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September-October 2013

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The Amazing Fossil Insects of the Eocene Kishenehn Formation in Northwestern Montana

APPROXIMATELY 46 MILLION YEARS AGO, shortly after the green and red mudstones that now form the mountains of Glacier National Park completed their slow slide eastward from Canada, a series of strong earthquakes created a long north-south rift valley along what is now the western border of the park. As the valley filled with run-off from adjacent mountains, Lake Kishenehn, a 100-mile-long lake, was formed. Today, the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River erode their way through the mile-thick sediments of that ancient lake and expose carbon-rich oil shale and siltstone that comprise the steep cliffs on either side of the river. It is within these shales of the Kishenehn Formation that scientists from the Smithsonian Institution are collecting what are arguably some of the most exceptional insect fossils in the world.

Dr. Dale Greenwalt is a volunteer research collaborator in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Conrad Labandeira is a senior research scientist and curator of fossil arthropods in the Department of Paleobiology in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

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