What is a Fossil?

Fossils are preserved remains of plants and animals from prehistoric times.

There are two main types of fossils:

  • Body Fossils are the preserved remains of actual body parts of an organism, like bones, teeth, shells, and feathers.
  • Trace Fossils are evidence of activities by organisms and not the remains of the organisms. Examples are nests, burrows, and footprints. 

The study of fossils is called paleontology.

How are Fossils Formed?

There are different ways in which fossils are formed

  • Burial – The remains of an organism are buried by sediment and mud. Over the years, this hardens into a rock. 
  • Cast & Mold – Soft tissues of an organism decay, leaving behind an impression or mold. The mold then gets filled with minerals, creating a cast, which is a replica of the original organism
  • Amber – Organisms get trapped in tree resin, which hardens into amber over time.
  • Freezing – Organisms are preserved when quickly buried in ice or frozen ground.

What do Fossils Tell Us?

Fossils provide valuable clues about life on Earth in prehistoric times

  • Fossils provide evidence about the evolution of plants and animals and how they are linked to the organisms we find on Earth today.
  • Fossils show the biodiversity of species thousands of years ago.
  • Fossils of plants provide an insight into climate conditions in the past.
  • Trace fossils like footprints and burrows give an idea about the behavior and adaptations of organisms. 
  • Fossils help us learn about extinct species and the geology of Earth.

Fun Fact

Here are some fun facts about fossils.

  • Beelzebufo, known as the “Devil Frog,” lived in Madagascar 66 million years ago. It was large enough to eat small dinosaurs.
  • In Queensland, Australia, a crocodile fossil was discovered with a baby dinosaur in its stomach.
  • In Myanmar, the first ever feathered dinosaur tail was found preserved in amber.
  • A “Monstrously Big Ant” fossil was discovered in Wyoming. The ant was the size of a hummingbird.


Let’s quickly recap what we learned about fossils.

  • What are the two main types of fossils? Body Fossils and Trace Fossils
  • What is the study of fossils called? Paleontology
  • What is the sticky substance from trees in which an organism can get trapped? Resin
  • What insight about the past do plant fossils give us? Climate conditions
  • What information do trace fossils like footprints and burrows give us? Behavior and Adaptations of Organisms
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