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University of Montana geosciences doctoral student Montana Hodges displays one of several Jurassic coral and crustacean specimens she collected in the paleontology lab at the University of Montana on Friday. Hodges and UM geosciences professor George Stanley are researching the collapse and recovery cycles of coral reefs after the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction.

Meet "Wonderful Weirdos" at the University of Montana Paleontology Center this Wednesday during a celebration of National Fossil Day.

From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, the center invites people to the Charles H. Clapp Building to learn about fossils.

"Anyone who has interest in fossils or earth history should come by and visit us for National Fossil Day," said Kallie Moore, Paleontology Center collections manager in a statement. "The UMPC has been involved with National Fossil Day since it was established in 2010, and we love bringing the amazing field of paleontology to the community."

At the free event, activities include fossil identifications, tours of displays and research collections, and a chance to hear about research going on at the center. Started in 1898, the center has collected more than 50,000 vertebrate, invertebrate and plant specimens.

"The year's event will highlight 'Wonderful Weirdos' in the collection," said a news release from UM.

National Fossil Day is a project of the U.S. National Park Service. On its website, the park service asks, "Why do we study fossils?" and it poses an answer.

"Fossils help us understand life's past. Without fossils, we'd know nothing of the mighty dinosaurs, tiny three-toed horses, and thousands of other prehistoric forms that are long extinct. Fossils also provide clues to the interrelationships of all species."

The UM Paleontology Center asks participants to enter through the breezeway of the Clapp Building, on the southeast corner of campus. For more information, contact Moore at (406) 243-5406 or kallie.moore@mso.umt.edu or go to http://hs.umt.edu/paleo/fossil-day.php

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Reporter for the Missoulian