Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Monday, 15 May 2017

URSAVUS: CANADA'S GREAT BEARS

Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. These majestic beasts live up to 28 years and nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness.

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 descendants.

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 September, the King of the forest was seen once again in the Washington Cascades -- the first sighting in over 50 years.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

LANDMANNALAUGAR: AURORA BOREALIS

The Northern Lights over a sea of wildflowers in the marsh near Landmannalaugar, part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland.

Landmannalaugar is at the northern tip of the Laugavegur hiking trail that leads through natural geothermal hot springs and an austere yet poetically beautiful landscape.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

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.

In the time expanse in which we live our very short human lives, the Earth's crust appears permanent. A 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 the 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 captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the 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.

Monday, 1 May 2017

WASH THAT FOR YOU MISS?

Spotted Cleaner Shrimp via Paul Sutherland
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.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

THE BIRTHPLACE OF LIFE

For millennia, we've sat at the edge of the world, taking in the impossible magnitude of the ocean.

Her beauty, her storms, such abundance and diversity of life amidst both the tranquility and unforgiving power that this immensely deep and mostly unexplored frontier hold for us.

Our distant relatives and even those who meditate on these vast pools of blue and green today see the ocean as the birthplace of life. It's the story we tell our children, and they, in turn, tell their children's children.

It's a reasonable conclusion. Upwelling currents bring cold, nutrient-rich water from the bottom to the surface. In this primordial soup, vitally important organic and inorganic compounds mix ceaselessly and give us the perfect conditions for photosynthesis, and by all accounts, the basic building blocks of life.

But, rather than the birthplace, I postulate that the ocean is simply the mixing ground for the expansion of life that began elsewhere. It is also possible, as yet we do not know, that these two streams ran in tandem. The delight of science is that we may one day know for sure.

From the oceans, it's just a slow crawl, evolutionarily speaking, from the sea to the terrestrial life we see today.

So where to look for the beginnings. That story is a much harsher one. We find microbes of the Domain Archaea, prokaryotic single-celled microorganisms, distinct from bacteria and eukaryotes, living in some of the world's most unlikely and inhospitable places.

Extremely adaptable, Archaea not only survive but thrive in harsh environments, hot, cold, brutally acidic, you name it. But beyond the hot pools and salt lakes, they have also been found in rather pedestrian habitats, in soils, marshlands, and our oceans.

You may be surprised to learn that in this very moment, they are living in your colon, oral cavity, and skin. The methanogens that inhabit our guts have a symbiotic role, helping us with digestion.

Archaea possess genes and several metabolic pathways that allow for transcription and translation. They are able to access more energy sources than their wee microorganism peers, making use of sugars, ammonia, metal ions and hydrogen gas.

The salt-tolerant, Haloarchaea, use sunlight as an energy source. All reproduce asexually by binary fission, fragmentation or budding and have been doing so for a very long time.

Much to our surprise, Archaea have been found making their home in granite more than 3 kilometers beneath the Earth's surface.

Well-preserved Archaea microfossils can be found between the quartz sand grains of the oldest known beach on Earth at Strelley Pool, about 1,500 km north of Perth, Australia. They were thriving here over 3.4 billion years ago in an oxygen-free world, metabolizing sulphur-based compounds and giving rise to the life we see today.

But there are also tubelike fossils, stromatolites, possible ancient microbial mats found in 3.77 billion-year-old rocks. Are these the birth of life? The court's still out. Plate tectonics is the Earth's greatest recycling program with only a handful of outcrops older than 3 billion years. Combine that with baking, cooling, subduction and pressure and it makes solving this ancient mystery even more challenging.

So, the birthplace of life? So far, the best contender are the wee beasties from the planet's oldest beach.



Saturday, 29 April 2017

Thursday, 27 April 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.

Monday, 24 April 2017

AMMONITE BEAUTY: PALTECHIOCERA

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. 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-latitudes.


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. 

I’m headed back there this June for a wee look at what the Spring rains have revealed. This time, however, I believe I will hike up instead of driving as I’m not sure my heart could take going round-two on that road/trail via my jeep.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

GLACIAL FJORD: SEA TO SKY















A short 90-minute drive north of the city of Vancouver, the nation's gateway to the Pacific, is a recreational Shangri-La that attracts four season adventurers from around the globe to ski, board, hike, mountain bike, kayak and climb the local peaks.

It also attracts professional photographers, and weekend warriors, eager to capture the lively footprint of the village or the perfect stillness in nature. This Saturday, it was the destination of one of my new colleagues, Richard, armed with a camera in his pocket to shoot the scenes that took his fancy. A keen thesis editor and some unpredictable rain dampened those plans.

The North Shore mountains, Grouse, Cypress and Seymour, provide easy access for the happy winter adventurer and a beautiful backdrop to the young city of Vancouver -- Canada's third-largest metropolis, year-round.

They also bring us some of the rainiest, snowiest, coldest and windiest climates in Canada. Combined with the westerly winds off of the Pacific, those lovely peaks make for a panoply of weather extremes on any given day.

Certainly, not as cold as in recent past. And not as warm as millions of years ago. Ice cores tell tales of the ebb and flow of temperatures in this part of the world. Rock cores and sedimentary deposits tell other tales.

While the city sits on relatively young sandstone and mudstone, the North Shore Mountains are made of granite that formed deep within the Earth more than 100 million years ago. There are Cretaceous outcrops of sedimentary rock just off Taylor Way at Brother's Creek that reveals familiar fossilized plant material. Species common in the Cretaceous and still extant today.

This treasure trove wilderness playground stretches along the breathtaking Sea-to-Sky Highway affording breathtaking views of the Pacific as it follows the coastline of Howe Sound, a glacially carved fiord which extends from Horseshoe Bay (20 km northwest of Vancouver), past Lions Bay to the hamlet of Squamish.

It is a short jaunt further north that takes you into picturesque Whistler Valley.

Carved from the granitic mountainside high above Howe Sound, this scenic pathway, blasted into the rock of the steep glacial-valley slope, has been a rich recreation corridor and traditional First Nation hunting ground.

The ground you move over has seen oceans rise and fall, glaciers advance and retreat, the arrival of early explorers, the miners of the Gold Rush and now the rush of tourism.



Friday, 21 April 2017

CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O → Ca (HCO3)2

Those of you who live near the sea understand the compulsion to collect shells. They add a little something to our homes and gardens.

With a strong love of natural objects, my own home boasts several stunning abalone shells conscripted into service as both spice dish and soap dish.

As well as beautiful debris, shells also played an embalming role as they collect in shell middens from coastal communities. Having food “packaging” accumulate in vast heaps around towns and villages is hardly a modern phenomenon.

Many First Nations sites were inhabited continually for centuries. The discarded shells and scraps of bone from their food formed enormous mounds, called middens. Left over time, these unwanted dinner scraps transform through a quiet process of preservation.

Time and pressure leach the calcium carbonate, CaCO3, from the surrounding marine shells and help “embalm” bone and antler artifacts that would otherwise decay. Useful this, as antler makes for a fine sewing tool when worked into a needle. Much of what we know around the modification of natural objects into tools comes from this preservation.

Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound that shares the typical properties of other carbonates. CaCO3 is common in rocks and shells and is a useful antacid for those of you with touchy stomachs. In prepping fossil specimens embedded in limestone, it is useful to know that it reacts with stronger acids, releasing carbon dioxide: CaCO3(s) + 2HCl(aq) → CaCl2(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)

For those of you wildly interested in the properties of CaCO3, may also find it interesting to note that calcium carbonate also releases carbon dioxide on when heated to greater than 840°C, to form calcium oxide or quicklime, reaction enthalpy 178 kJ / mole: CaCO3 → CaO + CO2.

Calcium carbonate reacts with water saturated with carbon dioxide to form the soluble calcium bicarbonate. Bone already contains calcium carbonate, as well as calcium phosphate, Ca2, but it is also made of protein, cells and living tissue.

Decaying bone acts as a sort of natural sponge that wicks in the calcium carbonate displaced from the shells. As protein decays inside the bone, it is replaced by the incoming calcium carbonate, making makes the bone harder and more durable.

The shells, beautiful in their own right, make the surrounding soil more alkaline, helping to preserve the bone and turning the dinner scraps into exquisite scientific specimens for future generations.

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.

In 81 BC, he traveled 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