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Our Upcoming Speaker
Note: Since October 2022, we have returned to in-person meetings at the Birmingham Zoo using a hybrid Zoom-In Person format with the in-person meeting at the Lodge at the Birmingham Zoo

 MONDAY  MARCH 4, 2024 at  7:00 PM Central Time USA

Title: "Back from the dead: Unveiling an enigmatic new species from Western New York"

Speaker: Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director, Hamburg Natural History Society/Penn Dixie Fossil Park (

Abstract: In April 2023, two off-duty staff members unearthed the remains of a mysterious and previously undescribed echinoderm while digging for trilobites at Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve in Hamburg. The discovery rocked the scientific community – pun intended, as this particular line of primitive animals was thought to have gone extinct nearly 30 million years earlier. Revival of this ‘Lazarus taxon,’ which originated during the Cambrian explosion when most major animal groups first appeared, sheds new light on our planet’s history of life. The new species is currently under study at the Smithsonian Institution by experts who are eager to establish its proper place in the animal kingdom.

About the Speaker: Dr. Phil Stokes is the Executive Director of Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve located in Hamburg, NY — the home of trilobites. Penn Dixie — ranked #1 in the U.S. among fossil parks and also the inaugural holder of a Guinness World Record for Largest Fossil Dig — welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year.

In 2021 Dr. Stokes was honored as a 40 Under 40 Awardee by Buffalo Business First. Prior to working for Big Fossil, Dr. Stokes served as instructor, research associate, academic advisor, and community outreach coordinator in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona — a top 5 Geology program — while pursuing his PhD. His 2016 dissertation, Diversity in Geoscience: Critical Incidents and Factors Affecting Choice of Major, used social and behavioral science to look at the factors behind underrepresentation in STEM fields, and in particular geology.

Dr. Stokes has coordinated four multi-year National Science Foundation projects: three at the University of Arizona (including SAGUARO) and one at SUNY Buffalo, where he earned his B.S. (2004) and M.S. (2007) degrees in Geological Science. His thesis work used ground penetrating radar to search for mastodon bones and to map glacially deposited units at the Ice Age Hiscock Site near Rochester, NY. In his spare time he plays guitar and ukulele, travels, and brings a telescope to music festivals for late night stargazing.

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