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Jan. 22, 2016
By Lexi Ryan, media relations assistant
Ever wonder about the size of the creature that could leave those Bearcat paws on Fourth Street?
Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences Dr. Peter J. Adam had that thought, and the observation inspired him to instruct Cammie McCann and Shannel Phillips, two biology graduate students in his comparative vertebrae anatomy course, to estimate the size of the paw prints as if they were left by a real Bobby Bearcat.
The students determined the paw prints, which are embedded on Fourth Street from Main Street to Bearcat Stadium, could have been left by a Bearcat measuring between 13.7 and 26.5 feet tall with a mass between 328 and 579 pounds, depending on the method used to determine the size.
“The use of fossilized footprints is often used to estimate the size of dinosaurs and other animals from our past,” Adam said. “The students had to find these types of study on their own while doing a library search for primary literature and then had to apply similar methods to estimate Bobby’s height and mass.”
The students were required to answer “challenger” questions that required out-of-class research. During the course, students learn in-depth anatomy of various vertebrates. They also examine how each animal functions to help it move, feed and interact with the environment.
“I learned that with this sort of project it is not whether you are right or wrong on the answer,” McCann, of Oak Grove, Missouri, said. “It is how you reason out your conclusion.”
Phillips, of Jefferson City, Missouri, initially was concerned about how to complete the project within 48 hours and avoiding the busiest traffic hours on Fourth Street.
“It was a bit daunting, and I actually chose to estimate the size of a Binturong instead of upscaling Bobby,” Phillips said. “This assignment taught me to analyze from multiple standpoints and utilize my resources.”
Phillips first measured the dimensions of the paw prints on the street and used Google Earth to estimate the stride length between the prints. She determined a scaling factor between the giant paw print and the foot size of a bearcat. Phillips estimated the height at 26.5 feet tall with a mass of 579 pounds.
McCann took a different approach to the project. She originally thought she would seek out Bobby Bearcat to measure his suit.
“After my professor told me to treat it like a human, I searched through journal articles to find a formula to tell the height of a person from their foot length,” McCann said.
McCann used that formula with the stride length to measure a 13.7-foot tall Bobby with a mass of 328 pounds.
“The students reinforced their library skills,” Adam said. “They had to reason out which method they would use, apply mathematical models to a question and go into the field to take measurements.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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