Sunday, 19 May 2019

Thursday, 16 May 2019


A beautiful detail of a Walliserops, a genus of spinose phacopid trilobite of the family Acastidae found in the Lower to Middle Devonian strata near Foum Zguid, Tata Province, Souss-Massa, southeastern Morocco.

Their wee horns or tridents suggest sexual dimorphism though this concept is still a hotbed of debate. Did they use them much as we used a traditional jousting lance back in the 14th century. It is an interesting proposition. Kudos and photo credit to Gianpaolo Di Silvestro

Wednesday, 15 May 2019


This fellow is Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, a rather glorious fuxinhuiid arthropod. While he looks like he could be from the inside of the Lascaux Caves and their fire-kissed Palaeolithic paintings, albeit by a very ancient Picasso, he was found at a UNESCO World Heritage Cambrian fossil site in southern China.

As his name indicates, he is from a locality in the Yunnan region near Kunming. He is unusual in many ways, both because of the remarkable level of preservation and the position in which he was found.

This fellow was a bit of a tippy arthropod. His carapace had flipped over before fossilisation, allowing researchers to to examine this fuxianhuiid's head in great detail without a carapace in the way.

The study, published back in the February 27, 2013 issue of Nature, highlights the discovery of previously controversial limbs under the head. These limbs were used to shovel sediment into the mouth as the fuxianhuiid crawled across the seabed.

Using a feeding technique scientist's call 'detritus sweep-feeding', fuxianhuiids developed the limbs to push seafloor sediment into the mouth in order to filter it for organic matter – such as traces of decomposed seaweed – which constituted the creatures' food.

Fossils also revealed the oldest nervous system on record that is 'post-cephalic' – or beyond the head – consisting of only a single stark string in what was a very basic form of early life compared to today.

"Since biologists rely heavily on organisation of head appendages to classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth," said Javier Ortega-Hernández, from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences.

Ortega-Hernández co-authored the paper with Nicholas Butterfield and colleagues from Yunnan University in Kunming, South China.

The Xiaoshiba 'biota' in the Chiungchussu Formation Maotianshan shales of China's Yunnan Province is similar to the world-famous Chengjiang biota, and also produces spectacular arthropod fossils.

The recent publication on the Qingjiang biota found on the edge of the Yangze craton along the banks of China’s Danshui River are similar in age, competing with the world's most famous Cambrian fossil assemblage, the Burgess Shale.

The roughly 518-million-year-old site contains a dizzying abundance of beautifully preserved weird and wonderful life-forms, from jellyfish and comb jellies to arthropods and algae and is about 10 million years older than Burgess and if you're following Chinese lagerstätte, the site is just over a thousand miles from the Chengjiang site.

Photo credit: Yie Jang (Yunnan University)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaur by Edouard Riou, 1863
During the early Triassic period, ichthyosaurs evolved from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea. They were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods before being replaced as premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest benthos layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles.

Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last of their lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Tuesday, 7 May 2019


Coahuilaceratops or "Coahuila Horn Face," is a relatively new genus of Ornithischia Ceratopsidae, a  herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaur who lived during the Upper Cretaceous (late Campanian) near the town of Porvenir de Jalpa (about 64 km / 40 miles west of Saltillo) in what is now southern Coahuila (formerly Coahuila de Zaragoza), northern Mexico.

The Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range runs northwest to southwest forming a spine through the centre of the State. East of the range, the arid landscape slopes gently through desert terrain down to the Rio Grande. It is home to wonderful common, rare and endangered cacti, beautiful (and one of my favourite) raptors, Aquila chrysaetos and the evolutionarily unlikely pronghorn, Antilocapra americana (if a monkey / owl / antelope had a baby...)

The world was a much wetter warmer place when these big beauties roamed. Picture them ambling through lush vegetation and rearing young next to freshwater rivers, brackish swamps and salty ancient seas. Many of the dinosaur remains from the area bear the marks or remains of fossilized snails and clams. Perhaps predation vs a symbiotic relationship as proximity isn't always intimacy. The Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna is known from holotype CPC 276, a partial skeleton of an adult along with bits and pieces of skull, a section of horn, pretty complete lower jaw, smidge of upper jaw and part of the frill.

Another specimen, CPS 277, has been touted as a possible juvenile Coahuilaceratops. All the specimens from Coahuilaceratops come from a single Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) locality of the Cerro del Pueblo Formation, northern Mexico.

This particular species of Coahuilaceratops was formally named C. magnacuerna by Mark A. Loewen, Scott D. Sampson, Eric K. Lund, Andrew A. Farke, Martha C. Aguillón-Martínez, C.A. de Leon, R.A. Rodríguez-de la Rosa, Michael A. Getty and David A. Eberth in 2010. Though the name was in circulation informally by those working in the study of ceratopsian dinosaurs as early as 2008.

Though challenged by examining and interpreting mere bits and pieces, the team posed estimates on the overall size of this new rather largish, 6.7 m / 22 ft, chasmosaurine. Coahuilaceratops' horns are also impressively large, estimated at 1.2 m / 4 feet. Rather long for a ceratopsian (consider that a Triceratops distinctive horn generally comes in under 115 cm / 45 inches and interesting in terms of evolutionary design. The holotypes are available for viewing at the Museo del Desierto en Saltillo, Coahuila. Photo credit: José F. Ventura

Monday, 6 May 2019

Saturday, 4 May 2019


This beautiful specimen is Protoaster Haefneri, a new species of edrioasteroid, an extinct lower Cambrian genus of echinoderm from the Kinzers Formation of York County, Pennsylvania.

The specimen was found by and named after Chris Haefner, and is set to be "unveiled" this September at a conference in Moscow, Russia.

He is one of only two specimens of this new lower Cambrian genus of echinoderm found in the 520 million years shales of the Kinzers. The specimens were collected during field work in 2017 and 2018 and form the basis of the research to be published this Fall by Dr. Samuel Zamora of Spain.

Protoaster Haefneri was a mobile bulbous creature (about the size of a smaller onion) with feeding tendrils extended from the sides.

This specimen (and one other) went into collections at the Natural History Museum of London in December 2018, as NHMUK PI EE 16659 and 16660.

Along with this new edrioasteroid, other Cambrian fauna were discovered, including delicate soft-bodied creatures we think of from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and trilobites matching species from the lesser known and slightly older, lower Cambrian Eager Formation, near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The locality is plentiful. Field work revealed two massive complete Anomalocarid (six and eight inches in length; one a new species); a new species of brown algae, over a hundred specimens of the cupcake-looking echinoderm, Camptostroma roddyi, upwards of four hundred Olenellus trilobites and forty complete Wannerias.

We'll definitely be seeing more photos and fauna from this productive 20-acre hilltop site. I'm rather hoping this flood of specimens will rekindle excitement into the naming of Wanneria, and perhaps someone taking up the mantle to continue the as yet unpublished work of Lisa Bohach.

Friday, 3 May 2019


This fellow is the graptolite, Isograptus cf. maximus, from the Piranha Formation, Middle Ordovician (Dapingian), Bolivia.

Graptolites (Graptolita) are colonial animals. The biological affinities of the graptolites have always been debatable. Originally regarded as being related to the hydrozoans, graptolites are now considered to be related to the pterobranchs, a rare group of modern marine animals.

The graptolites are now classed as hemichordates (phylum Hemichordata), a primitive group which probably shares a common ancestry with the vertebrates.

In life, many graptolites appear to have been planktonic, drifting freely on the surface of ancient seas or attached to floating seaweed by means of a slender thread. Some forms of graptolite lived attached to the sea-floor by a root-like base. Graptolite fossils are often found in shales and slates. The deceased planktonic graptolites would sink down to and settle on the sea floor, eventually becoming entombed in the sediment and are thus well preserved.

Graptolite fossils are found flattened along the bedding plane of the rocks in which they occur. They vary in shape, but are most commonly dendritic or branching (such as Dictoyonema), saw-blade like, or "tuning fork" shaped (such as Didymograptus murchisoni).

This fellow is pure "Bat Sign" with his showy "wings" looking like something out of a DC Comic. He's also received a nod as the Panem symbol in Hunger Games and been described as having eagle or angel wings. No matter how you interpret his symbolism, there is not doubt that he is ONE spectacular specimen and currently in the collection of the deeply awesome Gilberto Juárez Huarachi of Tarija, Bolivia.

Thursday, 2 May 2019


Cibelella Coronata collection of Alexei Molchanov
A spectacular specimen of the trilobite Cibelella Coronata from
upper Ordovician deposits along the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Coast, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Wednesday, 1 May 2019


This beautifully preserved Ichthyosaur paddle is from Early Jurassic (183 Million Years) deposits in the Ohmden, Posidonia Shale Formation, Baden-Württemberg, east of the Rhine, southwestern Germany.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019


This well-preserved partial ichthyosaur was found in the Blue Lias shales by Lewis Winchester-Ellis in 2018. An exciting find to be sure. The vertebrae you see are from the tail section of this marine reptile.

The find includes stomach contents which tell us a little about how this particular fellow liked to dine.

As with most of his brethren, he enjoyed fish and cephalopods. Lewis found fish bone and squid tentacle hooklets in his belly. Oh yes, these ancient cephies had grasping hooklets on their tentacles. I'm picturing them wiggling all ominously. The hooklets were the only hard parts of the animal preserved in this case as the softer parts of this ancient calamari were fully or partially digested before this ichthyosaur met his end.

Ichthyosaurus was an extinct marine reptile first described from fossil fragments found in 1699 in Wales. Shortly thereafter, fossil vertebrae were published in 1708 from the Lower Jurassic and the first member of the order Ichthyosauria to be discovered.

To give that a bit of historical significance, this was the age of James Stuart, Jacobite hopeful to the British throne. While scientific journals of the day were publishing the first vertebrae ichthyosaur finds, he was avoiding the French fleet in the Firth of Forth off Scotland. This wasn’t Bonnie Prince Charlie, this was his Dad. Yes, that far back. Charles wasn’t yet a gleam in his parents eye or thorn of the British annuls until many years later.

The first complete skeleton was discovered in the early 19th century by Mary Anning & her brother Joseph along the Dorset Jurassic Coast. Joseph had mistakenly, but quite reasonably, taken the find for an ancient crocodile. Mary excavated the specimen a year later and it was this and others that she found that would supply the research base others would soon publish on.

Mary's find was described by British surgeon, Sir Everard Home, an elected Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1814. The specimen is now on display at the Natural History Museum in London bearing the name Temnodontosaurus platyodon, or “cutting-tooth lizard.”

In 1821, William Conybeare and Henry De La Beche, a friend of Mary's, published a paper describing three new species of unknown marine reptiles based on the Anning's finds.

The Rev. William Buckland would go on to describe two small ichthyosaurs from the Lias of Lyme Regis, Ichthyosaurus communis and Ichthyosaurus intermedius, in 1837.

Remarkable, you'll recall that he was a theologian, geologist, palaeontologist AND Dean of Westminster. It was Buckland who published the first full account of a dinosaur in 1824, coining the name, "Megalosaurus."

The Age of Dinosaurs and Era of the Mighty Marine Reptile had begun.

Ichthyosaurs have been collected in the Blue Lias near Lyme Regis and the Black Ven Marls. More recently, specimens have been collected from the higher succession near Seatown. Paddy Howe, Lyme Regis Museum geologist, found a rather nice Ichthyosaurus breviceps skull a few years back. A landslip in 2008 unveiled some ribs poking out of the Church cliffs and a bit of digging revealed the ninth fossil skull ever found of a breviceps, with teeth and paddles to boot.

Specimens have since been found in Europe in Belgium, England, Germany, Switzerland and in Indonesia. Many tremendously well-preserved specimens come from the limestone quarries in Holzmaden, southern Germany.

Ichthyosaurs ranged from quite small, just a foot or two, to well over twenty-six metres in length and resembled both modern fish and dolphins.

Dean Lomax and Sven Sachs, both active (and delightful) vertebrate paleontologists, have described a colossal beast, Shonisaurus sikanniensis from the Upper Triassic (Norian) Pardonet Formation of northeastern British Columbia, Canada, measuring 3-3.5 meters in length. The specimen is now on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada. It was this discovery that tipped the balance in the vote, making it British Columbia's Official Fossil. Ichthyosaurs have been found at other sites in British Columbia, on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) but Shoni tipped the ballot.

The first specimens of Shonisaurus were found in the 1990s by Peter Langham at Doniford Bay on the Somerset coast of England.

Dr. Betsy Nicholls, Rolex Laureate Vertebrate Palaeontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, excavated the type specimen of Shonisaurus sikanniensis over three field sessions in one of the most ambitious fossil excavations ever ventured. Her efforts from 1999 through 2001, both in the field and lobbying back at home, paid off. Betsy published on this new species in 2004, the culmination of her life’s work and her last paper as we lost her to cancer in autumn of that year.

Charmingly, Betsy had a mail correspondence with Roy Chapman Andrews, former director of the American Museum of Natural History, going back to the late 1950's as she explored her potential career in palaeontology. Do you recall the AMNH’s sexy paleo photos of expeditions to the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia in China in the early 20th century? You’d remember if you’d seen them. Roy Chapman Andrews was the lead on that trip. His photos are what fueled the flames of my own interest in paleo.

We've found at least 37 specimens of Shonisaurus in Triassic outcrops of the Luning Formation in the Shoshone Mountains of Nevada, USA. The finds go back to the 1920's. The specimens that may it to publication were collected by M. Wheat and C. L. Camp in the 1950’s.  The aptly named Shonisaurus popularis became the Nevada State Fossil in 1984. Our Shoni got around. Isolated remains have been found in a section of sandstone in Belluno, in the Eastern Dolomites, Veneto region of northeastern Italy. The specimens were published by Vecchia et al. in 2002.

For a time, Shonisaurus was the largest ichthyosaurus known.

Move over, Shoni, as a new marine reptile find competes with the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) for size at a whopping twenty-six (26) metres.

The find is the prize of fossil collector turned co-author, Paul de la Salle, who (you guessed it) found it in the lower part of the intertidal area that outcrops strata from the latest Triassic Westbury Mudstone Formation of Lilstock on the Somerset coast. He contacted Dean Lomax and Judy Massare who became co-authors on the paper.

The find and conclusions from their paper put "dinosaur" bones from the historic Westbury Mudstone Formation of Aust Cliff, Gloucestershire, UK site into full reinterpretation.

And remember that ichthyosaur the good Reverend Buckland described back in 1837, the Ichthyosaurus communis? Dean Lomax was the first to describe a wee baby. A wee baby ichthyosaur! Awe. I know, right? He and paleontologist Nigel Larkin published this adorable first in the journal of Historical Biology in 2017.

They had teamed up previously on another first back in 2014 when they completed the reconstruction of an entire large marine reptile skull and mandible in 3-D, then graciously making it available to fellow researchers and the public. The skull and braincase in question were from an Early Jurassic, and relatively rare, Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis. The specimen had been unearthed in Warwickshire back in the 1950's. Unlike most ichthyosaur finds of this age it was not compressed and allowed the team to look at a 3-D specimen through the lens of computerised tomography (CT) scanning.

Another superb 3-D ichthyosaur skull was found near Lyme Regis by fossil hunter-turned-entrepreneur-local David Sole and prepped by the late David Costain. I'm rather hoping it went into a museum collection as it would be wonderful to see the specimen studied, imaged, scanned and 3-D printed for all to share. Here's hoping.

Lomax and Sven Sachs also published on an embryo from one of the largest ichthyosaurs known, a new species named Ichthyosaurus somersetensis. Their paper in the ACTA Palaeontologica Polonica from 2017, describes the third embryo known for Ichthyosaurus and the first to be positively identified to species level. The specimen was the collected from the Lower Jurassic strata (lower Hettangian, Blue Lias Formation) of Doniford Bay, Somerset, UK and is housed in the collection of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum (Lower Saxony State Museum) in Hannover, Germany.

We've learned a lot about them in the time we've been studying them. We now have thousands of specimens, some whole, some as bits and pieces. Many specimens that have been collected are only just now being studied and the tools we are using to study them are getting better and better.

While they resembled fish and dolphins, Ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles belonging to the order known as Ichthyosauria or Ichthyopterygia. In 2018, Benjamin Kear and his team were able to study ichthyosaur remains at the molecular level, Their findings suggest ichthyosaurs had skin and blubber quite similar to our modern dolphins.

While ichthyosaurs evolved from land-dwelling, lung-breathing reptiles, they returned to our ancient seas and evolved into the fish-shaped creatures we find in the fossil record today.

Their limbs fully transformed into flippers, sometimes containing a very large number of digits and phalanges. Their flippers tell us they were entirely aquatic as they were not well-designed for use on land. And it was their flippers that first gave us the clue that they gave birth to live young; a find later confirmed by fossil embryo and wee baby ichy finds.

They thrived during much of the Mesozoic era; based on fossil evidence, they first appeared around 250 million years ago (Ma) and at least one species survived until about 90 million years ago into the Late Cretaceous.

During the early Triassic period, ichthyosaurs evolved from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea. They were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods before being replaced as premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest benthos layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles.

Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

There are promising discoveries coming out of strata from the Cretaceous epeiric seas of Texas, USA from Nathan E. Van Vranken

His published paper from 2017, "An overview of ichthyosaurian remains from the Cretaceous of Texas, USA," looks at ichthyosaurian taxa from the mid-Cretaceous (Albian–Cenomanian) time interval in North America with an eye to ichthyosaurian distribution and demise.

The find and photos are all credited to Lewis Winchester-Ellis. Thank you for sharing your tremendous specimen with us. Lewis did much of the preparation of the specimen, removing the majority of the matrix. The spectacular final prep is credited to Lizzie Hingley, Stonebarrow Fossils, Oxfordshire. Her skill with an air scribe is unparalleled.

Link to Lomax Paper:…

Link to Nathan's Paper:…/10.1080/03115518.2018.1523462…

Nicholls Paper: E. L. Nicholls and M. Manabe. 2004. Giant ichthyosaurs of the Triassic - a new species of Shonisaurus from the Pardonet Formation (Norian: Late Triassic) of British Columbia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24(4):838-849 [M. Carrano/H. Street]

Monday, 29 April 2019


A lovely fossil Snout Weevil, family Curculionidae, from the Green River Formation of Western Colorado, USA.

This fellow is from the collection of the deeply awesome Jim Barkley. He gets credit for the lovely photography, too, which shows the exquisite detail on this specimen.

Fossil weevil specimens can be found in the Eocene Green River Formation that outcrops in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. The Formation is famous for its diverse faunal and floral assemblage of fossils and its fish in particular.

The site boasts beautifully preserved fossil stromatolites, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Specimens include reptiles, a broad selection of mammals and, surprise, even primates!

Weevils are herbivorous beetles. They're what your Mamma would call, "good little eaters." And there are plenty of them. The Curculionidae are the family of the "true" weevils and are one of the largest animal families. We likely still haven't met them all. A family reunion would include 6,800 genera and 83,000 species at last count. But don't place your final catering order just yet. If we include all the closely related weevil-type beetles in the superfamily Curculionoidea, we'd have to include an additional ten families. Quadruple that catering menu.

Weevils look like little tiny anteaters with a long 'snout' or rustrum, at the front of their head. Some of the members of this family have rather poor reputations as they make a living by damaging plants of interest to us humans.

Topping the hugely unpopular list is the boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis, a native of Mexico (until it's US invasion in 1892) and famous destroyer of cotton crops.

The Ips genus, feeding on Ponderosa pine, introduces a fungus to the tree. The fungus blocks resin canals, which leaves the weevil free to eat. Resin would normally wash the insects out; it is a defence mechanism. The fungus often kills the tree, and groups of dead trees are a focus for forest fires. In this way the insect is indirectly responsible for serious fires. The maize weevil, Sitophilus zeamais, is a major pest. It attacks both standing crops and stored cereal products, including wheat, rice, sorghum, oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, peas, and cottonseed.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Friday, 26 April 2019


This braw fellow is Ceratiocaris papilio (Salter in Murchison, 1859) a pod Shrimp from the Silurian mudstones of the Kip Burn Formation in the Midland Valley of Scotland.

He would have been swimming in rising seas filled with crinoids, coral reefs, brachiopods, trilobites and new and exotic fish sporting jaws for the first time.

Ceratiocaris is a genus of extinct paleozoic phyllocarid crustacean whose fossils are found in marine strata from the Upper Ordovician through to the Silurian.

They are typified by eight short thoracic segments, seven longer abdominal somites and an elongated pretelson somite. Their carapace is slightly oval shaped; they have many ridges parallel to the ventral margin and possess a horn at the anterior end.

This tidy specimen is from the Silurian mudstones that characterise the Kip Burn Formation with it's dark laminated silty bands. The lower part of the Kip Burn houses the highly fossiliferous ‘Ceratiocaris beds’, that yield the arthropods Ceratiocaris, Dictyocaris, Pterygotus, Slimonia and the fish Birkenia and Thelodus.

The upper part of the formation, the ‘Pterygotus beds’, contain abundant eurypterid fauna together with the brachiopods Lingula and Ceratiocaris. The faunas in the Kip Burn Formation reflect the start of the transition from marine to quasi- or non-marine conditions in the group.

Ceratiocaris are also well known from the Silurian Eramosa Formation of Ontario, Canada (which also has rather nice eurypterids).

Photo credit / collection of: York Yuxi Wang and Tianyi Zhang

Joseph H. Collette; David M. Rudkin (2010). "Phyllocarid crustaceans from the Silurian Eramosa Lagerstätte (Ontario, Canada): taxonomy and functional morphology". Journal of Paleontology. 84 (1): 118–127. doi:10.1666/08-174.1.

M. Copeland; T. E. Bolton (1985). Fossils of Ontario part 3: the eurypterids and phyllocarids. Volume 48 of Life Sciences Miscellaneous Publications. Royal Ontario Museum. ISBN 0-88854-314-X.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Sunday, 21 April 2019


An amazing mummified tilefish, Branchiostegus japonicus (Houttuyn, 1782) from Holocene deposits near Shizuoka, Japan. This specimen shows remarkable detail right down to the scales. Quite spectacular, truly. Modern cousins of this fellow live as far south as the Arafura Sea today. Collection and photos from the deeply awesome Takashi Ito. サンさん、ありがとうございました

Sunday, 14 April 2019


This lovely specimen is Zeacrinites magnoliaeformis, an Upper Mississippian-Chesterian crinoid found by Keith Metts in the Glen Dean Formation, Grayson County, Kentucky, USA.

Crinoids are unusually beautiful and graceful members of the phylum Echinodermata. They resemble an underwater flower swaying in an ocean current breeze but make no mistake, they are marine animals. Picture a flower with mouth on the top surface that is surrounded by feeding arms. Awkwardly, add an anus right beside that mouth. That's him!

Crinoids with root-like anchors are called Sea Lilies. They have graceful stalks that grip the ocean floor. Those in deeper water have longish stalks up to 3.3 ft or a meter in length.

Then there are other varieties with that are free-swimming with only vestigial stalks. They make up the majority of this group and are commonly known as feather stars or comatulids.

Unlike the sea lilies the feather stars can move about on tiny hook like structures called cirri. It is this same cirri that allows crinoids to latch to surfaces on the sea floor.

Like other echinoderms, crinoids have pentaradial symmetry. The aboral surface of the body is studded with plates of calcium carbonate, forming an endoskeleton similar to that in starfish and sea urchins.

These make the calyx somewhat cup-shaped, and there are few, if any, ossicles in the oral (upper) surface called a tegmen. It is divided into five ambulacral areas, including a deep groove from which the tube feet project, and five interambulacral areas between them. The anus, unusually for echinoderms, is found on the same surface as the mouth, at the edge of the tegmen.

Crinoids are alive and well today. They are also some of the oldest fossils on the planet. We have lovely fossil specimens dating back to the Ordovician.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Tuesday, 9 April 2019


This lovely big fella is Isotelus rex from Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. He was found along the Hudson Bay and is the largest complete trilobite ever found. Isotelus is a genus of asaphid trilobites, an extinct group of arthropods, from the middle and upper Ordovician

Discovered by a paleo dream team, including the deeply awesome, Dave Rudkin, assistant curator of paleobiology at the Royal Ontario Museum, along with Robert Elias (Project Lead), University of Manitoba, Graham Young (Project Lead), associate curator of geology at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature (and adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba) and Edward Dobrzanski, Manitoba Museum during a long-term field project in 1998-1999.

The specimen measures in at a whopping 28 inches in length and is 70 percent larger than the previous record holder and warranted a new species name. The image here shows one of several replicas (casts), not the actual holotype specimen which is on exhibit at the Manitoba Museum.

There is a second complete specimen (430 mm in length) of Isotelus rex in the collections of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC 85292 - a designated paratype). As with many such projects, financial contributions make field work and research possible. A nod to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the University of Manitoba, the Manitoba Museum Foundation nd the Royal Ontario Museum Foundation.

Kudos as well to field crew, David Wright, Curtis Moffat and Janis Klapecki. You arrived four hundred and forty-five million years too late for sunscreen and tropical weather.

In the prophetic words of Eddard Stark, "Winter is Coming." And so it did to the Canadian prairies. Thank you to everyone involved for enduring the frozen cold, wind, rains and hail of northern Manitoba. For those who haven't had the pleasure, dear Manitoba gets blasted by cold Arctic high-pressure that drops it to a frigid -47.2 Celsius. That's a sweet, sweet -52 with wind chill.

Paper: Rudkin, D.A.; Young, G.A.; Elias, R.J.; Dobrzanski, E.P. (2003). "The World's biggest Trilobite: Isotelus rex new species from the Upper Ordovician of northern Manitoba, Canada". Palaeontology. 70 (1): 99–112. doi:10.1666/0022-3360(2003)077<0099:twbtir>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0022-3360.

Photo credit: Mike Beauregard from Nunavut, Canada. Cast of Isotelus rex. Churchill Manitoba. 2 foot long replica housed at the University of Manitoba. Original specimen is in the Manitoba Museum. The original specimen was recovered the intertidal zone of Hudson Bay.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Thursday, 4 April 2019


Horseshoe crabs are classic living fossils. These marine and brackish water arthropods of the order Xiphosura are slowly evolving, conservative taxa.

Much like (slow) Water Striders (Aquarius remigis), (pretty slow) Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) and (the current winner on freakishly slow evolution) Elephant Sharks (Callorhinchus milii), these fellows have a long history in the fossil record with very few anatomical changes.

But slow change provide loads of great information. It makes our new friend, Yunnanolimulus luoingensis, an especially interesting and excellent reference point for how this group evolved.

We can examine their genome today and make comparisons all the way back to the Middle Triassic (with this new find) and other specimens from further back in the Ordovician.

The evolution of their exoskeleton is well-documented by fossils, but appendage and soft-tissue preservation is extremely rare.

This new study analyzes details of appendage and soft-tissue preservation in Yunnanolimulus luopingensis, a Middle Triassic (ca. 244 million years old) horseshoe crab from Yunnan Province, SW China.

The remarkable preservation of anatomical details including the chelicerae, five pairs of walking appendages, opisthosomal appendages with book gills, muscles, and fine setae permits comparison with extant horseshoe crabs.

The close anatomical similarity between the Middle Triassic horseshoe crabs and their recent analogues documents anatomical conservatism for over 240 million years, suggesting persistence of lifestyle.

The occurrence of Carcinoscorpius-type claspers on the first and second walking legs in male individuals of Y. luopingensis indicates that simple chelate claspers in males are plesiomorphic for horseshoe crabs, and the bulbous claspers in Tachypleus and Limulus are derived.

As an aside, if you hadn't seen an elephant shark before and were shown a photo, you'd likely say, "that's no freaking shark." You'd be wrong, of course, but it would be a very clever observation. Callorhinchus millii look nothing like our Great White friends and are not true sharks at all. Rather, they are ghostsharks that belong to the subclass Holocephali (chimaera), a group known as ratfish. They diverged from the shark lineage about 400 million years ago.

Google "Callorhinchus millii. The odd looking fellow with the ironic name, "kallos" means beautiful in Greek, sports black blotches on a pale silver elongate body. And their special feature? It's the fishy equivalent of "business in the front, party in the back," with a dangling trunk-like projection at the tip of their snout and well-developed rectal glands near the tail.

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5,

Ref: Hu, Shixue & Zhang, Qiyue & Feldmann, Rodney & Benton, Michael & Schweitzer, Carrie & Huang, Jinyuan & Wen, Wen & Zhou, Changyong & Xie, Tao & Lü, Tao & Hong, Shuigen. (2017). Exceptional appendage and soft-tissue preservation in a Middle Triassic horseshoe crab from SW China. Scientific Reports. 7. 10.1038/s41598-017-13319-x.

Monday, 1 April 2019


In Sauropterygia, a diverse group of Mesozoic marine reptiles, fossil evidence of viviparity (live‐bearing) only exists for Pachypleurosauria and Plesiosauria, and was assumed to also be the case for nothosaurs.

Previous studies have successfully applied an extant squamate model to sauropterygian life‐history traits. In extant squamates, oviparity and viviparity are associated with differences in life‐history trait combinations.

A paper released in March 2019, in the journal Palaeontology, sheds light on this view. Griebeler et al. have establish growth curves for Nothosaurus specimens based on their humeral histology.

They analyzed life‐history traits derived from these curves and compared inferred traits to those of modern squamates and pachypleurosaurs to assess their reproduction mode.

Their data shows birth to adult size ratios (i.e. birth size divided by the mother's size) provides a good estimate of clutch sizes in extant squamates and in viviparous extinct marine reptiles, but these ratios cannot discriminate viviparous and oviparous squamates.

Thus, large ratios do not indicate viviparity in fossil taxa to which the extant squamate model is applicable.

Applying differences in birth size, age at maturation, and maximum longevity that are observed between extant viviparous and oviparous squamates to our Nothosaurus sample, they identified 7 out of 24 specimens as being potentially viviparous.

Conversely, they suggested oviparity for many nothosaurs but also for many pachypleurosaur samples.

Under the assumption that the entire clade Pachypleurosauria was viviparous, the majority of nothosaurs would also have been viviparous as they comprised trait combinations similar to those seen in pachypleurosaurs.

Overall, this suggests that within nothosaurs and pachypleurosaurs both reproduction modes existed in different taxa.

Sunday, 24 March 2019


This lovely specimen is an armored agnatha jawless bony fish, Victoraspis longicornualis, from Lower Devonian deposits of Podolia, Ukraine.

Victoraspis longicornualis was named by Anders Carlsson and Henning Bloom back in 2008. The new osteostracan genus and species was described based on material from Rakovets' present day Ukraine. This new taxa shares characteristics with the two genera Stensiopelta (Denison, 1951) and Zychaspis (Javier, 1985).

The Agnatha are a superclass of vertebrates. He looks quite different to our modern Agnatha, who include lamprey and hagfish. Ironically, hagfish are vertebrates who do not have vertebrae. Sometime in their evolution they lost them as they adapted to their environment.

Ref: Carlsson, A. & Blom, H. Paläont. Z. (2008) 82: 314.; Photo credit: Fossilero Fisherman

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Wednesday, 20 March 2019


Salmon have permeated First Nations mythology and have been prized as an important food source for thousands of years. 

For the Salish people of the Interior of British Columbia, Canada, salmon was the most important of the local fishing stock and salmon fishing season was a significant social event which warranted the nomination of a “Salmon Chief” who directed the construction of the hooks, weirs and traps and the distribution of the catch.

In the Interior of the province, archaeological evidence dates the use of salmon as a food source back 3,500 years. Sheri Burton and Catherine Carlson were able to isolate and amplify mitochondrial DNA from salmon remains from archaeological sites near Kamloops, and identified the species as Oncorhynchus nerka, or Sockeye salmon. No older salmon remains had been found in the Kamloops area until the 1970’s, when fossil salmon concretions were collected on the south shore of Kamloops Lake.

These concretions were originally dated as Miocene (24 – 5.5 million years old) by the Geological Survey of Canada, based on analysis of pollen grains found in the concretions. However, many local experts, including UBC geology professor W.R. Danner and the late geologists W.H. Mathews and Richard Hughes, suspected the remains were from the much more recent, Late Pleistocene epoch.

It was not until the early 1990s that Catherine Carlson and Ken Klein found definitive proof of this.

By good luck, the fish remains in the Kamloops Lake concretions had not been completely replaced by minerals – enough of the original organic bone collagen remained for radiocarbon dating. The corrected date is approximately 18,000 years. It is likely that erosion during the time of deposition had carried pollen down from Miocene layers in surrounding hills, to be deposited around the dead fish, causing the initial over-estimation of the age of the concretions.

This lovely specimen is Oncorhynchus nerka, a Late Pleistocene Fossil Sockeye Salmon, from the fine-grained, silty clays on the south shore of Kamloops Lake, British Columbia, Canada. The site was originally collected in the 1970's by the late geologist and paleontologist Richard Hughes. I was introduced to the site much later after it's redescovery by Catherine Carlson and Kenneth Klein in the fall of 1991 with the help of local and gracious host, Bill Huxley.

They later wrote up and published a chapter in Rolf Ludvigsen's "Life in Stone: A Natural History of British Columbia's Fossils." It was Huxley who shared it's location with John Leahy, a local Kamloops resident and avid fossil hunter, and him with me. 

This specimen was collected by him in the 1990's, his tenth partial salmon from this site, and the sole one in my collection.

An age of 18,000 plus years – sets the fossils firmly as the only salmonids of the Late Pleistocene in North America, a very significant find. The date also changed our ideas about the early climate of the Interior; the Thompson Valley could not have been covered by glacial ice for as long as originally thought. Indeed, it makes the Interior ice-free only 2,000 years after the Last Glacial Maximum and some 4,000 years before our western continental coastline and the Rocky Mountain Foothills.  

It has long been accepted that the most recent series of ice ages began approximately 1.6 million years ago, beginning as ice accumulations at higher altitudes with the gradual cooling of the climate. Four times the ice advanced and receded, most recently melting away somewhere around 10,000 years ago. Ice retreated from southwestern British Columbia and the Puget Sound area around 15,000 years ago. 

In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia. Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice free and the climate warm and hospitable. 

Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually began its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Eighteen thousand year-old salmon also challenge the archaeological notion that aboriginal people of the Interior have had access to salmon as a significant protein source for only a few thousand years. In the popular view, people living in the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys were felt to have moved to settlements that were semi-permanent about 4500 years ago. 

By that time they would have had a seasonally regulated diet composed primarily of salmon and supplemented by local game - deer, elk, small mammals – and available shellfish, birds and plant foods. If salmon were present much earlier, it is possible that this pattern of food utilization may have arisen earlier than thought.

Richard Hughes had originally identified the fossilized Kamloops salmon as Oncorhynchus nerka or Sockeye salmon, the same species found in the 3,500 year old archaeological sites. But, using the carbon-13 isotope ratio, Klein and Carlson were able to determine that these salmon did not feed on protein from a marine source and relied solely on a freshwater diet. 

In other words, they could not have spent part of their life in the ocean, as modern Sockeye salmon do. Based on the specimens’ smaller heads and stunted bodies, the longest measuring in at a pint-sized 11.5 cm, Klein and Carlson feel that the fossils are likely Kokanee, a modern landlocked variety of Sockeye.

Monday, 4 March 2019


Fergusonites hendersonae (Longridge, 2008)
Meet Fergusonites hendersonae, a Late Hettangian (Early Jurassic) ammonite from the Taseko Lakes area of British Columbia, Canadian Rockies.

I had the very great honour of having this fellow, a new species of nektonic carnivorous ammonite, named after me by paleontologist Louse Longridge from the University of British Columbia. I'd met Louise as an undergrad and was pleased as punch to hear that she would be continuing the research by Dr. Howard Tipper.

We did several trips over the years up to the Taseko Lake area of the Rockies joined by many wonderful folk. We endured elevation sickness, rain, snow, grizzly bears and very chilly nights (we were sleeping right next to a glacier at one point) but were rewarded by enthusiastic crew, helicopter rides (which really cut down the hiking time) excellent specimens and stunningly beautiful country. We were also blessed with excellent timing as the area is now closed to collecting.

Reference: PaleoDB 157367 M. Clapham GSC C-208992, Section A 09, Castle Pass Angulata - Jurassic 1 - Canada, Longridge et al. (2008)

Full reference: L. M. Longridge, P. L. Smith, and H. W. Tipper. 2008. Late Hettangian (Early Jurassic) ammonites from Taseko Lakes, British Columbia, Canada. Palaeontology 51:367-404

PaleoDB taxon number: 297415; Cephalopoda - Ammonoidea - Juraphyllitidae; Fergusonites hendersonae Longridge et al. 2008 (ammonite); Average measurements (in mm): shell width 9.88, shell diameter 28.2; Age range: 201.6 to 196.5 Ma. Locality info: British Columbia, Canada (51.1° N, 123.0° W: paleocoordinates 22.1° N, 66.1° W)

Friday, 1 March 2019

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Sunday, 3 February 2019


Audaces fortuna iuvat
Ursus curious! A young Black Bear (Ursus americanus) cub checks out a frisky, startled Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) both native species in southern British Columbia. Generally, the aroma from a skunk is enough of a deterrent to keep curiosity at bay. Not in this case.

Bear cubs are known for being playful and all together too curious. They usually stick pretty close to Mamma but sometimes an intriguing opportunity for discovery will cross their path and entice them to slip away just for a few minutes to check it out.

The karma gods were good to this wee one. Nobody was skunked in this quest for exploration, though not for lack of trying.

Sunday, 20 January 2019


This stunning specimen with her regal ridges (and small anomaly) is an Apoderoceras ammonite. Apoderoceras are an extinct genus of cephalopod, an active predatory mollusk belonging to the subclass Ammonoidea.

Apoderoceras is, in fact, a wonderful example of sexual dimorphism within ammonites as the macroconch (putative female) shell grew to diameters in excess of 40 cm – many times larger than the diameters of the microconch (putative male) shell. Apoderoceras has been found in the Lower Jurassic of Argentina, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and most of North-West and central Europe, including as this one is, the United Kingdom. She was found on the beaches of Charmouth in West Dorset, then prepped expertly by the lovely and talented Lizzie Hingley. 

Neither Apoderoceras nor Bifericeras donovani are strictly index fossils for the Taylori sibzone, the index being Phricodoceras taylori. Note that Bifericeras is typical of the earlier Oxynotum Zone, and ‘Bifericeras’ donovani is doubtfully attributable to the genus.

The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) has assigned the First Appearance Datum of genus Apoderocerasas and of Bifericeras donovani the defining biological marker for the start of the Pliensbachian Stage of the Jurassic, 190.8 ± 1.0 million years ago.  As the brilliant Murray Edmunds points out, this lovely large specimen (macroconch) of Apoderoceras is likely a female. Her larger body perfected for egg production.

Apoderoceras (Family Coeloceratidae) appears ‘out of nowhere’ in the basal Pliensbachian and dominates the ammonite faunas of NW Europe. It is superficially similar to the earlier Eteoderoceras (Family Eoderoceratidae, of the Raricostatum Zone), but on close inspection can be seen to be quite different.  It is therefore an ‘invader’ and its ancestry is cryptic.

The Pacific ammonite Andicoeloceras, known from Chile, appears quite closely related and may be ancestral, but the time correlation of Pacific and NW European ammonite faunas is challenging. Even if Andicoeloceras is ancestral to Apoderoceras, no other preceding ammonites attributable to Coeloceratidae are known. (Maybe there are clues in the Lias of Canada?) Apoderoceras remains present in NW Europe throughout the Taylori Subzone, showing endemic evolution.

It becomes progressively more inflated during this interval of time, the adult ribs more distant, and there is evidence that the diameter of the macroconch evolved to become larger. At the end of the Taylori Subzone, Apoderoceras disappeared as suddenly as it appeared in the region, and ammonite faunas of the remaining Jamesoni Zone are dominated by the Platypleuroceras–Uptonia lineage, generally assigned (but erroneously, IMO!) to the Family Polymorphitidae.

In the NW European Taylori Subzone, Apoderoceras is accompanied (as well as by the Eoderoceratid, B. donovani, which is only documented from the Yorkshire coast, although I know of examples from Northern Ireland) by the oxycones Radstockiceras (quite common) and Oxynoticeras (very rare), the late Schlotheimid, Phricoderoceras (uncommon: note P. taylori is a microconch, and P. lamellosum the macroconch), and the Eoderoceratid, Tetraspidoceras (very rare).

Thank you to Murray Edmunds for his advice, guidance and corrections as we explore Apoderoceras and the ammonite faunas of the Pacific and NW Europe. You are deeply awesome, my friend!
Check out Murray’s Research Gate site for more interesting tidbits!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Thursday, 10 January 2019


This fellow is Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, a rather glorious fuxinhuiid arthropod. While he looks like he could be from the inside of the Lascaux Caves and their fire-kissed Palaeolithic paintings, albeit by a very ancient Picasso, he was found at a Cambian fossil site in southern China.

As his name indicates, he is from a fossil site in the Yunnan region near Kunming. He is unusual in many ways, both because of the remarkable level of preservation and the position in which he was found. This fellow was a bit of a tippy arthropod. His carapace had flipped over before fossilisation, allowing researchers to to examine this fuxianhuiid's head and legs in great detail without a carapace in the way.

The roughly 518-million-year-old site contains a dizzying abundance of beautifully preserved weird and wonderful life-forms, from jellyfish and comb jellies to arthropods and algae and is about 10 million years older than the Burgess Shale. Photo credit: Yie Jang (Yunnan University)

Tuesday, 8 January 2019


If you were a fish living in the warm turquoise waters off the coast of Bonaire, you may not hear those words, but you'd see the shrimp sign language equivalent. It seems Periclimenes yucatanicus or Spotted Cleaner Shrimp is doing a booming business in the local reefs by setting up a fish washing service.

That's right, a Fish Wash. You'd be hard pressed to find a terrestrial Molly Maid with two opposable thumbs as studious and hardworking as this wee marine beauty.

This quiet marine mogul is turning out to be one of the ocean's top entrepreneurs. Keeping its host and diet clean and green, the spotted shrimp hooks up with the locals, in this case, local sea anemones and sets up a fish wash. Picture a car wash but without the noise and teenage boys. The signage posted is the shrimps' natural coloring which attracts fish from around the reefs.

Wash on, wash off.

Once within reach, the shrimp cleans the surface of the fish, giving the fish a buff and the shrimp its daily feed.

Monday, 7 January 2019


Lovely defined sutures on this rather involute, high-whorled hoplitid ammonite from the middle part of the Lower Albian in the Mahajanga Province, northwestern Madagascar.

While this large island off the southeast coast of Africa is known more for exotic lemurs, rainforests & beaches, it also boasts some of the world's loveliest fossils.

This specimen is from a quarry near the top of an escarpment, 3 km to the west of the village of Ambatolafia (coordinates: Lat. 16.330 23.600 S, Long. 46.120 10.20 E).

Judging from plate tectonic reconstruction (Stampfli & Borel, 2002), the area was located in middle latitudes within the tropical-subtropical climatic zone at palaeo-latitudes of 40E45.S in the late Early Cretaceous of the early Albian.

This specimen of Phylloceras velledae (Michelin) has a shell with a small umbilicus, arched, acute venter, and at some growth stage, falcoid ribs that spring in pairs from umbilical tubercles, disappearing on the outer whorls.

Saturday, 5 January 2019


This lovely ammonite is Holcophylloceras mediterraneum (Neumayr 1871) from Late Jurassic (Oxfordian) deposits near Sokoja, Madagasgar.

Amazing suturing on this lovely ammonite and great detail, allowing us to see how he grew, adding to his size, chamber by chamber, building out his spiral shape.

Ammonite shells had many chambers divided by walls called septa. Nautiloids had simple septa with a single arc whereas ammonites developed septa with intricate folds, lobes and saddles. They also developed delicate feather-like or fern-like lacey patterns, called sutures, on the outer shell. You sometimes see them on polished or water worn specimens and in the photos of this fellow below.

The chambers were connected by a tube called a siphuncle which allowed for the control of buoyancy with the hollow inner chambers of the shell acting as air tanks to help them float. A bit like internal water wings you might use to learn how to swim as a kid.

We can see the edges of this specimen's shell where it would have continued out to the last chamber, the body-chamber, where the ammonite lived. Picture a squid or octopus, now add a shell. That's him!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019



Out in the woods and wondering what the temperature is? Slip down to the nearest stand of deciduous trees to search for the wee Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus Fultoni, part of the order Orthoptera.
Snowy Tree Crickets and their cousins double as thermometers and wee garden predators, dining on aphids and other wee beasties.

Weather conditions, both hot and cold, affect the speed at which they rub the base of their wings together and consequently regulate their rate of chirping. Listen for their tell-tale high pitch triple chirp sound in the early evening. Being in Canada, our crickets chirp in Celsius. Simply count the number of chirps over a seven second period and add five to learn your local temperature.

If didn't bring your calculator with you into the woods and you're still operating in old-skool Fahrenheit, ie. those in the United States, the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands and Liberia can use this handy conversion. Double the temperature in Celsius, add 32 you'll get the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019