Monday, 24 April 2017

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Monday, 10 April 2017

TECTONIC SHIFTING: BAJA BC

Some 270 million plus years ago, had one wanted to buy waterfront property in what is now British Columbia, you’d be looking somewhere near Kakwa Provincial Park between Prince George and the Alberta border. 

The rest of the province had yet to arrive but would be made up of over twenty major terranes from around the Pacific. 

The rocks that would eventually become the Cariboo Mountains were far out in the Pacific Ocean, down near the equator.

With tectonic shifting, these rocks drifted north-eastward, riding their continental plate, until they collided with and joined the Cordillera in what is now British Columbia. Continued pressure and volcanic activity helped create the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today with repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carving their final shape.

Friday, 7 April 2017

FARALLON PLATE

The Farallon Plate took a turn north some 57 million years ago, sweeping much of western coastal Oregon along with it. 

By the middle Oligocene, the Cascadia Subduction Zone was in full force with growing pressure erupting volcanoes along the Western Cascades, a pattern that was to continue well into the Miocene. 

The soft ocean sediments of Oregon contain beautifully preserved gastropods, bivalves and cephalopods.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Sunday, 26 March 2017

EXPLORE YOUR CANADA | CANADA 150

HMS Oriole, Salt Spring Island

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Friday, 24 March 2017

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Friday, 10 March 2017

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

ICE AGE PROBOSCIDEANS




















This disarticulated fellow is Mammutus primigenius from the Pleistocene of Siberia, Russia. He's now housed in the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain in a display that shows thoughtful comparisons between the proboscideans. They have a wonderful display of mammoth teeth, the diagnostic flat enamel plates and the equally distinct pointy cusped molars of the mastodons.

He was a true elephant, unlike his less robust cousins, the mastodons. Mammoths were bigger (both in girth and height), weighing in at a max of 13 tonnes. They roamed widely in the Pliocene to Holocene, covering much of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.

We see them first some 150,000 years ago from remains in Russia. They enjoyed a very long lifespan of 60-80 (up to 20 years longer than a mastodon and longer than modern elephants) and quite surprisingly, at least to me, the last mammoth died just 3,700 years ago in the icy frost of a small Alaskan island. 

Not all had the shaggy coat of long hair we picture them with. But all of these behemoth proboscideans boasted long, curved tusks, big ears, short tails and grazed on leaves, shrubs and grasses.

So why the tusks? Likely for displays of strength, protecting their delicate trunks, digging up ground vegetation and in dry riverbeds, digging holes to get at the precious life-giving water. It's a genius design, really. A bit like having a plough on the front of your skull.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

PADDLERS PARADISE


BIRTHPLACE OF ANTAEUS

Quintus Sertorius, a Roman statesman come general, grew up in Umbria, the green heart of what is now central Italy.

Born into a world at war just two years before the Romans sacked Corinth to bring Greece under Roman rule, Quintus lived much of his life as a military man far from the hills, mountains and valleys of his birthplace.

Around 81 BC, he travelled to Morocco, the land of opium, massive trilobites and the birthplace of Antaeus, the legendary North African ogre who was killed by the Greek hero Heracles.

The locals tell a tale that Quintus requested proof of Antaeus, hard evidence he could bring back to Rome to support their tales so they took him to a mound at Tingis, Morocco, where they unearthed the bones of a Neogene elephant, Tetralophodon.

During the Miocene and Pliocene, 12-1.6 million years ago, this diverse group of extinct proboscideans, elephant-like animals walked the Earth.

Most of these large beasts had four tusks and likely a trunk similar to modern elephants. They were creatures of legend, inspiring myths and stories of fanciful creatures to the first humans to encounter them.

Tetralophodon bones are large and skeletons singularly impressive. Impressive enough to be taken for something else entirely. By all accounts these proboscidean remains were that of the mythical ogre Antaeus and were thus reported back to Rome as such. It was hundreds of years before their true heritage was known.

I was lucky enough to travel to Morocco a few years ago and see the Tetralophodon remains. At the time, the tales of Antaeus ran through my head. Could this be the proof that Quintus wanted. As it happens, it was.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Friday, 3 March 2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

Sunday, 12 February 2017

SCAPHOPODA: TUSK SHELLS

The Oligocene Lincoln Creek Formation has produced several dozen different species of infaunal molluscs, burrowing worms and is well-known for crabs.

This specimen is from the massive, tuffaceous siltstone and sandstone that runs through the town of Porter on the east side of the road.

The fossil-rich bedding planes are well-exposed with concretionary beds throughout.

Collecting was possible in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s but may be forbidden (or heavily discouraged today) as the site is on a busy roadway. I made multiple trips to Porter back in the day with folk from Vancouver and Washington State. The primary focus in the early 2000’s were the crabs. They were just in the early stages of being written-up and much excitement surrounded them.

But to each his own -- as it happens, this wee tusk shell is one of my favourite fossils from the site as my trips to Porter were focused mainly on the molluscs.

Tusk shells, are members of a class of shelled marine mollusc with a global distribution. Shells of species within this class range from about 0.5 to 15 cm in length. This fellow is 8 cm end to end, so near smack dab in the centre of his cohort.

The Scaphopoda get their nickname "tusk shells" because their shells are conical and slightly curved to the dorsal side, making the shells look like tiny tusks (picture a walrus or mammoth tusk in your mind’s eye). The scientific name Scaphopoda means "shovel foot," a term that refers to the "head" of the animal, which lacks eyes and is used for burrowing in marine sediments.

The most distinctive feature of scaphopods, however, and one that differentiates them from most molluscs, is the duo openings on their tubular shells. Most molluscs are open at just one end.

We could call scaphopods the great deniers. They live their adult lives with their heads literally buried in the sand. A tiny bit of their posterior end sticks up into the seawater for water exchange. Water is circulated around the mantle cavity by the action of numerous cilia.

When the available dissolved oxygen runs low for this fellow he ejects water from the yop end of his shell by contraction of his "foot."

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

EXPLORING WRANGELLIA

Douvelliceras spiniferum, Cretaceous Haida Formation
Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands lay at the western edge of the continental shelf due west of the central coast of British Columbia.

They form Wrangellia, an exotic tectonostratiphic terrane that includes Vancouver Island, parts western British Columbia and Alaska.

The Geological Survey of Canada sponsored many expeditions to these remote islands and has produced numerous reference papers on this magnificent terrain, exploring both the geology and paleontology of the area.

Joseph Whiteaves, the GSC 's chief palaeontologist in Ottawa, published a paper in 1876 describing the Jurassic and Cretaceous faunas of Skidegate Inlet, furthering his reputation globally as both a geologist, paleontologist as well as a critical thinker in the area of science.

The praise was well-earned and foreshadowed his significant contributions to come. Sixteen years later, he wrote up and published his observations on a strange Mount Stephen fossil that resembled a kind of headless shrimp with poorly preserved appendages. Because of the unusual pointed shape of the supposed ventral appendages and the position of the spines near the posterior of the animal, Whiteaves named it Anomalocaris canadensis. The genus name "Anomalocaris" meant "unlike other shrimps" and the species name "canadensis" referred to the country of origin.

Whiteaves work on the paleontology of the Queen Charlotte Island provided us with excellent reference tools, particularly his work on the Cretaceous exposures and fauna that can be found there.

One of our fossil field trips was to the ruggedly beautiful Cretaceous exposures of Lina Island. We’d planned this trip as part of our “trips of a lifetime.” Both John Fam and Dan Bowen can be congratulated for their efforts in researching the area and ably coordinating a warm welcome by the First Nations community and organizing fossil field trips to some of the most amazing fossil localities in the Pacific Northwest.

With great sandstone beach exposures, the fossil-rich (Albian to Cenomanian) Haida formation provided ample specimens, some directly in the bedding planes and many in concretion. Many of the concretions contained multiple specimens of typical Haida Formation fauna, providing a window into this Cretaceous landscape.

It is always interesting to see who was making a living and co-existing in our ancient oceans at the time these fossils were laid down. We found multiple beautifully preserved specimens of the spiny ammonite, Douvelleiceras spiniferum along with Brewericeras hulenense, Cleoniceras perezianum and many cycads in concretion.

Photo: Pictured above is Douvilleiceras spiniferum with his naturally occurring black, shiny appearance. Proudly part of my collection. He is 6 inches long and 5 inches deep, typical of the species. 

As it happens, I have yet to prep most of the concretions I collected on Lina. I’ve left them intact and perfect, waiting for technology and time to advance so I can give them the love and attention they need in preparation.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Monday, 6 February 2017

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Saturday, 4 February 2017

LATE OLIGOCENE SOOKE FORMATION

Desmostylus, Royal Ontario Museum Collection
The late Oligocene Sooke Formation outcrops at several coastal localities along the South-west coast of Vancouver Island. The most well-known and most collected of these are the exposures to the west of Muir Creek.

The formation contains marine fossils including a diversity of intertidal and near shore gastropods, bivalves, abundant barnacle (Balanus) plates, and rare coral, echinoid (sand dollar) and mammal (Desmostylus) fossils.

When these fossils were laid down, the Northeastern Pacific had cooled to near modern levels and the taxa that were preserved as fossils bear a strong resemblance to those found living today beneath the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, many of the Sooke Formation genera are still extant.

We find near shore and intertidal genera such as Mytilus (mussels) and barnacles, as well as more typically subtidal predatory globular moon snails, surf clams (Spisula, Macoma), and thin, flattened Tellin clams.

In several places, there are layers thickly strewn with fossils, suggesting that they were being deposited along a strand line. The rock is relatively coarse-grained sandstone, suggesting a high energy environment as would be found near a beach.

The outcrops at Muir Creek make for a great day trip. This is a family friendly site best enjoyed and collected at low tide.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Thursday, 2 February 2017

LATE JURASSIC CADOCERAS TONNIENSE

Cadoceras tonniense, Mysterious Creek Formation

IN SEARCH OF TRIASSIC BEASTIES

So, what's next in the story of marine reptiles and dinosaurs? Where are the next big finds to be found?

Well, if finds like Shonisaurus sikanniensis are any indication, my guess would be northern British Columbia.

After almost no large finds over the past hundred years, they have revealed the largest marine reptile on record, along with countless terrestrial finds that make that area one of the richest searching grounds on the globe.

There are Triassic marine outcrops in northern British Columbia that extend from Wapiti Lake to the Yukon border. Without the fossil finds, this area is just pure, raw Canadian gold in terms of scenery and environmental importance. Well worth exploring for its sheer beauty.

With the paleontological possibilities, it's the stuff of dreams. The big reveal may be new species of dinosaurs, large marine reptiles and greater insight into their behaviour and interactions deep in the Triassic.

I'm excited for the future of paleontology in the region as more of these fruitful outcrops are discovered, collected and studied.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Thursday, 26 January 2017

MIDDLE TRIASSIC-ANISIAN AMMONOID

A specimen of Grambergia sp., a Middle Triassic-Ansian ammonoid from the Toad Formation of northeastern British Columbia.

EOCENE LOVE BUG

The Love Boat, soon you'll be sailing away... Well, perhaps you will but that ship has sailed for this wee fellow.

This is a Fossil Love Bug, one of the most satisfying fossils to collect in the Eocene deposits of Princeton, British Columbia.

Love Bugs or March Flies are hardy, medium-sized flies in the Order Diptera, with a body length ranging from 4.0 to 10.0 mm. The body is black, brown, or rusty, and thickset, with thick legs. The antennae are moniliform. The front tibiae bear large strong spurs or a circlet of spines. The tarsi are five-segmented and bear tarsal claws, pulvilli, and a well-developed empodium.

As it is with many species, these guys included, the teens of this species are troublesome but the adults turn out alright. As larvae, Bibionidae are pests of agricultural crops, devouring all those tasty young seedlings you've just planted.

Then, as they mature their tastes turn to the nectar of flowers from fruit trees and la voila, they become your best friends again. With their physical and behavioral transformation complete, Bibionidae become a welcome garden visitor, pulling their weight in the ecosystems they live in by being important pollinators.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

CANADIAN PALEONTOLOGY

Wanneria dunnae
There is so much more to Canada than meets the eye. Deep in the ground beneath our feet is window into our past. It speaks of ancient oceans, continents on the move, powerful forces upthrusting whole coastlines and creating mountains.

And through that window, on the west side of the Kootenay River at its confluence with the St. Mary's, we find some of the oldest fossils in Canada.

This specimen of Wanneria dunnae is from the Lower Cambrian Eager Formation of British Columbia and is typical of the group.

He's from the Rifle Range outcrop near Cranbrook. The site is just a shade older than the Burgess Shale, Middle Cambrian deposits though the species found here are much less varied. Trilobites were amongst the earliest fossils with hard skeletons. While they are extinct today, they were the dominant life form at the beginning of the Cambrian.

Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, it was a glorious place for fossil collecting. I have many beautifully preserved Wanneria and abundant Olellenus from here along with a few rare and treasured Tuzoia.

The shale matrix lends itself to amazing preservation. This specimen of Wanneria is a big fellow. Five inches long and four inches wide. Wanneria are slightly less common here than Olenellus. Olenellus are slightly smaller in size with a large, semi-circular head, a body of 15 segments and a long spine on the 15th segment with a wee tail. You find a mixture of complete specimens and head impressions from years of perfectly preserved molts.

The Wanneria are their bruising cousins by comparison with their large heads lacking conspicuous furrows and a robust body without an expanded third segment.

As luck would have it, the plate he is in split him right down the centre. Bless the hardness of shale for preservation and it's sheer irony for willfully cracking exactly where you least desire it.

What is missing in this photograph is any detail around the specimen's eyes. Trilobite eyes were compound like those found in modern crustaceans and insects.

The eyes of these earliest trilobites are not well known. They were built in such a way that the visual surface dropped away and was lost during molting or after death throwing a wrench in studying them.

We may learn more from the Burgess Shale and the lovely soft mud that was the foundation of their preservation.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

TUMBLER RIDGE DINOSAUR TRACKWAY

Heidi Henderson with Daniel & Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge
In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge.

As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints.

Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area and the birth of the Peace Region Palaeontology Society and Dinosaur Centre.

The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthysaurs, a marine reptile and hadrosaur tracks.

The tracks the boys found were identified the following year by Rich McCrae as those of a large quadrupedal dinosaur, Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon liked to ankylosaurs.

Closer study and excavation of the area yielded a 25 cm dinosaur bone thus doubling the number of dinosaur bones known from British Columbia at the time.

The dinosaur finds near Tumbler Ridge are significant. Several thousand bone fragments have been collected, recorded and now reside within the PRPRC collections, making for one of the most complete assemblages for dinosaur material from this age.

Recently, Liz Nicholls wrote up an ichthyosaur from the Upper Triassic Pardonet Formation, Shonisaurus sikanniensis. This big fellow is estimated to have grown to 21 metres (69 FT) in length, making him the largest marine reptile on record.

This find might never have happened or been hugely delayed if not for the keen eyes of two young boys. All this from a days tubing on the river.

Some of these precious fossil sites are threatened by the Site C Dam. More than the fossils, the Dam will destroy one of the world's precious wildlife corridors and submerge valuable carbon sinks and agricultural land therein threatening instead of promoting food security in the North.

The true reveal for the paleontological significance is still to come. There are Triassic marine outcrops in northern British Columbia that extend from Wapiti Lake to the Yukon border. I'm excited for the future of paleontology in the region as more of these fruitful outcrops are discovered, collected and studied.

Monday, 16 January 2017

AMMONITE CRUSHED BY PREDATOR

Here a partial ammonite with lovely oil-spill coloured nacre (ammolite) shows several bite marks.

One of the natural predators to ammonites were the marine reptiles, particularly mosasaurs and elasmosaurs.

Mosasaurs, while robust predators, lived nearer to the ocean surface, preying on fish, turtles, birds, and sadly for this fellow, ammonites.

Ammonites were also prey to the elasmosaurs, a genus of plesiosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous. With their long necks, the could move unseen in the depths then chomp down with their cage-like teeth to munch on fish and those unfortunate enough to be the tasty bounty of ancient times.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

FLORISSANTIA SP. (STERCULIACEAE)

Florissantia, an extinct genus in the Cocoa Tree Family
Beautifully preserved specimens of Florissantia can be found in the Eocene deposits near Cache Creek in the Tranquile Formation, Kamloops Group, at Quilchena, Coldwater Beds, Kamloops Group and near Princeton, British Columbia in the Allenby Formation.

This specimen is from the Allenby Formation, which is predominately fine-grained shales and mudrocks. Florissantia are quite commonly found here alongside other plant remains and rarer, insect and fish fossils.