Monday, 26 December 2016

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

DRAGONFLIES: ODONATA

Dragonflies, from the order Odonata, have been around for over 250 million years. The most conspicuous difference in their evolution over time is the steady shrinking of their wingspan from well over two and a half feet down to a few inches.

Voracious predators, today they dine on bees, wasps, butterflies and avoid the attentions of birds and wee lizards -- but back in the day, they had a much larger selection of meals within their grasp.

Time has turned the tables. Small lizards and birds who today choose dragonflies as a tasty snack used to be their preferred prey.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Sunday, 11 December 2016

MOSQUE-CATHEDRAL, CORDOBA, SPAIN




















A mix of Muslim and Christian architecture can be found in the stunning, and oh so grand Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, southern Spain. Originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins has an unusual and collaborative history. When Muslims conquered Spain in 711, the church was divided into Muslim and Christian halves.

This sharing arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir 'Abd al-Rahman I, who then demolished the original structure to build the grand mosque of Córdoba on its ground.

Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 during the Reconquista, and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the inclusion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. If you are visiting Andalusia, it is well worth a day trip. Bring your camera and comfortable shoes.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

PALEONTOLOGY MUSEUM, FLORENCE, ITALY


OLD HABITS

Nuns stepping out from the palace, Cordoba, Spain




















A group of nuns stepping out in Cordoba, Spain. The nuns earn their living selling sweets and confections using recipes handed down from the Romans and Moors. Many convents are closing because they have fewer nuns so this art may one day be lost.

The procedure for buying the sweets is archaic, but charming. You enter the convent into a very small room with a lazy Susan installed on the wall.

While we did see some nuns in the street, many do not leave the cloister or appear in public. You never see the nun with whom you do the transaction, since these are cloistered nuns who avoid direct contact with the public.

On the wall beside the lazy Susan will be a price list. You look it over and decide which sweets you want to buy. Then you ring a buzzer on the wall. After a while you will hear the voice of a nun greet you and ask you what you want to purchase.

You tell her your order and after a few minutes the lazy Susan will turn and you will find your order on it. You then put your money on the lazy Susan and turn it so that the nun can get it. If there is change, the nun puts it on the lazy Susan and you then can get your change.

Friday, 9 December 2016

CARNOTAURUS SASTREI

Carnotaurus sastrei, a genus of large theropod dinosaur that roamed, Argentina, South America during the Late Cretaceous period, 72 to 69.9 million years ago.

This fellow (or at least his skull) is on display at the Natural History Museum in Madrid, Spain. For now, he is the only known genus of this species of bipedal predator.

The skull is quite unusual. Initially, it has a very marine reptile feel (but make no mistake this guy is clearly a terrestrial theropod). Once you look closer you see his bull-like horns (from whence he gets his name) that imply battle between rivals for the best meal, sexual partner and to be the one who leads the herd.

I'll be interested to see his cousins once more specimens of the genus are unearthed.

ALHAMBRA PALACE: GRANADA, SPAIN


Thursday, 8 December 2016

DIPLODOCUS CARNEGIEI

Craneo Diplodocus carnegiei, Morrison Formation, Jurassic

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

MEGATHERIUM AMERICANUM





In 1788, this magnificent specimen of a Megatherium sloth was sent to the Royal Cabinet of Natural History from the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.

The megaterios were large terrestrial sloths belonging to the group, Xenarthra. These herbivores inhabited large ares of land on the American continent. Their powerful skeleton enabled them to stand on their hind legs to reach leaves high in the trees, a huge advantage given the calories needed to be consumed each day to maintain their large size.

In 1788, Bru assembled the skeleton as you see it here. It is exhibited at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, in it's original configuration for historic value.

If you look closely, you'll see it is not anatomically correct.

But all good paleontology is teamwork. Based upon the drawings of Juan Bautista Bru, George Cuvier used this specimen to describe the species for the very first time.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

CRANEO DE TIGRE DE DIENTES DE SABLE

Machairodus aphanistus, Batallones, Madrid 9 Ma. Vallesiense, Mioceno

Friday, 9 September 2016

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

CRANEO DE OSO

Ursus spelaeus. Aitzkirri, Guipuzcoa. Pleistoceno superior

Sunday, 4 September 2016

BRITISH COLUMBIA'S GREAT BEARS


Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness. This photo of Edward (yes, we named him) was taken off the west coast of Vancouver Island by Larissa Harding of Great Bear Nature Tours.

Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage given the size of their very large descendents.

An average Grizzly weighs in around 800 lbs (363 kg), but a recent find in Alaska tops the charts at 1600 lbs (726 kg). This mighty beast stood 12' 6' high at the shoulder, 14' to the top of his head. It is one of the largest grizzly bears ever recorded. This past month this king of the forest was seen once again in the Washington Cascades -- the first sighting in 50 years.

Friday, 2 September 2016

TORVOSAURUS TANNERI















The genus Torvosaurus includes a unique species of megalosaurid therapod dinosaur.

This fellow is from the Morrison Formation, western United States but his kind spread widely and fossil specimens of the same species have been found in the Lourinha Formation near Lisbon, Portugal. He is currently on display at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain.

Torvosaurus were one of the largest and most robust carnivores of the Jurassic. These "savage lizards" were true to their name. Skilled hunters, who could grow from 9 to ll meters long, weigh over 2 tons, were bipedal with powerful dentition and strong claws on their forelegs, they ruled the Upper Jurassic.

While currently speculative, there seems to be a high likelihood that these bad boys hunted and dined upon the big sauropods of their time.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Monday, 25 July 2016

Friday, 22 July 2016

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

WOOLLY MAMMOTH

Mammutus primigenius. Pleistocene. Siberia, Russia

Friday, 1 July 2016

NOLEGGIO DI BARCHE

Noleggio de Marche, Riomaggiore, Italy

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Monday, 20 June 2016

Sunday, 19 June 2016

MAMMUTUS PRIMIGENIUS

Mammutus primigenius. Pleistocene. Siberia, Russia

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

STAWAMUS CHIEF: GRANITE SENTINEL

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

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 magestic 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, 28 April 2016

CRETACEOUS-JURASSIC EXPOSURES: HARRISON LAKE

The Cretaceous-Jurassic exposures near Harrison Lake, British Columbia are an easy two hour drive from Vancouver and another hour or so to our final destination, the unyielding siltstone of the Callovian Mysterious Creek Formation.

A few hours of collecting yield multiple bivalves, ammonites, including what looks to be two new species. 

Amongst the best specimens of the day are several small, fairly well preserved Cadoceras (Paracadoceras) tonniense, a few Cadoceras (Pseudocadoceras) grewingki and two relatively complete specimens of the larger, smooth Cadoceras comma. Further up the road, we photograph blocks of buchia and large boulders encrusted with perfectly preserved belemnites, cigar-looking numbers from ancient squid.

Interestingly, the ammonites from here are quite similar to the ones found within the lower part of the Chinitna Formation, Alaska and Jurassic Point, Kyuquot, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The siltstone here at Harrison has also offered up a small section of vertebra from a poorly preserved marine reptile, a find I'm rather keen to make one day. So, after much hammer swinging, I've enjoyed a splendid day, collected beautiful specimens and feel a wee bit closer to the big find. Returning like a soldier from battle, I carefully package and log my booty, returning home the happier for it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thursday, 21 April 2016

WASHINGTON RISING

Over vast expanses of time, powerful tectonic forces have massaged the western edge of the continent, smashing together a seemingly endless number of islands to produce what we now know as North America and the Pacific Northwest. 

Intuition tells us that the earth’s crust is a permanent, fixed outer shell – terra firma. Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day.

As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighboring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.

Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home.

Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continues to move our mountain ranges skyward – the path of least resistance.

This dynamic movement has created the landscape we see today and helped form the fossil record that tells much of Washington’s relatively recent history – the past 50 million years. Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington. The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of this formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs and plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America.

While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation.

Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and river ways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.

Fossil mammals from Washington do get most of the press. The movement of these celebrity vertebrates was captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the only depositional environments favorable for track preservation.

The bone record is actually far less abundant that the plant record, except near shell middens, given the preserving qualities of calcium and an alkaline environment. While calcium rich bones and teeth fossilize well, they often do not get laid down in a situation that makes this possible.

Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut is primarily made up of plant material.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

MCABEE: SOLVING MYSTERIES IN THE EOCENE

Plant fossils from the Okanagan highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to an ancient climate.

While the area is referred to as the Okanagan, the term is used in a slightly misleading fashion to describe an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington, in the south.

The grouping includes the fossil sites of Driftwood Canyon, Quilchena, Allenby, Tranquille, McAbee, Princeton and Republic.

These fossil sites range in time from Early to Middle Eocene, and the fossil they contain give us a snapshot of what was happening in this part of the world because of the varied plant fossils they contain.

While the area around the Interior of British Columbia was affected, McAbee, near the town of Cache Creek, was not as warm as some of the other Middle Eocene sites, a fact inferred by what we see and what is conspicuously missing.

In looking at the plant species, it has been suggested that the area of McAbee had a more temperate climate, slightly cooler and wetter than other Eocene sites to the south at Princeton, British Columbia and Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

We see ginko, a variety of insects and fish remains, the rare feather and a boatload of deciduous evidence. Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

DRAGONFLIES: ANCIENT PREDATORS

Dragonflies, from the order Odonata, have been around for over 250 million years. The most conspicuous difference in their evolution over time is the steady shrinking of their wingspan from well over two and a half feet down to a few inches.

Voracious predators, today they dine on bees, wasps, butterflies and avoid the attentions of birds and wee lizards --  but back in the day, they had a much larger selection of meals within their grasp. Time has turned the tables. Small lizards and birds who today choose dragonflies as a tasty snack used to be their preferred prey. 

GORDES: CITY OF LIMESTONE & LIGHT

Monday, 21 March 2016

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Sunday, 13 March 2016

PALTECHIOCERAS OF WRANGELLIA

Those working in the Jurassic exposures on Vancouver Island are a determined crew. Most of the sedimentary deposits of the Jurassic are exposed in the hard to reach areas between Nootka Sound and Cape Scott.

By the time these ammonites were being buried in sediment, Wrangellia, the predominately volcanic terrane that now forms Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, had made its way to the northern mid-laditudes.

This detail of the Jurassic ammonite, Paltechioceras sp. shot with an ultra-low f-stop, is from an all but inaccessible site in Sayward, Bonanza Group, Vancouver Island.

We did a fossil field trip up there a few years ago with the Courtenay & Qualicum beach crew. The drive up the mountain was thrilling as the road narrowed until it was barely the width of our wheel base. Thrilling to say the least.

HOMAGE TO SPRING

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Saturday, 23 January 2016

LINCOLN CREEK FORMATION: EOCENE-OLIGOCENE BORDER

Fossil crabs, several dozen species of mulluscs including the elusive tusk shell have been found in the fossil exposures of the Lincoln Creek Formation, southern Olympic Peninsula, near the town of Porter, Washington, 46°56'20"N, 123°18'38"W.

It is a site I return to each year to see the erosion and what new specimens have worked their way to the surface.

The whitish strata consists of tuffaceous siltstone and sandstone with concretionary beds throughout. They are slightly older than originally thought, coming in around 37 million-years, straddling the Eocene-Oligocene border. Here a lovely crab, Pulalius vulgaris, sits in the sand. He would be in good company at the site amongst the more common scaphodpod shells and other wee gastropods.

The whitish aragonitic shells of scaphopods are conical and curved with a planispiral curve, looking a bit like an elephant's tusk, hence their common name. They prefer to live on soft substrates in subtidal zones so they are not as abundant or readily visible on our beaches as their gastropods and bivalves compatriots. Tusk shells and their fossil relatives, however, are found commonly in the sediments at Porter and other localities throughout the Pacific Northwest while crabs are found, but more rare.