Two Penn Dixie employees promoted; full time staff doubles in two years

Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve announces two staff promotions: Dr. Holly Schreiber has been promoted to Associate Director and Sydney Mecca has been promoted to full time Marketing & Development Coordinator.

“I’m thrilled that my new role will allow me to continue to help Penn Dixie grow in new and exciting ways. I’m eager to find and work with new community partners to bring the organization’s mission of hands-on science education to even more people” says Dr. Holly Schreiber. A paleontologist by training, she previously served as director of education after joining Penn Dixie in February 2017. Her new role includes administration, grant writing, and program management duties in service of our nonprofit’s science education mission.

“I’m excited to be a part of an organization that connects our local and international communities with the wonders of the natural world” says Sydney Mecca. Prior to the promotion, Sydney worked as a seasonal naturalist for the Niagara Region Park Interpretive Programs Office in 2020 and 2021. During this time they created and led public nature programs, updated nature center displays, and assisted with virtual field trip videos. They also worked in a part time capacity for Penn Dixie in a marketing role, handling social media and website development. Sydney’s new role will focus on engaging new audiences via marketing and promotions, coordinating organization fundraising activities, and creating new STEM program offerings.

Sydney becomes the fourth full time employee at Penn Dixie, doubling the number of full time positions at the organization since February 2020.

Dr. Holly Schreiber leading a fossil dig at Penn Dixie.
Sydney Mecca at Eighteen Mile Creek.

Rare Trilobite Found At Dig With The Experts 2021

Seasoned experts and first time fossil hunters alike visit Penn Dixie in the hopes of taking home a trilobite. Trilobites are extinct, marine arthropods, named for their three-lobed bodies. The majority of the trilobites found on site are Eldredgeops rana, although Greenops (uncommon), Bellacartrightia (rare), Pseudechenella (rare), Dipleura (very rare) have all been recorded at Penn Dixie. 

On August 27th, 28th, and 29th, fossil hunters from all over the country flocked to Penn Dixie for Dig With The Experts 2021. Dig With The Experts is an annual event that allows fossil hunters to get their hands on freshly excavated material, with guidance provided by scientific experts who help locate and identify the site’s best fossils. Among this year’s dig participants was Theodore Gray, who unearthed one of Penn Dixie’s rarest trilobites – the coveted Pseudechenella rowi. Below is Theodore’s account of discovering and prepping this extraordinary find.

In The Field

I have been a member of Penn Dixie for years but living in California, I had been to the quarry only three times over the years. On each visit, I always found a few trilobites but never a nice prone one. In 2021, I had the good fortune to be in Western NY over the weekend of Dig With The Experts. I bought tickets for Saturday and Sunday with my goal of a nice prone Eldredgeops

The execution of DWTE was new to me. I was aware that heavy equipment was involved but the sight of all those covered piles was amazing! The best part was no digging out the slabs by hand! Been there, done that.

DWTE participants picking their piles.

I picked a pile and got to work. I met the young guy digging next to me, Cole from Kentucky, and we shared the joys of each find from our respective piles. I finished going through my pile by early afternoon and had a number of nice Eldredgeops in matrix but no “killer” prone examples. I spent the rest of the day snooping through the discards from Friday’s digs and found a few more Eldredgeops and even one nice complete prone 1 incher. 

On Sunday, we returned in earnest and the same scenario ensued. I finished my pile by noon or so and then spent the afternoon banging on other peoples’ leftovers. I found another larger prone Eldredgeops that was split in the middle of the thorax but it certainly was big enough to fit the bill, if it was all there.

At some point, I had split a chunk of a slab and spotted a small pygidium, exposed by the split. The “skin” on the pygidium was damaged by the force of the split and crumbled away. Most of the bug was encased in the matrix but as I inspected it closer, I thought I saw traces of a genal spine. I suspected that it was something different but I did not know what.  

Telltale genal spine of Theodore’s trilobite.

Now, when you are digging at DWTE, you don’t waste time field prepping anything. When you find a “possible”, you put it on the keeper pile and keep moving! So, I shrugged, wrapped the trilobite in foil, put it on the keeper pile and moved on. By Sunday evening, my “keeper pile” was looking to be all that I could handle on the flight back to California and I guessed that I might need another suitcase.

On Monday, when I got back to my hotel, I revisited the little bug and it was clear that it had a genal spine. I texted “Cole from Kentucky” and sent him a photo of the mystery bug. He thought that the trilobite was an Eldredgeops, and that the “genal spine” could be a molt fragment. I told him that I thought there was a high probability that it was something else. Cole searched the PD website and found the description of the Pseudodechenella rowi.

Like Cole, having only been to PD on a few occasions, I was only aware of the presence of the Eldredgeops and Greenops genera. During DWTE, I heard chatter about the Bellacartwrightia and at some point, someone mentioned something about a rare Proteid. As a self taught preparator of trilobites, I know what a Proteid looks like.  I “cut my teeth” as a hobby preparator working on dozens of Gerastos granulosus, a Moroccan proteid species that is so common that the Moroccans call them “flies”.  Since the holochroal eyes were not visible on my specimen, only further preparation would confirm our conclusion. 

Holochroal eye (Clarkson 1975)
Schizochroal eye (Levi-Setti, 1993)

Back At The Lab

As a preparator, one wants to “practice” on the rocks from a particular locality to establish a familiarity with the way that the matrix responds to the force of the air scribes. So, it was not until almost a month later, having prepared a dozen or more of my finds, that I started on the “little pygidium” bug.

Theodore’s fossil prep lab.

In my lab, I use three primary air scribes, essentially “coarse, medium and fine”. The matrix of the Smoke Creek trilobite bed is actually quite soft so the majority of the prep work is done with the “fine” air scribe. The medium air scribe serves to “landscape” the matrix if needed. The final cleaning of crevices and such is done, by hand, with a pin vise.

Air scribe / pen.

As a preparator, one always should consider the final presentation of the specimen before starting. Since this bug was located on the edge of the rock fragment, I decided that it would look best if it was vertical on the face of the rock matrix. So, I used a tile saw to cut away the bulk of the rock fragment such that the remainder would stand up nicely with the bug presented on the face of the fragment.

Removing the matrix.

In this case, there was a substantial thickness of matrix covering the bug so I used the medium scribe to remove most of the overlying matrix, creating a crescent shaped pattern around the bug. Then, I used the “fine” scribe to carefully expose the rest of the thoracic segments and the head.

Prep progress.

The head was crushed and deformed so I stopped using the scribe when all of the main features were visible. At that point, I could clearly see that the genal spines were present on both sides and it has holochroal eyes. It was definitely a Pseudodechenella

Pseudodechenella with uncovered genal spines and holochroal eyes.

Given the rarity of the specimen and the damage to the pygidium, I opted to stop any further preparation and send it off to a professional preparator, Ben Cooper of Trilobites of America.

Theodore’s prepped Pseudodechenella.

We would like to thank Theodore for sharing this discovery with us, and congratulate him on his rare find. If you’re interested in seeing more of Theodore’s lab and equipment, click here.

2020 Homeschool Classes

Learn about earth science with hands-on science programs at Penn Dixie! Our interactive classes are led by trained educators and designed for homeschool students. There are multiple options to choose from with each class consisting of multiple activities. All classes follow New York State science standards.


Space Day (October 6):

Join Penn Dixie educators to learn about all things space during World Space Week! During this 3-hour interactive lesson, students will learn about the Sun, Moon, the planets in our solar system, and much more. Students can register for this stand-alone class by itself or in conjunction with the 4-week series. Rain Date: October 8.

Registration is $25 per student for this class. Additional registrants from the same household are $20. Registration fee covers Space Day programming and associated materials and supplies.

Session times:

9 am – 12 pm (ages 5-7)

1 pm- 4 pm (ages 8 and up)

Children must be accompanied by an adult for the duration of the class. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only one adult per student is permitted. We cannot accommodate younger siblings at this time. Masks are required and social distancing will be maintained.

Please contact Dr. Holly Schreiber at holly@penndixie.org or 716-627-4560 to reserve a space. Payment is due at the time of registration.


Dinosaurs! (October 13):

October is International Dinosaur Month! In celebration of dinosaurs, Penn Dixie is offering a stand-alone 3-hour class on all things dino. Students will learn about dinosaurs and other animals that lived during the Mesozoic Era and why they’re not around anymore, using hands-on activities. Students can register for this class by itself or in conjunction with the 4-week series. Rain Date: October 15.

Registration is $25 per student for this class. Additional registrants from the same household are $20. Registration fee covers Dinosaurs programming and associated materials and supplies.

Session times:

9 am – 12 pm (ages 5-7)

1 pm – 4 pm (ages 8 and up)

Children must be accompanied by an adult for the duration of the class. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only one adult per student is permitted. We cannot accommodate younger siblings at this time. Masks are required and social distancing will be maintained.

Please contact Dr. Holly Schreiber at holly@penndixie.org or 716-627-4560 to reserve a space. Payment is due at the time of registration.


Refund policy:

In the event of light rain, the program will take place as scheduled. Guests are advised to wear boots and rain gear. If there is heavy rain or lightning, that week’s class will take place on the rain date. We will make this announcement via email if the weekly session is moved to the rain date. If both programs are canceled by Penn Dixie due to weather, all guests will receive a refund for that week’s class. Otherwise, our usual cancellation policy applies.

Camps & Workshops

Children ages 8 to 13 discover the natural sciences through four different Penn Dixie adventures that emphasize hands-on learning, outdoor fun, and teamwork. All camps and workshops are open for enrollment unless otherwise indicated.

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Dinosaurs, Fossils, and Nature Camp (5 Days)

IMG_0565Our most popular camp is back! Science comes alive at two exciting sites right in your own neighborhood. On Monday and Tuesday, campers will explore geology and paleontology at Penn Dixie while collecting fossils that are older than dinosaurs. On Wednesday, campers will venture off to Past & Present in Blasdell to tour the museum and discover the mysteries of the dinosaurs from a real dinosaur hunter — Glen LaPlaca!

Campers return to Penn Dixie on Thursday and Friday to investigate our nature trails, learn about local ecology, identify, animal tracks, and more! Campers must be dropped off at partner locations.

Locations: Penn Dixie and Past & Present Science & Nature Store

Schedule: 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday; Extended care not available

2019 Sessions:

  • Session 1 – July 15 to 19
  • Session 2 – August 12 to 16

Rate: $200 per camper. Select either Session 1 or 2. Register by May 15 and save $5 per camper! Use code: EARLY19. Penn Dixie members please call 627-4560 for code to receive $10 off registration. Don’t delay — this camp fills quickly!


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Nature Expedition Camp (5 Days)

IMG_0702Children explore the natural world at three great nature centers! Campers will investigate insects and plants and learn important wilderness survival skills at Reinstein Woods. At Evangola State Park campers will visit wetlands, examine skulls, go fishing and more. Campers will head to Penn Dixie to explore paleontology, geology and collecting 380 million year old fossils. Campers must be dropped off at partner locations. Daily schedule varies by session.

Locations: Reinstein Woods Nature PreserveEvangola State Park, and Penn Dixie

Schedule: 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday; Extended care not available

2019 Session:

  • Session 2 – August 26 to 30 (Monday at Reinstein Woods, Tuesday-Wednesday at Penn Dixie, Thursday-Friday at Evangola)

Rate: $200 per camper/$190 for Penn Dixie and Reinstein Woods members. Select either Session 1 or 2. Register by May 15 and save $5 per camper! Use code: EARLY19. Penn Dixie and Reinstein Woods members: Call 716-627-4560 for your code to receive $10 off registration.


 

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Space Camp Workshop (3 Days)

IMG_0525Blast off into space fun! Children will explore our solar system through science and engineering. Campers will learn about space flight through rocketry, examine microfossils that may resemble fossil life on other planets, view our sun safely through special telescopes and glasses, and participate in many other fun science and engineering activities.

During the workshop each camper will build, study, and launch two different Estes Model Rockets that he or she can keep. One optional night of stargazing just for our campers will also take place — date and time TBA. All materials are included.

Location: Three days at Penn Dixie

Schedule: 9 am to 3 pm Wednesday to Friday; Extended care not available

2019 Sessions:

  • Session 2 – August 7 to 9

Rate: $140 per camper/$130 for Penn Dixie members. Select Session 2. Register by May 15 and save $5 per participant! Use code: EARLY19. Members: Please call 716-627-4560 for your $10 discount code.


Campers must register and complete all health and emergency contact forms at least one week prior to the first day of camp. Registration closes one week (7 days) prior to the first date of a camp or workshop session. Parents/guardians: Be sure to review our cancellation policy. All campers are bound to our Code of Conduct. For additional help contact Director of Education Dr. Holly Schreiber at: (716) 627-4560 or using our online form.