Josh Schmerge

Josh Schmerge

Adjunct Research Associate
Dyche Hall

Josh Schmerge is a vertebrate paleontologist studying convergent evolution in subterranean rodents.


I am most interested in studying the evolution of subterranean lifestyles in different groups of rodents.  I am primarily studying a group beavers from the Miocene that burrowed in soil instead of constructing dams. As part of my dissertation, I am comparing the skulls and teeth of these fossil beavers to those of modern burrowing rodents from around the globe to determine the similarity in anatomy in different burrowing rodents and to attempt to interpret the burrowing behavior based on the anatomy. I am trying to answer a several questions, including: How did different types of fossil beavers construct burrows? Does incisor morphology correspond with burrowing behavior? What were the muscles and soft tissues like in these ancient beavers?

I am also working with David Burnham in Vertebrate Paleontology and Robert Timm in the Department of Ecology of Evolutionary Biology to interpret some unique bite marks that were discovered on the skeleton of one of the mammoths exhibited in the Natural History Museum. A summary of this research project can be found here. The work on this project will help to answer questions about the paleoenvironment and paleoclimate of Kansas during the Late Pleistocene, as well as help us to unravel ancient niche partitioning between ancient predators.

I have some other varied research interests. I studied the role of climate change in the evolution of mammalian body mass during the Eocene–Oligocene Transition for my Master’s Thesis. I studied the trackways of the giant vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus) as a means of interpreting the trackways and locomotion patterns of ancient arthropods, and I hope to continue this research in the future. I also am working on a research project studying the mandibular foramina of theropod dinosaurs, with the intent of assessing the validity of Nanotyrannus, interpreting the relationships of theropod dinosaurs, and interpreting the behavior of theropods.


Schmerge, J. D., and Rothschild, B. M. 2016. Distribution of the dentary groove of theropod dinosaurs: Implications for theropod phylogeny and the validity of the genus Nanotyrannus Bakker et al., 1988. Cretaceous Research 61:26–33.

Schmerge, J. D. 2015. Interpretation of euhapsine (Castoridae: Palaeocastorinae) burrowing behaviors based on the functional anatomy of the teeth and skull with a description of a new species and genus. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Kansas, 316 pp.

Schmerge, J. D., Riese, D., and Hasiotis, S. T. 2013. Vinegaroon (Aracnhida: Thelyphonida: Thelyphonidae) trackway production and morphology: Implications for media and moisture control on trackway morphology and a proposal for a novel system of interpreting arthropod trace fossils. PALAIOS 28:116–128.

Schmerge, J. D. 2011. A statistical examination of the change in body size of mammalian communities across the Eocene–Oligocene Boundary. M.S. Thesis, University of Kansas. 84 pp.


Ph.D., University of Kansas, 2015

M.S. (honors), University of Kansas, 2011

B.S., University of Wyoming, 2007


Current Academic Appointments: 

Adjunct Research Associate with the Vertebrate Paleontology Division.

Volunteer Coordinator for the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory.

Previous Academic Appointments: 

Graduate teaching assistant with the University of Kansas Geology Department 2010-2015.

Graduate research assistant with the University of Kansas Geology Department 2007-2010.


Fall 2014: Instructor for GEOL 532 - Stratigraphy

Spring 2015: Instructor for GEOL 302 - Oceanography Online

Summer 2015: Instructor for GEOL 302 - Oceanography Online

Professional Presentations: 

Schmerge, J. D., D. A. Burnham, and R. TImm. Dire straits in the Ice Age—A mammoth scavenged by a wolf in the Late Pleistocene of Kansas. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Dallas, Texas. October 2015. Poster presentation.

Schmerge, J. D., D. A. Burnham, and D. L. Rasmussen. Preliminary report of a hadrosaur from the '3 meter gap' near Jordan, Montana. Annual Meeting of the Kansas Academy of Science. Pittsburg, Kansas. March 2015. Oral presentation.

Schmerge, J. D., and D. A. Burnham. Interpretation of burrowing behavior from incisor morphology of fossorial rodents. Society of Vertebrate Paleonotlogy. Berlin, Germany. November 2014. Oral presentation.

Schmerge, J. D., and L. D. Martin. Flat-skulled beavers of the North American early Miocene. Society for Cenozoic Research Annual Meeting. Lawrence, Kansas, May 2013. Oral presentation.

Schmerge, J. D., L. D. Martin, and S. T. Hasiotis. Body mass increase of small mammals across the Eocene–Oligocene Boundary: Possible effect of climate change. Society for Cenozoic Research Annual Meeting. Burpee Illinois, May 2012. Oral presentation.

Riese, D. J., J. D. Scherge, and S. T. Hasiotis. The neoichnology of vinegaroons, Annual Meeting, Geological Society of America. Portland, Oregon, October 2009. Poster presentation.

Schmerge, J. D., D. J. Riese, and S. T. Hasiotis. The neoichnology of vinegaroons, American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Meeting. San Antonio, Texas, May 2008. Poster presentation.

Blog Posts: 

Friday, January 22, 2016
Josh Schmerge
Tyrannosaurus rex is without a doubt the most famous dinosaur in the world, and one of the lasting questions people have about this amazing dinosaur is what it was like as a teenager before it was full grown. A paper I co-authored with Bruce Rothschild, a former research affiliate with the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, now published online in the journal Cretaceous Research addresses this interesting question.