ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — What started out as a day to find smaller handheld fossils to share with students interested in prehistoric life, ended with a bigger discovery than two science teachers imagined.
Rick Cochrane and Henry Sadler, science teachers at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, were sourcing fossils along the greater Peace River area when they noticed what looked like the mandible of a mastodon.
And boy, were they correct. That wasn't it, though. In addition, they also found two tusks not far from where they found the mandible.
"We spend years looking for things like this, and many fossil hunters go their whole lives without so much as a glimpse of a mastodon tooth, let alone an entire jaw," Sadler said in a news release. "More importantly, I find the wow factor of such a large fossil to be so impactful to my students at Admiral Farragut Academy."
The two were in the middle of the woods searching along the waterway in an area where visibility is typically low, they recalled. Sadler said he heard Cochrane reacting, making noises underwater and immediately waded over to him.
Cochrane's discovery was a rare moment. Not only did they find the entire mandible of a mastodon, but they found two tusks.
"It's rare to find one, rare to find two," Sadler said.
"Big dopamine hit," Cochrane said.
Before pulling the tusks out of the water, they ziptied the tusk together to help preserve the prehistoric bones. Ice age tusks tend to break apart in Florida. They can melt away in your hands.
"We got lucky statistically by finding the tusks, but also got lucky statistically that they just happened to be in a good layer that preserved well," Sadler said.
Cochrane and Sadler have been hunting for fossils for 10 years together. Their first big find came one year ago when they discovered mastodon teeth. Considering themselves amateurs, they are still in disbelief at their latest discovery. The two teachers are also working with the Florida Museum of Natural History on their latest discovery.
Most of all, the teachers are excited to share the moment with their students.
"It's a great segue to talk about the natural world around them," Sadler said.
The conversations the bones start, the astonishment in the students' voices and the way it piques the students' interest is what they're going for.
"We have a classroom full of mammoth leg bones, a mammoth's mandible, and now a mammoth's ribs," Cochrane said.
In addition, they also have other prehistoric bones in their classroom including a 7-inch claw of a giant sloth, pieces of Smilodon, which is also known as the saber-toothed tiger, sharks teeth, horse and camel fossils.
Many of these prehistoric animals lived right here in Florida thousands of years ago, which includes giant armadillos.