, which provide us with valuable information about the paleo-environment. I (Hannah) found some more bone fragments yesterday along with Wenjie, one of our Chinese colleagues from the museum, and today Christian found a big chunk of eggshell on the roadcut we were working on “behind the beer factory,” just a few minutes down the road from our hotel. The others have made huge contributions by putting those finds in context with their strata section measurements.

We found a big chunk of eggshell on the roadcut we were working on “behind the beer factory,” just a few minutes down the road from our hotel. (Photo by Christian Heck.)

The weather has been great – it rained for most of the first day in the field (Saturday), and a bit more today, but other than that we all have the sunburns to prove the weather’s been very nice. We leave Tiantai Basin tomorrow to explore another rich site of eggs – Dongyong Basin, which is a two-hour drive away. We’re very excited about visiting these two locations on our trip because most of the eggs we’ve been ogling in the basement of the Zhejiang Museum the past few weeks have come from Tiantai and Dongyang, and it is very neat to view them in their original field context rather than in plastic tubs in the dark collections room of the museum.

Blog post by Hannah Wilson. 

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Tiantai and fieldwork in the rain

We left for Tiantai Basin yesterday from Hangzhou. It was difficult to leave for fieldwork as we had just got into a rhythm working at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, but a pleasant reprieve from the labors of working within doors none-the-less. Before we arrived at the hotel, we stopped and had lunch with our colleagues as well as the director of the museum in Tiantai. As is customary in Chinese culture, we were treated as honored guest, and enjoyed a delicious meal merry with conversation and smiles despite whatever language barriers had separated us. We took the liberty of visiting the Tiantai museum after our lunch and found ourselves in a wonderful museum full of paintings and dinosaurs.

Danny Barta admires the dinosaurs showcased in the Tiantai Museum. (Photo by Christian Heck)











The hotel and the city of Tiantai as a whole are a stark difference between what we had grown accustomed to by visiting Shanghai and then Hangzhou. Tiantai has a more rural feel to it and although bustling and full of people, lacks the industrial and “big city” feel that we had seen in our visits thus far through China.

Tiantiai from our viewpoint at lunch. (Photo by Christian Heck).











If I were to choose only one word to describe the setting as I sit and write this blog, peaceful would sum everything up and then more. Surrounded by lush greenery, with forested tropical hills rising around the outskirts, Tiantai truly sits within a basin and is a mish mash of industrial growth and a city still trying to catch up to modern times. New construction is rampant throughout the city, but single lane cobble roads with merchants packed on either side are to be found in the city’s heart. The mall we had visited was fashioned in the same way, with vendor after vendor peddling shoes and clothes in stalls stacked one after the other separated by a pathway that two could barely walk abreast. Our hotel sits a short walk from the bustling downtown area and yet seems separated by miles. A small creek flows below the backside of our window and along the other bank small garden plots are tended in sequencing order where the steep hill has been flattened into steps along the bank. 

Our view of Tiantai from our field site. (Photo by Christian Heck).

We visited our first site in the field today, driving along dirt roads that were barely wide enough for the vehicle which we took. The site was named “The Graveyard Site” as it was located within hills that were dotted sporadically with shrines and graves. It had rained the previous evening (and probably earlier that morning) and the ground was muddy as well as the hillside, making our work somewhat difficult. And it was not the last rain we were to encounter, all throughout the day showers would follow us, starting with a soft mist and slowly turning more steadily into a rain.

Despite the rain’s best efforts, the research team refuses to quit. (Photo by Christian Heck).


We spent the day working within groups with different objectives. Two worked on measuring stratigraphic sections, while a third mapped and described the egg clutches that had been discovered on previous treks. Measuring stratigraphic sections is mapping the position and angles of sedimentary beds as well as correlating them to the topography of the surrounding area.

Anita Moore-Nall, left, and Ian Underwood take a seat to interpret the geologic settings around them. (Photo by Christian Heck).











We were lucky enough to find a few new egg specimens as well as enjoy the day working outside despite however wet and muddy we all got scrambling along the hillsides. 

Blog post by Ian Underwood

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