Sunday, 13 August 2017

Monday, 7 August 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, 3 August 2017

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY: NORTHERN IRELAND

The Giant's Causeway is a spectacular expanse of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns formed from volcanic eruptions during the Paleocene some 50-60 million years ago.

Highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds which later cooled, contracted and cracked into hexagonal columns, creating a surreal visual against a dark and stormy Irish Sea.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Sunday, 30 July 2017

VIEW FROM ON HIGH

A view from on high. The Stawamus Chief, the second largest freestanding piece of granite in the world, has made Squamish one of the top rock climbing destinations in North America.

This majestic peak is said to have been one of the last areas of dry ground during a time of tremendous flooding in the Squamish basin.

Many cultures have a flood myth in their oral history and the Coast Salish people of Squamish are no exception. They tell of a time when all the world save the highest peaks were submerged and only one of their nation survived. Warned in a vision, a warrior of the Squamish nation escaped to safety atop Mount Chuckigh (Mount Garibaldi) as the waters rose.

After the flood, a majestic eagle came to him with a gift of salmon to tell him that the world below was again hospitable and ready for his return. He climbed down the mountain and returned to find his village covered by a layer of silt.

All his people had perished, but the gods gave him another gift, a second survivor of the flood, a beautiful woman who became his wife. For their gift of generosity, they had shown, the couple took the eagle as their chief totem and have honored it through generations of Coast Salish people.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

BOBBING IN THE BRINE


RUGGED BEAUTY: TOFINO

Tofino, a site of surfing, paleo tsunamis, and wonderful exotic sea life.

Situated in the Cascadia subduction zone, Tofino sits where an ocean plate is trying to slide under the plate that sits on North America.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

WASH ON, WASH OFF

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, 24 July 2017

Sunday, 23 July 2017

FRESH FISH CONNOISSEURS

Ammonites were a group of hugely successful aquatic molluscs that looked like the still extant Nautilus, a coiled shellfish that lives off the southern coast of Asia.

While the Nautilus lived on, ammonites graced our waters from around 400 million years ago until the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years. Varying in size from millimeters to meters across, ammonites are prized as both works of art and index fossils helping us date rock.

FALLEG HESTUR


Saturday, 22 July 2017

EQUUS FERUS CABALLUS

Small but majestic, these Icelandic horses have been bred to adapt perfectly to the rugged wilds of untamed Iceland. They hail from farther north, having been brought to Iceland by the Vikings.

Often mistaken for ponies, they are one of the oldest breeds of horses and while small, the registries do indeed list them as such. They boast a long life and an extra heavy double-layered coat, perfectly adapted to the harsh winter conditions of their homeland.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

NAIKOON, HAIDA GWAII

A wreck with tales to tell at Naikoon in Haida Gwaii.

The islands have gone by many names. To the people who call the islands home, Haida Gwaii means “island of the people,” it is a shortened version of an earlier name, Haadala Gwaii-ai, or “taken out of concealment.” 

Back at the time of Nangkilslas, it was called Didakwaa Gwaii, or “shoreward country.” By any name, the islands are a place of rugged beauty and spirit and enjoy a special place in both the natural and supernatural world.

Monday, 17 July 2017

HOWE SOUND: GLACIAL FJORD

View from on high of the lovely glacial fjord that is Howe Sound.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

EOCENE FOSSIL FLOWER

Near the town of Princeton, British Columbia there are many fossil exposures. The fossils you find here are all middle Eocene, Allenby Formation and most have a high degree of detail in their preservation.

A crack of the hammer yields fossil maple, alder, fir, pine, dawn redwood and ginko fossil material. Several species of fossilized insects can be found in the area and rare, occasional fossil flowers and small, perfectly preserved fish. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

REFLECTED LIGHT

Beautiful light reflected in the windows of buildings in the South of France. Look closely and you'll see that those buildings are constructed from fossiliferous limestone blocks with lovely Miocene sea shells embedded.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

DEINOTHERIUM GIGANTEUM

Deinotherium giganteum















This partial specimen of Deinotherium giganteum hails from Cerecinos de Campos, Zamora from the Middle-Upper miocene (c. 15.97-5.33 Million Years)

The genus Deinotherium could reach a height of over 3.5 meters. Its structure and size are similar to those of the present-day elephant. Deinotherium first appeared approximately 17 million years ago and became extinct relatively recently, just 1.6 million years ago.

One of the distriguishing features of Deinotherium is their curved tusks inserted only in the jaw. One of the tusks from this fellow, on display at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, while incomplete, was preserved rather nicely and shows the detail of where the tusk meets the jaw.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

RED-TAILED RAPTOR

The majestic Buteo jamaicensis are easily identified by the red upper surface of their broad tails. They are powerful raptors with strong hunting skills.

Most red-tailed hawks have rich brown upperparts with a streaked belly and a dark bar on the underside of the wing, easily viewed when seen from below. The fine detail in their plumage is breathtaking, like little-feathered works of art.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

MUIR WOODS, CRICKET THERMOMETER

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 use this handy conversion. Double the temperature in Celsius, add 32 you'll get the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

This beautiful photo of Muir Woods outside San Francisco is by Aussie photographer, Paul McClure.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Thursday, 6 July 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."

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

TOPSY TURVY: PROCYON LOTOR

A wee babe finds his world upside down. I have a raccoon friend who lives in the base of the trees behind my place. He was the runt of last year's litter.

Everything you've read about them falls short of this wee fellow. While meant to be nocturnal, he's out in the day. I've read that they are shy and avoid human contact, but he's playful, curious and would love to be social. While sitting on my deck, he'll slowly sneak up to check out what I'm doing.

I've seen him roll around in the flowerbed in full sun, clearly loving his time, sit up to examine his toes for 30-40 minutes at a time. I've read somewhere that they are bright little fellas, and it's true for this guy. He's figured out how to get the unlockable compost container unlocked and harvested for all it's tasty, rotten veggies. Mmmm, quite a charmer!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Friday, 30 June 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

Sunday, 25 June 2017

THEROPOD HUNTING



FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

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. 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.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

GROUSE GRIND: RITE OF PASSION

Vancouver, Canada's third-largest metropolis, is home to many natural wonders. One of these is the Grouse Grind hiking trail. Here, steps shrouded in mist invite you to test your mettle against one of our hallmark rites of passion.

Monday, 19 June 2017

MISTER FINALLY: PERCHED


Highly adaptable to hot and cold temperatures, Peregrines boast a breeding range that stretches from the icy cold Arctic tundra to the searing Tropics. This fellow, Mister Finally, is lucky to be in the temperate climes near White Rock on the US border.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

FALCO LINNAEUS




















Reaching speeds of over 320 km/h (200 mph) Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), are exquisite birds of prey. They are worthy predators in the air and one of the fastest moving creatures on the planet. I've had the great honor to work with several of these amazing creatures and can personally attest to both their speed and quirky yet charming personalities.

Highly adaptable to hot and cold temperatures, they boast a breeding range that stretches from the icy cold Arctic tundra to the searing Tropics. 

We've had Peregrines on this beautiful big blue planet since the Late Miocene (with closely related Raptors as early as the Eocene). Sadly, the Peregrine Falcon was added to the endangered species list back in the 1970's after their population took a beating from food sources contaminated with pesticides, DDT being the main culprit. With the ban of DDT and active breed and release programs, their numbers have significantly increased. Score one for humans being thoughtful of those we share this planet with.

Friday, 16 June 2017

OF SNOW AND ICE

Twenty thousand years ago, the last Ice Age was at its frozen peak.

While some of our ancestors were making a living in what is now Europe, they were pressed between the permanent ice fields that covered all of Scandinavia and the mountains of the Pyrenees and Alps.

Much of our present-day oceans was locked up in vast ice sheets, lowering the sea level by as much as a hundred metres lower than it is today.

It was a time of scarcity and risk. Cave bears, Ursus spelaeus, at once a food source and skilled predator, enjoyed the same hunting grounds, similar prey and competed for many of the same shelters. Cave hyena, Crocuta spelaea, also looked to these shelters and while smaller, were encountered as packs.

Beyond days filled with an endless search for food, primarily through scavenging off the kills of hyena and others, there was also the no-small-feat of checking well-situated caves for other, rather scary, inhabitants.

Large prey could be taken down by an organized hunt. Wooly rhinoceros, Coelodonta antiquitatis, and majestic Irish Elk, Megaloceros giganteus, being two of the most prized.

For many, there was a regular cycle of gathering mollusks, seaweed, and birds eggs at the shoreline and picking the fungi and other small offerings from the woodland areas. Once an area had been harvested, the nomadic life continued, with groups moving from camp to camp and participating in organized annual hunts.

Nomadic groups gathered peacefully at places where large herds of bison, reindeer or other hard to hunt beasties were forced into a narrow channel to cross a mountain, river or stream. I'm impressed by this. Both at the organization of such large hunts and by the lack of evidence of warring between nomadic groups when scarcity was the norm.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Tuesday, 6 June 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.