E&H Professor of Biology Chris Fielitz Investigates the Mystery of The Prehistoric Eel

Posted by Beth Funkhouser
Dr. Chris Fielitz, Professor of Biology at Emory & Henry College, has refuted a previous 1981 study on a fossil eel from late Cretaceous rocks of western Kansas, finding it to be related, instead, to a different group of fossil eels.

“My research opens up more questions, of course,” Fielitz says of his spring 2022 sabbatical research on the only two fossil eels in North America. The earlier study misnamed and left out some of the bones, so Fielitiz’s work builds upon that earlier study to better tell the eel’s story.

“Unlike today where scientists use DNA to determine the relationships of living fish species, fish paleontologists must rely on similarities of bones,” he says of his work at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum where he analyzed the eel’s tiny skeleton—“about the size of your fingernail”—under a microscope.

Fielitiz says he approaches his work like a detective, looking for meaningful connections between the things he finds–using the rigorous process of phylogenetics to figure out relationships.

“The clues are sometimes right there,” he says, “but, sometimes, they are very difficult to understand. In my sabbatical project, the original authors misidentified some bones, so I asked: Why did that happen? What were they thinking? What were they comparing things to?”

Fielitz, a scientific illustrator, draws sketches of the tiny eel skeletons he studies with a spe... Fielitz, a scientific illustrator, draws sketches of the tiny eel skeletons he studies with a special microscope. “My mother was an art teacher,” he says, noting he has taken professional drawing classes to improve his research.A skilled scientific illustrator, Fielitz says he is very visually oriented. “There is an interesting aesthetic about the bones and how they fit together, as well as the variation of the shapes from species to species,” he says.

While Fielitz studies the fossils, he shoots lots of photos and makes notes about every bone and its placement. Additionally, he sketches each skeleton utilizing a drawing tube attached to the microscope–a camera lucida–that projects images through a prism and allows him to make tracings of the tiny skeletons.

After 22 years at E&H, Fielitz, who specializes in evolutionary biology and comparative anatomy, trains his students to be detectives, too, using small groups and case studies in his courses. He gives each group a scenario, and the students must work together to solve an issue. “The students work to find the story behind the problem, and then they explain what the story tells us,” Fielitz says.

  • Dr. Chris Fielitz says he could sit at his microscope all day “and zone the rest of the world out, looking at bones.”

“There is an interesting aesthetic about the bones and how they fit together, as well as the variation of the shapes from species to species.”

Dr. Christoper Fielitz

Location:

McGlothlin-Street Hall

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1064-agreement-between-virginia-highlands-community"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.jpg" alt="Interim President Charles White (VHCC) and President John Wells (E&H) signing the Concurrent ..." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/736,159,2700,2123/7151_EH-VHCC-Signing-9_3.rev.1573506471.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1964" data-max-h="1964" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1064-agreement-between-virginia-highlands-community">Agreement Between Virginia Highlands Community College And Emory & Henry College Confirmed</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> The presidents from both Emory & Henry and Virginia Highlands Community College met in the Calliopean Room of Byars Hall on Monday, Nov. 11 to sign the Concurrent Admissions Agreement, allowing for a more seamless transition for transfer students. <a href="/live/news/1064-agreement-between-virginia-highlands-community" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/90-college-named-best-value-school"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/65/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,600,450/772_best-value-school.rev.1507229322.webp 1x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/65/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,600,450/772_best-value-school.rev.1507229322.jpg 1x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/65/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,600,450/772_best-value-school.rev.1507229322.jpg" alt="" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="600" data-max-h="450" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/90-college-named-best-value-school">College Named “Best Value School”</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> One of the top online resources for students to find colleges, universities and career schools that provide a valuable education has ranked Emory & Henry College one of the top 80 colleges and universities in the nation that is a “Best Value School.” <a href="/live/news/90-college-named-best-value-school" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/955-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.jpg" alt="Graduates in front of the Patrick Henry statue." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/364,0,1732,1367/6834_Campus_graduates.rev.1568038341.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1368" data-max-h="1367" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/955-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best">E&H Climbs in the U.S. News & World Report, Best College Rankings</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Emory & Henry College continues to be listed as a Top National Liberals Arts College in the United States by <em>U.S. News & World Report, Best Colleges</em>. Factors for the listing include graduation rate, alumni giving, academic reputation, class sizes and financial support. <a href="/live/news/955-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1337-transfer-transform-abigail-hathorn"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.jpg" alt="Abigail Hathorn" width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,49,2320,2371/8422_IMG_6163.rev.1597088186.jpg 3x" data-max-w="2320" data-max-h="2322" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1337-transfer-transform-abigail-hathorn">Transfer & Transform: Abigail Hathorn</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Abigail Hathorn (E&H ’18) transferred to Emory & Henry from Northeast State Community College to pursue a degree in Mass Communications. <a href="/live/news/1337-transfer-transform-abigail-hathorn" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1001-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.jpg" alt="The students of Emory & Henry." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,1800/6941_Students-Walking0.rev.1569615070.jpg 3x" data-max-w="3200" data-max-h="1800" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1001-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best">E&H Climbs in the U.S. News & World Report, Best College Rankings as a Top National Liberal Arts College and Earns a New Honor in Social Mobility</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Emory & Henry College continues to be listed as a Top National Liberals Arts College in the United States by <em>U.S. News & World Report, Best Colleges</em>. For 2020, Emory & Henry College moved up 14 positions in the rankings to 148 out of 215 colleges listed. <a href="/live/news/1001-eamph-climbs-in-the-us-news-world-report-best" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/169-college-cuts-the-ribbon-on-new-residence-village"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.jpg" alt="Ethan King cuts the ribbon to officially open The Village Community Center." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,3200,2134/1288_Village-Community-Center-Opening-11-14-17140.rev.1510761287.jpg 3x" data-max-w="3200" data-max-h="2134" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/169-college-cuts-the-ribbon-on-new-residence-village">College Cuts the Ribbon on New Residence Village</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Eight new residence halls in total, including six apartment-style halls, and a community center, have now been added to two existing residence halls in an area known as The Village. <a href="/live/news/169-college-cuts-the-ribbon-on-new-residence-village" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1656-emory-henry-ranks-among-top-colleges-in"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,400,296/9450_drone.rev.1614002000.webp 1x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,400,296/9450_drone.rev.1614002000.jpg 1x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/83/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,400,296/9450_drone.rev.1614002000.jpg" alt="E&H Campus" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="296" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1656-emory-henry-ranks-among-top-colleges-in">Emory & Henry ranks among top colleges in Virginia</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Emory & Henry College has been awarded top ranking status for Best Colleges In Virginia by Intelligent.com, a higher education resource guide.</span> <a href="/live/news/1656-emory-henry-ranks-among-top-colleges-in" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>