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Ohio State professor seeks to find evidence of saber-toothed cats in Ohio

Dale Gnidovec, collections manager and curator of OSU's geological museum in Orton Hall, gave a presentation called “Ice Age Ohio” April 2 at the 18th Avenue Library. Credit: Andrew Todd-Smith / Lantern photographer

Dale Gnidovec, collections manager and curator of OSU’s geological museum in Orton Hall, gave a presentation called “Ice Age Ohio” April 2 at the 18th Avenue Library.
Credit: Andrew Todd-Smith / Lantern photographer

All Dale Gnidovec wants to find at this point is evidence to prove saber-toothed cats once roamed the lands of Ohio.

The collections manager and curator of Ohio State’s geological museum in Orton Hall for nearly 25 years, Gnidovec said most people he encounters avoid trying to pronounce his name and instead refer to him as “the museum man, the dinosaur man or the mastodon man.”

But he hasn’t been able to add “saber-toothed cat man” to that list of monikers just yet.

The career paleontologist gave a presentation called “Ice Age Ohio” detailing the history, climate and animal life of the Ohio ice ages Wednesday evening at the 18th Avenue Library.

Danny Dotson, resident mathematical sciences librarian and science education specialist at the 18th Avenue Library and one of the primary organizers of Wednesday’s event, said Gnidovec has previously spoken in the Science Café lecture series, which is in its sixth year.

At the lecture, Gnidovec told an audience of 26 it’s hard to find proof saber-toothed cats lived in Ohio at some point.

“This animal is so frustrating to paleontologists like me,” Gnidovec said, explaining that fossils of the cold-weather cat have already been found in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. “They had to have lived here. We just haven’t found the right spot yet.”

Gnidovec said the eating and breathing behaviors of living organisms slow the decay of trace amounts of radioactive carbon atoms in their bodies.

“But once an organism dies, that carbon does not replace … so by measuring the radioactivity of that carbon, we can count how long ago that plant or animal died,” Gnidovec said.

He said southbound glaciers from Canada were “powerful agents of erosion” that helped shape the geology of Ohio.

Gnidovec said the ability to carbon-date charcoal found in those glacier-carved rock layers — and the position of discovered fossils and bones relative to the charcoal — help scientists get an idea of when ice ages took place and, in turn, which animals lived when.

And while Gnidovec aims to find the first proof in Ohio of both the saber-toothed cat and the dire wolf, he said the smaller examples of prehistoric Ohio animals help paint a better picture of what the climate was like at a certain time.

“One of the things we’re trying to determine is how quickly did the climate change,” he said. “The big animals aren’t going to tell us because an animal the size of a moose or a mastodon can migrate hundreds of miles. But an animal the size of a mouse that spends its entire life on one acre of ground is a much better indicator of the climate at that spot at that time.”

Dotson said the Science Café series is co-sponsored by OSU Libraries and the OSU chapter of Sigma Xi — a research and science honor society for students — and because Gnidovec is an OSU faculty member, there was no speaker fee.

During the presentation, Gnidovec showed the audience a football-sized mastodon tooth he found in a cavern in Ohio.

Some students who attended responded positively to the presentation.

“I didn’t know it was more of a community type thing, but he (Gnidovec) was excellent, very animated and very interesting,” said Nicole Hernandez, a graduate student in anthropology with a focus in archaeology.

Daniel Peart, also an anthropology graduate student, agreed.

“This was fantastic. Like I was telling Mr. Gnidovec, I’m a transplant from Texas, so it was nice to come and learn something about the history of Ohio and Ohio’s paleontology,” Peart said.


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