Tuesday, 21 September 2021


If you live in North American, there is a high probability that you have seen or heard the bird song of the Blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata (Linnaeus, 1758).

Blue Jays are in the family Corvidae — along with crows, ravens, rooks, magpies and jackdaws. They belong to a lineage of birds first seen in the Miocene — 25 million years ago. 

These beautifully plumed, blue, black and white birds can be found across southern Canada down to Florida. The distinctive blue you see in their feathers is a trick of the light. Their pigment, melanin, is actually a rather dull brown. The blue you see is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather as wee barbs.

Blue jays like to dine on nuts, seeds, suet, arthropods and some small vertebrates. 

If you are attempting to lure them to your yard with a bird feeder, they prefer those mounted on trays or posts versus hanging feeders. They will eat most anything you have on offer but sunflower seeds and peanuts are their favourites. 

They have a fondness for acorns and have been credited with helping expand the range of oak trees as the ice melted after the last glacial period.  

Their Binomial name, Cyanocitta cristata means, crested, blue chattering bird. I might have amended that to something less flattering, working in a Latin word or two for shrieks and screams — voce et gemitu or ululo et quiritor. While their plumage is a visual feast, their bird chatter leaves something to be desired. Their cries are quite helpful if you are an animal living nearby and concerned about predators. 

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, a Blue Jay is known as kwa̱skwa̱s. The Kwak’wala word for blue is dzasa and cry is ḵ̕was'id. For interest, the word for bird song in Kwak'wala is t̕sa̱sḵwana

Monday, 20 September 2021


This chunky monkey is a Short-beaked Echidna, Tachyclossus aculeatus, which grows to about the size of an overweight cat. They are native to Australia and New Guinea. 

Echidnas are sometimes called spiny anteaters and belong in the family Tachyglossidae (Gill, 1872). They are monotremes, an order of egg-laying mammals. 

There are four species of echidnas living today. They, along with the platypus, are the only living mammals who lay eggs and the only surviving members of the order Monotremata. 

Superficially, they resemble the anteaters of South America and other spiny mammals like porcupines and adorable hedgehogs. They are usually a mix of brown, black and cream in colour. While rare, there have been several reported cases of albino echidnas, their eyes pink and their spines white. Echidnas have long, slender snouts that act as both nose and mouth for these cuties. The Giant Echidna we see in the fossil record had beaks more than double this size.  

Like the platypus, they are equipped with electro sensors, but while the platypus has 40,000 electroreceptors on its bill, the long-beaked echidna has only 2,000. The short-beaked echidna, which lives in a drier environment, has no more than 400 at the tip of its snout.

Echidnas evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme. Their ancestors were aquatic, but echidnas have adapted to life on land. Today, they weigh in at about 7 kg today but back in the Pleistocene, they were much larger. The Giant Echnida, Megalibwilia ramsayi was about 10% larger at 10 kg and Zaglossus hacketti was a whopping 30 kg. 

Fossil remains are relatively rare and sadly, incomplete, but they tell us potentially two other species of Echidna thriving in the Pleistocene. We also find Robust Echidna, Zaglossus robustus, in slightly older Miocene aged outcrops in a goldmine in Australia. The Giant Echnida's we find in the fossil record are relatives of the Long-Beaked Echidnas who live in New Guinea today.      


A superbly prepped and extremely rare Lytoceras (Suess, 1865) ammonite found as a green ammonite nodule by Matt Cape in the Lower Lias of Dorset. 

Lytoceras are rare in the Lower Lias of Dorset — apart from the Belemnite Stone horizon — so much so that Paul Davis, whose skilled prep work you see here, initially thought it might be a Becheiceras hidden within the large, lumpy nodule. 

One of the reasons these lovelies are rarely found from here is that they are a Mediterranean Tethyian genus. The fossil fauna we find in the United Kingdom are dominated by Boreal Tethyian genera. 

We do find Lytoceras sp. in the Luridum subzone of the Pliensbachian showing that there was an influx of species from the Mediterranean realm during this time. This is the first occurrence of a Lytoceras that he has ever seen in a green nodule and Paul's seen quite a few. 

This absolutely cracking specimen was found and is in the collections of the awesome Matt Cape. Matt recognized that whatever was hidden in the nodule would take skilled and careful preparation using air scribes. Indeed it did. It took more than five hours of time and skill to unveil the lovely museum-worthy specimen you see here. 

We find Lytoceras in more than 1,000 outcrops around the globe ranging from the Jurassic through to the Cretaceous, some 189.6 to 109.00 million years ago. Once this specimen is fully prepped with the nodule material cut or scraped away, you can see the detailed crinkly growth lines or riblets on the shell and none of the expected coarse ribbing. 

Lytoceras sp. Photo: Craig Chivers
If you imagine running your finger along these, you would be tracing the work of decades of growth of these cephalopods. 

While we cannot know their actual lifespans, but we can make a healthy guess. 

The nautilus, their closest living cousins live upwards of 20 years — gods be good — and less than three years if conditions are poor.

The flanges, projecting flat ribs or collars, develop at the edge of the mouth border on the animal's mantle as they grow each new chamber. 

Each delicate flange grows over the course of the ammonites life, marking various points in time and life stages as the ammonite grew. There is a large variation within Lytoceras with regards to flanges. They provide both ornamentation and strength to the shell to protect it from water pressure as they moved into deeper seas.

This distinctive genus with its evolute shells are found in the Cretaceous marine deposits of: Antarctica (5 collections), Austria (19), Colombia (1), the Czech Republic (3), Egypt (2), France (194), Greenland (16), Hungary (25), Italy (11), Madagascar (2), Mexico (1), Morocco (4), Mozambique (1), Poland (2), Portugal (1), Romania (1), the Russian Federation (2), Slovakia (3), South Africa (1), Spain (24), Tanzania (1), Trinidad and Tobago (1), Tunisia (25); and the United States of America (17: Alaska, California, North Carolina, Oregon).

We also find them in Jurassic marine outcrops in Austria (15), Canada (9: British Columbia), Chile (6), France (181), Germany (11), Greenland (1), Hungary (189), India (1), Indonesia (1), Iran (1), Italy (50), Japan (14), Kenya (2), Luxembourg (4), Madagascar (2), Mexico (1), Morocco (43), New Zealand (15), Portugal (1), Romania (5), the Russian Federation (1), Slovakia (1), Spain (6), Switzerland (2), Tunisia (11), Turkey (12), Turkmenistan (1), Ukraine (5), the United Kingdom (12), United States (11: Alaska, California) — in at least 977 known collections. 


Sepkoski, Jack (2002). "A compendium of fossil marine animal genera (Cephalopoda entry)". Bulletins of American Paleontology. 363: 1–560. Archived from the original on 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2017-10-18.

Paleobiology Database - Lytoceras. 2017-10-19.

Systematic descriptions, Mesozoic Ammonoidea, by W.J Arkell, Bernhard Kummel, and C.W. Wright. 1957. Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part L. Geological Society of America and University of Kansas press.

Sunday, 19 September 2021


Fossils from the Okanagan Highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to our ancient climate. 

Okanagan Highlands refers to an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington. 

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.

We can infer the difference in climates between the sites. McAbee 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. Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic in north-central Washington, in the Swauk Formation near Skykomish and the Chuckanut Formation of northern Washington state.

Saturday, 18 September 2021


Look how epic this little guy is! 

He is a crab — and if you asked him, the fiercest warrior that ever lived. While that may not be strictly true, crabs do have the heart of a warrior and will raise their claws, sometimes only millimetres into the air, to assert dominance over their world. 

Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the Phylum Arthropoda. 

In the Kwak'wala language of the Kwakiutl First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, this brave fellow is ḵ̓u'mis — both a tasty snack and familiar to the supernatural deity Tuxw'id, a female warrior spirit. Given their natural armour and clear bravery, it is a fitting role.

They inhabit all the world's oceans, sandy beaches, many of our freshwater lakes and streams. Some few prefer to live in forests.

Crabs build their shells from highly mineralized chitin — and chitin gets around. It is the main structural component of the exoskeletons of many of our crustacean and insect friends. Shrimp, crab, and lobster all use it to build their exoskeletons.

Chitin is a polysaccharide — a large molecule made of many smaller monosaccharides or simple sugars, like glucose. 

It is handy stuff, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers. Chitin is actually the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose. It is interesting as we usually think of these molecules in the context of their sugary context but they build many other very useful things in nature — not the least of these are the hard shells or exoskeletons of our crustacean friends.

The earliest unambiguous crab fossils date from the Early Jurassic, with the oldest being Eocarcinus from the early Pliensbachian of Britain, which likely represents a stem-group lineage, as it lacks several key morphological features that define modern crabs. 

Most Jurassic crabs are only known from dorsal — or top half of the body — carapaces, making it difficult to determine their relationships. Crabs radiated in the Late Jurassic, corresponding with an increase in reef habitats, though they would decline at the end of the Jurassic as the result of the decline of reef ecosystems. Crabs increased in diversity through the Cretaceous and represented the dominant group of decapods by the end.

Friday, 17 September 2021


These lovely fossil seed ferns are plentiful examples of Neuropteris sp. from Carboniferous outcrops in the Llewellyn Shales of St. Clair, a small, impoverished borough in Schuylkill County, Pensylvania. 

They are members of the Order Medullosales — closely related to modern-day cycads.

These extinct ferns lived 310 million years ago during the Great Coal Age — a timeframe that includes the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian periods when much of the Earth's coal was formed. 

As ferns, trees and other plant matter decayed, vast deposits of peat accumulated. Floodwaters brought silt deposits, covering and intermingling with the decaying peat. Time and pressure turned that mixture to the coal we mine today. 

Back when they were alive, Pennsylvania was largely a tropical swamp with ferns towering at more than 50 feet high. They dominated the landscape, lived and died a full 185 million years before the first of our lovely flowering plants had even arrived.  

Thursday, 16 September 2021


A lovely 17 cm deep chocolate brown fossil Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops sp. vertebrae found in the Brown Bank area of the North Sea, one of the busiest seaways in the world.

Bottlenose dolphins first appeared during the Miocene and swam the shallow seas of this region. 

We still find them today in warm and temperate seas worldwide though unlike narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, Bottlenose dolphins avoid the Arctic and Antarctic Circle regions. 

Their name derives from the Latin tursio (dolphin) and truncatus for their characteristic truncated teeth. In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest — and part of my heritage — dolphin are hatsawe'. 

On the north end of Vancouver Island, we have pods of 50-100 Pacific White-Sided dolphins, cousins of the Bottlenose, who frolic and jump alongside your boat if you are out on the water. Similar to their southern cousins, Pacific White-Sided dolphins feed on salmon, herring, pilchards, anchovies, needlefish, squid, shrimp, pollock, sablefish, rock cod and other small fish — a tasty menu that reflects my own. 

Bottlenose dolphins are the most common dolphin species in the Pacific Northwest but do not often venture farther north than Oregon. We have two populations of bottlenose dolphins here, the California coastal population and those that prefer to live offshore. It is as exciting to see them playing in our oceans today as it is to see the fossil remains of their ancestors from the Brown Bank sediments of the North Sea. 

Brown Bank, North Sea, Pleistocene Dredging Area
There are two known fossil species from Italy that include Tursiops osennae (late Miocene to early Pliocene) from the Piacenzian coastal mudstone, and Tursiops miocaenus (Miocene) from the Burdigalian marine sandstone.

Many waterworn vertebrae from the Harbour Porpoise Phocoena sp., (Cuvier, 1816), Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops sp. (Gervais, 1855), and Beluga Whale, Delphinapterus sp. (Lacépède‎, 1804‎) are found by fishermen as they dredge the bottom of the Brown Bank, one of the deepest sections of the North Sea.  

The North Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. An epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north.

The fishermen use small mesh trawl nets that tend to scoop up harder bits from the bottom. This technique is one of the only ways this Pleistocene and other more recent material is recovered from the seabed, making them relatively uncommon. The most profitable region for fossil mammal material is in the Brown Bank area of the North Sea. I have circled this area on the map below to give you an idea of the region.

Found by Fishermen in the North Sea. Using a small mesh trawl net is often the only time these come up from the seabed, hence they are uncommon. ​Size: 17.0cm. Age: 30-40,000 Years old. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021


If you could cast a fishing line into our ancient seas, it is likely that you would hook an ammonite, not a fish.

When we find them, it is their hugely varied fossilized shells that we see. 

Rarely is the very soft, squid-like fellow inside preserved so we can easily forget what the entire animal looked like. 

These marine cephalopods were predatory, squid-like creatures that lived inside the coil-shaped shells we find. Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beak-like jaws inside a ring of squid-like tentacles that extended from their shells. They used these tentacles to snare prey, — plankton, vegetation, fish and crustaceans — similar to the way a squid or octopus hunt today.

Catching a fish with your hands is no easy feat, as I am sure you know. But the Ammonites were skilled and successful hunters. They caught their prey while swimming and floating in the water column. 

Within their shells, they had a number of chambers, called septa, filled with gas or fluid that were interconnected by a wee air tube. By pushing air in or out, they were able to control their buoyancy in the water column.

They lived in the last chamber of their shells, continuously building new shell material as they grew. As each new chamber was added, the squid-like body of the ammonite would move down to occupy the final outside chamber.

We find ammonite fossils, and plenty of them, in sedimentary rock from all over the world. They were prolific breeders that evolved rapidly. 

In some cases, we find rock beds where we can see evidence of a new species that evolved, lived and died out in such a short time span that we can walk through time, following the course of evolution using ammonites as a window into the past. For this reason, they make excellent index fossils. 

An index fossil is a species that allows us to link a particular rock formation, layered in time with a particular species or genus found there. Generally, deeper is older, so we use the sedimentary layers of rock to match up to specific geologic time periods, rather like the way we use tree rings to date trees.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021


One of the little animals I see daily in Kitsilano, Vancouver, are the very busy, highly comic rodents we know as squirrels. 

They spend their days busily gathering and caching food and their nights resting from all that hard work. 

My neighbourhood has mostly Eastern Gray squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis (Gmelin, 1788) who come in a colour palette of reddish-brown, grey (British spelling) and black. 

These cuties have bushy tails and a spring in their step — racing around gathering nuts, finding secret hiding spots to cache them, teasing dogs and generally exuding cuteness.

We find the first fossil evidence of tree squirrels in the Pleistocene. At least twenty specimens have been found of Sciurus carolinensis in Pleistocene outcrops in Florida on the eastern coast of the United States. Over time, their body size grew larger then shrunk down to the 400 to 600 g (14 to 21 oz) weight we see them today.  

Eastern Gray squirrels have two breeding seasons in December-January and June-July. This year has been unseasonably warm. On Vancouver Island, the Eastern Grays bred again in early September. One wonders if the heat dome killed off the July litter, and with the return of more favourable weather, the parents have been induced to breed again.

While they are not native to Vancouver, they are plentiful. They were introduced to the region over a hundred years ago and have been happily multiplying year upon year. 

Our native species are the smaller, reddish-brown, rather shy Douglas squirrels, Tamiasciurus douglasii (Bachman, 1839), and the nocturnal Northern Flying Squirrels, Glaucomys sabrinus (Shaw, 1801).  

Sciurus, is derived from two Greek words, skia, meaning shadow, and oura, meaning tail. The name choice is poetic, alluding to squirrels sitting in the shadow of their tails. 

The specific epithet, carolinensis, refers to the Carolinas on the eastern seaboard of the United States, an area that includes both North and South Carolina. It was here that the species was first recorded and still rather common. In the United Kingdom and Canada, Sciurus carolinensis is referred to as the Eastern Gray or grey squirrel — and though adorable is an invasive species. 

In the United States, Eastern is used to differentiate the species from the Western Gray or Silver-Gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus, (Ord, 1818). 

The Ord here, of course, is George Ord, the American zoologist who named the species based on notes recorded by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s. If you fancy a read, check out his article from 1815, "Zoology of North America." It is charming, anachronistic and the first systemic zoology of America by an American. 

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, use the word ta̱minasux̱, to express: "that is a squirrel." 

The word for shadow in Kwak'wala is gagumas and tail is ha̱t̕sa̱x̱ste' — so I will think of these wee wonders of the Order Rodentia in the family Sciuridae as the Gagumas ha̱t̕sa̱x̱ste' of Khahtsahlano. 

Monday, 13 September 2021


This lovely slate grey and beige ammonite with the fine ribbing is Brewericeras hulenense (Anderson 1938) — a fast-moving, nektonic (no idle floating here!) carnivorous ammonite from the Lower Cretaceous (Albian) of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada.

This specimen is just over 12cm in length, a little under the average of 13.4cm. There are several localities in the islands of Haida Gwaii where Brewericeras can be found — six that I know of and likely plenty more.

The islands of Haida Gwaii lay at the western edge of the continental shelf due west of the central coast of British Columbia. 

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

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 find multiple beautifully preserved specimens of the spiny ammonite, Douvelleiceras spiniferum along with Brewericeras hulenense (shown here), Cleoniceras perezianum and many cycads in concretion.

The Lower Jurassic ammonite faunas found at Haida Gwaii are very similar to those found in the Eastern Pacific around South America and in the Mediterranean. 

The strata exposed at Maple Island, Haida Gwaii are stratigraphically higher than the majority of Albian localities in Skidegate Inlet. The macrofossil fauna belonged to the Upper part of the Sandstone Member of the Haida formation.

The western end of the island contains numerous well-preserved inoceramids such as Birostrina concentrica and a few rare ammonites of Desmoceras bearskinese

The eastern shores are home to unusual ammonite fauna in the finer-grained sandstones. Here we find the fossils as extremely hard concretions while others were loose in the shale. Species include Anagaudryceras sacya and Tetragonites subtimotheanus. A large whorl section of the rare Ammonoceratites crenucostatus has also been found here. 

Sunday, 12 September 2021


The Miocene pillow basalts from the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area of central Washington hold an unlikely fossil. It is a mould of a small rhinoceros, preserved by sheer chance as its bloated carcass sunk to the bottom of a shallow lake just prior to a volcanic explosion.

We have known about this gem for a long while now. The fossil was discovered by hikers back in 1935 and later cast by the University of California palaeontologists in 1948. 

These were the Dirty Thirties and those living in Washington state were experiencing the Great Depression along with the rest of the country and the world. Franklin D. Roosevelt was President of the United States, navigating the States away from laissez-faire economics. Charmingly, Roosevelt would have his good name honoured by this same park in April of 1946, a few years before researchers at Berkeley would rekindle interest in the site.

Both hiking and fossil collecting was a fine answer to these hard economic times and came with all the delights of discovery with no cost for natural entertainment. And so it was that two fossil enthusiast couples were out looking for petrified wood just south of Dry Falls on Blue Lake in Washington State. While searching the pillow basalt, the Frieles and Peabodys came across a large hole high up in a cave that had the distinctive shape of an upside-down rhinoceros.

This fossil is interesting in all sorts of ways. First, we so rarely see fossils in igneous rocks. As you might suspect, both magma and lava are very hot. Magma, or molten rock, glows a bright red/orange as it simmers at a toasty 700 °C to 1300 °C (or 1300 °F to 2400 °F) beneath the Earth's surface.

During the late Miocene and early Pliocene, repeated basaltic lava floods engulfed about 63,000 square miles of the Pacific Northwest over a period of ten to fifteen million years. After these repeated bathings the residual lava accumulated to more than 6,000 feet.

As the magma pushes up to the surface becoming lava, it cools to a nice deep black. In the case of our rhino friend, this is how this unlikely fellow became a fossil. Instead of vaporizing his remains, the lava cooled relatively quickly preserving his outline as a trace fossil and remarkably, a few of his teeth, jaw and bones. The lava was eventually buried then waters from the Spokane Floods eroded enough of the overburden to reveal the remains once more.

Diceratherium tridactylum (Marsh, 1875)
Diceratherium (Marsh, 1875) is known from over a hundred paleontological occurrences from eighty-seven collections.

While there are likely many more, we have found fossil remains of Diceratherium, an extinct genus of rhinoceros, in the Miocene of Canada in Saskatchewan, China, France, Portugal, Switzerland, and multiple sites in the United States.

He has also been found in the Oligocene of Canada in Saskatchewan, and twenty-five localities in the United States — in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.  

Diceratherium was a scansorial insectivore with two horns and a fair bit of girth. He was a chunky fellow, weighing in at about one tonne (or 2,200 lbs). That is about the size of a baby Humpback Whale or a walrus.

He roamed a much cooler Washington state some 15 million years ago. Ice dams blocked large waterways in the northern half of the state, creating reservoirs. Floodwaters scoured the eastern side of the state, leaving scablands we still see today. In what would become Idaho, volcanic eruptions pushed through the Snake River, the lava cooling instantly as it burst to the surface in a cloud of steam. 

By then, the Cascades had arrived and we had yet to see the volcanic eruptions that would entomb whole forests up near Vantage in the Takama Canyon of Washington state. 

You are welcome to go see his final resting site beside the lake but it is difficult to reach and comes with its own risks. Head to the north end of Blue Lake in Washington. Take a boat and search for openings in the cliff face. You will know you are in the right place if you see a white "R" a couple hundred feet up inside the cliff. Inside the cave, look for a cache left by those who've explored here before you. Once you find the cache, look straight up. That hole above you is the outline of the rhino.

If you don't relish the thought of basalt caving, you can visit a cast of the rhino at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington. They have a great museum and are pretty sporting as they have built the cast hardy enough for folk to climb inside. 

The Burke Museum recently underwent a rather massive facelift and has re-opened its doors to the public. You can now explore their collections in the New Burke, a 113,000 sq.ft. building at 4300 15th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98105, United States. Or visit them virtually, at https://www.burkemuseum.org/

Photo: Robert Bruce Horsfall - https://archive.org/details/ahistorylandmam00scotgoog, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12805514

Reference: Prothero, Donald R. (2005). The Evolution of North American Rhinoceroses. Cambridge University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9780521832403.

Reference: O. C. Marsh. 1875. Notice of new Tertiary mammals, IV. American Journal of Science 9(51):239-250

Saturday, 11 September 2021


Styxosaurus, one of the large plesiosaurs in the family Elasmosauridae, takes on a giant octopus. 

Styxosaurus was an elasmosaur that appeared in the Late Cretaceous. 

The holotype specimen of Styxosaurus snowii was described by S.W. Williston from a complete skull and 20 vertebrae. Elasmosaurs typically have a neck that is at least half the length of the body, composed of 60-72 vertebrae.

They were very successful hunters, outcompeting ichthyosaurs who thrived in the Triassic but were replaced in the Jurassic and Cretaceous by these new aquatic beasties. 

Our ancient seas teemed with these predatory marine reptiles with their long necks and barrel-shaped bodies. Styxosaurus was around 11 metres (36 ft) long — and true to its family Elasmosauridae — about half of the length being composed of its 5.25 metres (17.2 ft) neck. Its sharp teeth were conical and were adapted to puncture and hold rather than to cut; like other plesiosaurs. 

Styxosaurus preferred to gulp down their food whole. They may have taken bits and pieces of a giant octopus similar to the one depicted but would have likely preferred a smaller prey that could be swallowed in one go.

Friday, 10 September 2021


Plesiosaurus were a large, carnivorous air-breathing marine reptile with strong jaws and sharp teeth that moved through the water with four flippers. 

We see them arise in the fossil record some 203 million years ago and then go extinct 66 million years ago.

We had originally thought that this might not be the most aerodynamic design but it was clearly effective as they used the extra set to create a wee vortex that aided in their propulsion. 

In terms of mechanical design, they have a little something in common with an unlikely favourite of mine — dragonflies.

We have recreated plesiosaur movements and discovered that they were able to optimize propulsion to make use of their own wake. As their front flippers paddled in big circular movements, the propelled water created little whirlpools under their bellies. The back flippers would then paddle between these whirlpools pushing the plesiosaur forward to maximal effect. This use of air currents is similar to how dragonflies move through the air. 

They were very successful hunters, outcompeting ichthyosaurs who thrived in the Triassic but were replaced in the Jurassic and Cretaceous by these new aquatic beasties. 

Our ancient seas teemed with these predatory marine reptiles with their long necks and barrel-shaped bodies. Plesiosaurs were smaller than their pliosaur cousins, weighing in at about 450 kg or 1,000 lbs and reaching about 4.5 metres or 15 feet in length. For a modern comparison, they were roughly twice as long as a standard horse or about as long as a good size hippo.

Thursday, 9 September 2021


A lovely chunky slate grey handful of an ammonite is Canadoceras yokoyamai from Upper Cretaceous (Early Campanian) outcrops in the Haslam Formation of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 

This gorgeous ammonite was found by Tim O'Bear and is now in the collections of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society (VIPS), a regional paleontological society based in Courtenay.

This meaty cephalopod swam and hunted in our ancient oceans 80-84 million years ago and was once a leading candidate as the provincial fossil of British Columbia — an honour won by Shonisaurus sikanniensis.

The species is named for Matajirō Yokoyama, Professor of Geology and Palaeontology at the Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan. 

Yokoyama was born in the Nagasaki Prefecture on the 14th of June 1860 — the day slavery was abolished in the Neth Indies and the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States — a move that would lead to the beginning of the US Civil War the following year.

During his early life, the Meiji Restoration would begin the process of transforming Japan into a global imperial power. During the Restoration, Japan rapidly industrialized, adopting Western ideas and production methods. This shift in the cultural focus of his nation allowed him to pursue his studies in science — something encouraged in an emerging nation.

Matajirō Yokoyama (1860-1942)
Yokoyama did some wonderful work on the Cretaceous of Japan and opened up our understanding of the species on Vancouver Island. 

Through his research, we learned of the Japanese fauna and the extent of their occurrence. The range of Canadoceras yokoyamai extended from Alaska, the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, California to Santonian outcrops in the Yezo Group of Hokkaido in Japan’s northern islands. 

Within the Yezo Group, we find Canadoceras yokoyami amongst other ammonites, bivalves — and some wonderful marine reptiles — both mosasaurs and marine turtles.

Given that Canadoceras yokoyami arose, lived and died in a relatively short time frame — geologically speaking — they make excellent Index fossils. They can act as guides as to the age of the rocks in which they are preserved. This is helpful in the field. 

If you were to find a fossil in a rock of unknown age, you can look at the species and guess with relative certainty what age that rock likely is. 


Matsumoto, T., 1954a [for 1953]: The Cretaceous system in the Japanese islands., pp. i–xiv + 1–324, pls. 1–20. The Japanese Society for the Promotion of Scientific Research, Ueno, Tokyo. (Reference No. 0219)

Tanabe, K., Ito, Y., Moriya, K. and Sasaki, T., 2000: Database of Cretaceous ammonite specimens registered in the Department of Historical Geology and Paleontology of the University Museum, University of Tokyo. The University Museum, The University of Tokyo, Material Reports, no. 37, pp. i–iv + 1–509. (Reference No. 0879)

Photo: Matajirō Yokoyama, Professor of Geology, Palaeontology and Mineralogy. 日本語: 横山又次郎 地質学古生物学及鉱物学教授 Tokyo Teikoku Daigaku (Imperial University of Tokyo). Ogawa Shashin Seihanjo, 1900 (reprint, Ryūkei Shosha, 2004).

Wednesday, 8 September 2021


Mola mola (Linnaeus, 1758)
The massive docile ocean sunfish or common mola, Mola mola (Linnaeus, 1758) is one of the two heaviest known bony fish in the world — the other being the southern sunfish of the same genus. 

As a family, Molidae emerged between 45 million and 35 million years ago, well after the dinosaurs disappeared and at a time when whales still had legs. 

A group of pufferfishes — the kissing cousins to the Mola we know today and built like little tanks — left the safety of the coral reefs for the open ocean. 

They evolved and gave rise to Mola about 23 – 20.4 million years ago. These were followed by their still extant cousins, the Ranzania, 16 – 13.8 million years ago. The third genus of extant sunfish, Masturus, has not been identified in the fossil record (Carnevale et al. 2020) though we will keep looking and put that puzzle piece in its place in time.

When they are born, dozens would fit in the palm of your hand — each roughly the size of a pea. When they are youngsters, they are very curious and will swim up to you to take a wee nibble to figure out what you are. My mother had such a harmless bite when she was travelling as a girl. The bite left a tooth embedded in her leg that worked its way out a few weeks later. Not in any way perturbed, she speaks of her encounter fondly. 

As they grow, Mola take on a very roundish look and grow to a massive 247 to 1,000 kg (544 to 2,204 lbs) — that's one and a half times the size of a typical cow and bigger than a Grizzly Bear. The heaviest specimen on record is a bump-head sunfish, Mola alexandrini, caught off Kamogawa, Chiba, Japan, in 1996. It weighed 2,300 kilograms (5,070 pounds) and measured 2.72 metres (8 feet 11 inches) long.

The sheer size and thick skin of an adult of the species deter many smaller predators, but younger fish are vulnerable to predation by bluefin tuna and mahi-mahi. 

Adults are often consumed as tasty snacks by orca, sharks and sea lions — and sadly, by humans, particularly those from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Fortunately, the EU has banned the sale of common mola and others within the family Molidae. 

Of all the fish we have in our oceans, the common mola or sunfish has the most names I have ever come across. 

Many of the sunfish's various names allude to its round, flattened, moonish or millstone shape. Its scientific name, mola, is Latin for millstone. It is a rather good choice as the fish resembles a millstone you might use for grinding grain, in part because of its grey colour, rough texture, and rounded body. 

Its English name, sunfish, refers to the animal's habit of enjoying the sun's rays as it basks near the surface. Its common names in Dutch, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Russian, Greek, Norwegian, and German — maanvis, peixe lua, Poisson lune, pez luna, peix lluna, Pesce luna, рыба-луна, φεγγαρόψαρο, månefisk and Mondfisch, respectively — mean moonfish, in reference to its round moonish shape. 

In German or auf Deutsch, the common mola is also known as Schwimmender Kopf or swimming head. In Polish, it is named samogłów, meaning head alone or only head, because it lacks a true tail. In Swedish, Danish and Norwegian it is known rather unflatteringly as klumpfisk, in Dutch klompvis, in Finnish möhkäkala — all of which mean lump fish

The Chinese translation of its name is fān chē yú 翻車魚, meaning toppled wheel fish — perhaps as a wee homage to the original Latin mola or millstone. 

By any name, we find these gentle giants cruising through tropical and temperate waters around the world where they have thrived for many millions of years.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021


Phragmoteuthis conocauda
A superb specimen of Phragmoteuthis conocauda, (Quenstedt, 1846-49). These ancient marine lovelies had an internal phragmocone and ten arms.

Phragmoteuthis is a genus of extinct coleoid cephalopod known from the late Triassic to the Lower Jurassic. Its soft tissue has been preserved wonderfully. Some rare specimens contain intact ink sacs, arm hooks, and others, gills.

There are some wonderful specimens from the Carnian, Late Triassic outcrops near Lunz, in Lower Austria with wee arm hooks and ink sacs, though the ink now looks like an agglomerate of grains. 

In Toarcian deposits in Southwestern Germany, we find fragments of Phracmoteuthis concocauda with bits of gill preserved. They look remarkably like the gills of octopod and vampyromorph colcoids.

Palaeontologist Jurji (Jura) Jeletzky characterized phragmoteuthids as having a large tripartite, fanlike pro-ostracum forming the longest portion of the shell, attached to about three-quarters of the circumference of a comparatively small breviconic phragmocone with short camerae and superficially belemnitid-like siphuncle.

Add that to an absent or much-reduced rostrum at the apical part of the phragmocone, belemnite-like arm hooks, an ink sack, beaks resembling those of recent teuthids, and a muscular mantle.

Think early squid. These are their great great grandparents. 

This specimen is in the collections of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, Norway's oldest and largest museum of natural history in the lovely neighbourhood of Tøyen near Grünerløkka in Oslo. If you visit, check out the nearby Munch Museum to see some of Edvard Munch's work.

Monday, 6 September 2021


Cadoceras (Paracadoceras) tonniense
A wee handful — This lovely partially crushed ammonite is Cadoceras (Paracadoceras) tonniense (Imlay, 1953). 

These small, often incomplete brown and grey ammonites can be found at one of my favourite outcrops in the Jurassic macrocephalites macrocephalus ammonoid zone of the Mysterious Creek Formation near Harrison Lake, British Columbia. 

It is interesting that almost all of the ammonite specimens found here have well preserved outer whorls but flattened inner whorls. It makes one suspect if it is related to what was filled with sediment and what was open space within the shell at the time of burial. 

Elliptical specimens are found here, too — showing evidence for the depth and tectonic strain the rocks were subjected to.

When you look through the outcrops, what you will find embedded in the rock are their often warped or partially crushed fossilized, mineralized shells — millions of years old. It is truly amazing that we find them at all. These beauties are from the Lower Callovian — meaning, they swam our ancient oceans 164.7 - 161.2 million years ago. 

Ammonites were predatory, squidlike creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells. Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beak-like jaws inside a ring of squid-like tentacles that extended from their shells. They used these tentacles to snare prey, — plankton, vegetation, fish and crustaceans — similar to the way a squid or octopus hunt today.

Catching a fish with your hands is no easy feat, as I am sure you know. But the Ammonites were skilled and successful hunters. They caught their prey while swimming and floating in the water column. 

Within their shells, they had a number of chambers, called septa, filled with gas or fluid that were interconnected by a wee air tube. By pushing air in or out, they were able to control their buoyancy in the water column. They lived in the last chamber of their shells, continuously building new shell material as they grew. As each new chamber was added, the squid-like body of the ammonite would move down to occupy the final outside chamber.

Interestingly, the ammonites from the Harrison Lake locality are quite similar to the ones found within the lower part of the Chinitna Formation, near Cook Inlet (Tanaina: Tikahtnu; Sugpiaq: Cungaaciq) Alaska and Jurassic Point, Kyuquot, on the west coast of Vancouver Island — some of the most beautiful places on Earth. 

For thousands of years, these lands have been the home of the Dena'ina K'enaht'ana First Nation and Kyuquot / Cheklesahht First Nation or Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k:tles7et'h' in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, respectively.

These species are from Callomon's (1984) Cadoceras comma Fauna B8 for the western Cordillera of North America, which is equivalent in part to the Macrocephalus Zone of Europe of the Early Callovian. 

The faunal association at locality 17 near Harrison suggests a more precise correlation to Callomon's zonation; namely, the Cadoceras wosnessenskii Fauna B8(e) found in the Chinitna Formation, southern Alaska (Imlay, 1953b). The type specimen is USNM 108088, from locality USGS Mesozoic 21340, Iniskin Peninsula, found in a Callovian marine siliciclastic in the Chinitna Formation of Alaska.

There are many fossils to be found on the west side of Harrison lake near the town of Harrison, British Columbia. Exploration of the geology around Harrison Lake has a long history with geologists from the Geological Survey of Canada studying geology and palaeontological exposures as far back as the 1880s. They were probably looking for coal exposures and where to route the planned Canadian Pacific Railway — or perhaps sought a glimpse of the wily but shy local Sasquatch — but happy day, they found fossils.

The paleo outcrops were first mentioned in the Geological Survey of Canada's Director's Report in 1888 (Selwyn, 1888), then studied by Whiteaves a year later. Whiteaves identified the prolific bivalve Aucella (now Buchia) from several specimens collected in 1882 by A. Bowman of the Geological Survey of Canada. 

Harrison Lake Fossil Map
The first detailed geological work in the Harrison Lake area was undertaken in a doctoral study by Crickmay (1925), who compiled a geological map, describing the stratigraphy and establishing the formational names, many of which we still use today. Crickmay went on to interpret the palaeogeography and structure of the region. 

Around Harrison Lake, Callovian beds of the Mysterious Creek Formation are locally overlain disconformably by 3,000 feet of the Early Oxfordian conglomerate. 

We find Cadoceras tonniense here and at nine localities in the Alaska Peninsula and Cook Inlet regions of the USA.

If you would like to visit the site at Chinitna Bay, you'll want to hike into 59.9° N, 153.0° W: paleo-coordinates 31.6° N, 86.6° W.

If you're a keen bean for the Canadian site, you can drive the 30 km up Forestry Road #17, stopping just past Hale Creek at 49.5° N, 121.9° W: paleo-coordinates 42.5° N, 63.4° W, on the west side of Harrison Lake. You'll see Long Island to your right. 

If you can pre-load the Google Earth map of the area you'll thank yourself. 

Access Forestry Road #17 at the northeast end of the parking lot from the Sasquatch Inn at 46001 Lougheed Hwy, Harrison  Mills. Look for signs for the Chehalis River Fish Hatchery to get you started. NTS: 92H/05NW; 92H/05SW; 92H/12NW; 92H/12SW. The first of the yummy fossil exposures (that are easily collected) are just north of Hale Creek on the west side of the road. There is active logging here so be very careful with kids and pets on the roadcut. Slides are also fairly common (and you may start a few if you hike the cliff) so watch out for those below. Wear something brightly coloured so cars and trucks can see you.

The area you are exploring for geology and palaeontology has been home to the Xa'xtsa First Nation for thousands of years. They are a band government of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, a subgroup of the larger St'at'imc — also referred to as Lower Stl'atl'imx. Xa'xtsa is made up of two communities: Port Douglas, which is situated at the northern end of Little Harrison Lake, and Tipella which is on the west side of the Lillooet River.

A. J. Arthur, P. L. Smith, J. W. H. Monger and H. W. Tipper. 1993. Mesozoic stratigraphy and Jurassic palaeontology west of Harrison Lake, southwestern British Columbia. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 441:1-62

R. W. Imlay. 1953. Callovian (Jurassic) ammonites from the United States and Alaska Part 2. The Alaska Peninsula and Cook Inlet regions. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 249-B:41-108

An overview of the tectonic history of the southern Coast Mountains, British Columbia; Monger, J W H; in, Field trips to Harrison Lake and Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Haggart, J W (ed.); Smith, P L (ed.). Canadian Paleontology Conference, Field Trip Guidebook 16, 2011 p. 1-11 (ESS Cont.# 20110248).

Sunday, 5 September 2021


Totem Poles at Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
If you visit Brockton Point in Stanley Park, there are many carved red cedar totem poles for you to admire.  

What you are viewing are replicas of First Nation totem poles that once stood in the park but have been returned to their homes within the province's diverse First Nation communities — or held within museum collections. 

Some of the original totems came from Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, near the Port McNeill on the north coast of Vancouver Island. Others came from communities in Haida Gwaii — and still more from the Wuikinuxv First Nations at Rivers Inlet on British Columbia's central west coast — home of the Great Bear Rainforest with her Spirit Bears.

The exception is the most recent addition carved by Robert Yelton in 2009.  Robert is a First Nation carver from the Squamish Nation and his original totem pole graces Brockton Point, the original settlement site of a group of Squamish-Portuguese settlers.  

If you look at the photo above, the lovely chocolate, red and turquoise totem pole on the right is a replica of the mortuary pole raised to honour the Raven Chief of Skedans or Gida'nsta, the Haida phrase for from his daughter, the title of respect used when addressing a person of high rank. Early fur traders often took the name of the local Chief and used it synonymously as the place names for the sites they visited — hence Skedans from Gida'nsta.

Chief Skedans Mortuary Pole
Chief Skedans, or Qa'gials qe'gawa-i, to his children, lived in Ḵ’uuna Llnagaay, or village at the edge, in Xaayda Kil — a village on the exposed coast of Louise Island — now a Haida Heritage Site.  

There are some paintings you may have seen by Emily Carr of her visits to the site in 1912, She used the phonetic Q'una from Q:o'na to describe both the place name and title for her work. 

Carr's paintings of the totems have always looked to me to be a mash-up — imagine if painter Tamara de Lempicka and photographer Edward Curtis had a baby — not pretty, but interesting.

Some called this area, Huadju-lanas or Xu'adji la'nas, which means Grizzly-Bear-Town, in reference to resident grizzly bear population and their adornment of many totems and artwork by the local artists.

Upon Chief Skedan's death, the mortuary pole was carved both to honour him and provide his final resting place. Dates are a bit fuzzy, but local accounts have this as sometime between 1870-1878 — and at a cost of 290 blankets or roughly $600 in today's currency. 

The great artistry of the pole was much admired by those in the community and those organizing the celebrations for the 1936 Vancouver Golden Jubilee — witnessed by  350,000 newly arrived residents.

Negotiations were pursued and the pole made its way down from Haida Gwaii to Stanley Park in time for the celebrations. The original totem graced Stanley Park for a little over twenty years before eventually making its way back to Haida Gwaii. It was returned to the community with bits of plaster and shoddy paint marring the original. These bits were scraped off and the pole welcomed back with due ceremony. 

In 1964, respected and renowned Northwest Coast master carver, Bill Reid, from the Kaadaas gaah Kiiguwaay, Raven/Wolf Clan of T'anuu, Haida Gwaii and Scottish-German descent, was asked to carve this replica. 

Mountain Goat Detail, Skedans Mortuary Pole
Reid carved the totem onsite in Stanley Park with the help of German carver Werner True. Interestingly, though I looked at length for information on Werner True, all I can find is that he aided Bill Reid on the carving for a payment of $1000.

Don Yeomans, Haida master carver, meticulously recarved the moon crest in 1998. If you have admired the totem pole in the Vancouver Airport, you will have seen some of Yeoman's incredible work. 

The crest is Moon with the face, wings, legs and claws of mighty and proud Thunderbird with a fairly smallish hooked beak in a split design. We have Moon to thank for the tides and illuminating our darkest nights. As a crest, Moon is associated with transformation and acting as both guardian and protector.

The original pole had a mortuary box that held the Chief's remains. The crest sits atop a very charming mountain goat. I have included a nice close-up here of the replica for you to enjoy. 

Mountain Goats live in the high peaks of British Columbia and being so close to the sky, they have the supernatural ability to cross over to the sky world. They are also credited as being spirit guardians and guides to First Nation shamans.

I love his horns and tucked in cloven hooves. There is another pole being carved on Vancouver Island that I hope to see during its creation that also depicts a Mountain Goat. With permission and in time, I hope to share some of those photos with you. 

Mountain Goat is sitting atop Grizzly Bear or Huaji or Xhuwaji’ with little human figures placed in his ears to represent the Chief's daughter and son-in-law, who raised the pole and held a potlatch in his honour. 

Beneath the great bear is Seal or Killer Whale in his grasp. The inscription in the park says it is a Killer Whale but I am not sure about that interpretation — both the look and lore make Seal more likely. Perhaps if Killer Whale were within Thunderbird's grasp — maybe. 

Though it is always a pleasure to see Killer Whale carved in red cedar, as the first whales came into being when they were carved in wood by a human — or by Raven — then magically infused with the gift of life.

Siwash Rock on the northern end of Third Beach, Stanley Park
The ground these totems sit upon is composed of plutonic, volcanic and sedimentary layers of rock and exhibits the profound influences of glaciation and glacial retreat from the last ice age. 

Glacial deposits sit atop as a mix of clay, sand, cobbles and larger boulders of glacial till. 

There are a few areas of exposed volcanics within the park that speak to the scraping of the glaciers as they retreated about 12,500 years ago. 

The iconic moss and lichen coated Siwash Rock on the northern end of Third Beach is one of the more picturesque of these. It is a basaltic and andesitic volcanic rock — a blend of black phenocrysts of augite cemented together with plagioclase, hornblende and volcanic glass.

Images not shown: 

Do check out the work of Emily Carr and her paintings of Q:o'na from the 1940s. I'll post a link but do not have permission to post her works. http://www.emilycarr.org/totems/exhibit/haida/ssintro.htm

Saturday, 4 September 2021


Anavitrinella pampinaria / Dan Bowden Photography
A Common grey moth of the family Geometridae. We begin to see them in the fossil record some 200 million years ago. 

These lovelies live in North America from Mexico to Alaska and do a wonderful job at camouflage. 

While not a perfect hiding spot, this fellow has chosen to settle in for the evening on a young yellow cedar tree, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, in Vancouver's Stanley Park — a 405-hectare urban forest in Vancouver, B.C. that became a provincial park in 1887. 

This area was once the exclusive domain of the Coast Salish First Nations —  xʷmə?kʷəyəm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations until the early 1800s. 

Blending into that mix in the mid-1800s was a group of mixed Portuguese-Squamish settlers who called the eastern shores of the park at Brockton Point home from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. 

Brockton Point. City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 677-228
On the park's northern shores, there were well established Squamish First Nations villages — Whoi Whoi known today as Lumberman's Arch and Chaythos, which we now call Prospect Point. 

There was also a well-established Hawaiian settlement at Kanaka Ranch closer to the park's entrance near Coal Harbour. 

Many individuals from Vancouver's growing Chinese population lived peacefully alongside squirrels, coyotes, racoons and other wildlife within the natural beauty of the park. Enticed to British Columbia by the lure of gold but finding the riches far less than expected, they took to the forest in Stanley Park to make out of the way homes for themselves. That, of course, did not last. All of the residents in and around the newly minted park were ousted with ill regard for their welfare. 

You may know of one of the families, Khatsahlano, from whence Kitsilano gets its name. August Jack Khatsahlano (July 16, 1877 – June 5, 1971), lived in Whoi Whoi alongside eleven other families. August Jack Khatsahlano or X̱ats'alanexw in his native language) was born in the village of Xwayxway on the peninsula that is now Stanley Park, Vancouver, or at Chaythoos, British Columbia.

He was the son of Supple Jack "Khay- Tulk" of Chaythoos and Sally "Owhaywat" from the Yekwaupsum Reserve north of Squamish, British Columbia. His grandfather was Chief Khahtsahlano of Senakw (aka Snauq or Sun'ahk) who had migrated from his home at Toktakanmic on the Squamish River to Chaythoos, and the relative from whence he inherited his name. The suffix "lan-ogh" in their name means man. In an interview with Vancouver's first archivist, Khatsahlano recounts:

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
“When they make [the] Stanley Park road, we were eating [breakfast] in our house. Someone make noise outside; chop our house. We were inside the house when the surveyors came along, and they chop the corner of our house while we were eating inside.”

You can imagine taking just what you can carry and walking into the unknown of where you will sleep that night and make a home in the future. It saddens me that we treat people so poorly, historically and now. 

We also treat our wildlife poorly. There are plans to capture and kill the coyotes in Stanley Park today as they are a nuisance to those visiting the park. We might consider that we are a nuisance to them. 

The only real winners in Stanley Park are the trees, birds and insects, including lovelies like this grey moth. In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest and part of my heritage, yellow cedar is dixw, and a moth is ma̱stła̱ḵ̕wa or ma̱stła̱ḵ̕wani

The thin, greyish-brown and scaly bark provides a pretty good cover. He was caught unawares and photographed beautifully by the hugely talented, Dan Bowden, on a visit to the city.

Friday, 3 September 2021


A wee baby deep chocolate Ainoceras sp. heteromorph ammonite from Vancouver Island. This adorable corkscrew-shaped ammonite is an extinct marine mollusc related to squid and octopus.  

Within their shells, they had a number of chambers, called septa, filled with gas or fluid that were interconnected by a wee air tube. By pushing air in or out, they were able to control their buoyancy in the water column. These little cuties were predators who hunted in Cretaceous seas.

They lived in the last chamber of their shells, continuously building new shell material as they grew. As each new chamber was added, the squid-like body of the ammonite would move down to occupy the final outside chamber. 

Not all ammonites have this whacky corkscrew design. Most are coiled and some are even shaped like massive paperclips. 

Thursday, 2 September 2021


Abalone is the common name for a group of large marine snails — gastropod molluscs in the genus Haliotis, family Haliotidae.

Haliotis once contained six subgenera but these are now grouped together as alternate representations of Haliotis

In the Pacific Northwest, our rocky shores are home to the Northern or Pinto abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana. In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, abalone are known as gwa'lit̕sa.

They range from Mexico to Alaska and are the only abalone species found in Washington state, British Columbia and Alaska. Abalone prefer to live amongst the cold waters and high surf of rocky reef habitats. They are easily harvested as their sweet spot is water between 3-18 meters or 10-60 feet deep.  

The shells of abalones have a low, open spiral structure, and are characterized by several open respiratory pores in a row near the shell's outer edge. The thick inner layer of the shell is composed of nacre or mother-of-pearl. Their iridescent nacre is gorgeous and runs from white to blue to green. Both their meat and their shells are highly prized. 

The Northern or Pinto abalone is protected today. Those looking to use the shell for decorative purposes must now look to California or New Zealand. The California abalone is more colourful than its northern cousin and has long been preferred by First Nations artists, particularly for the large earrings favoured by women of rank amongst First Nation clans.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


The brood of eggs you see here belong to the slow-moving but massive dinosaur Therizinosaurus. He belonged to a genus of sizable therizinosaurid that lived during the Late Cretaceous, 70 million years ago. 

These big beasties reached up to 10 metres in length and likely weighed over 3,000 kg. 

They lumbered along with their unusually long arms pulling down and munching on vegetation in what is now the Nemegt Formation in the Nemegt Valley of Asia. 

The massive therizinosaurids are known from a single type species Therizinosaurus cheloniformis or scythe lizard found in the Gobi Desert.

In 1918, a very fortuitous Palaeontological Field Expedition to the Mongolian Gobi Desert by the USSR Academy of Sciences found the remains of a giant, turtle-like reptile near the remains of a large carnivorous dinosaur. 

Later, In 1948, another expedition was launched to retrace the work of the USSR expedition. More of the fossil bones were collected and together with those originally collected in 1918, were written up as the type specimen of Therizinosaurus described by Soviet palaeontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Maleev in 1954.  You may recall that Maleeve was the fellow who described the ankylosaur Talarurus and the theropod Tarbosaurus.

The genus is known only from a few bones, including gigantic manual unguals or claw bones, from which it gets its name. More bones from the forelimb and hindlimb were discovered during the 1960s–1980s.

Therizinosaurus was a colossal therizinosaur that could grow up to 9–10 m (30–33 ft) long and weigh possibly over 3 t (3,000 kg). Like other therizinosaurs, it would have been a bit of a slowpoke on the ground. These fellows had a rhamphotheca (horny beak) and a wide torso for food processing. 

The forelimbs were particularly robust and had three fingers that bore unguals which, unlike other relatives, were very stiffened, elongated, and only had significant curvatures at the tips.

Therizinosaurus had the longest known manual unguals of any land animal, reaching above 50 cm (500 mm) in length. Its hindlimbs ended in four functionally weight-bearing toes differing from other theropod groups in which the first toe was reduced to a dewclaw and also resembling the unrelated sauropodomorphs.

It was one of the last and the largest representative of its unique group, the Therizinosauria (formerly known as Segnosauria; the segnosaurs). During and after its original description in 1954, Therizinosaurus had rather complex relationships due to the lack of complete specimens and relatives at the time. 

Maleev thought the remains of Therizinosaurus to belong to a large turtle-like reptile, and also named a separate family for the genus: Therizinosauridae. Later on, with the discovery of more complete relatives, Therizinosaurus and kin were thought to represent some kind of Late Cretaceous sauropodomorphs or transitional ornithischians, even though at some point it was suggested that it may have been a theropod. 

After years of taxonomic debate, nevertheless, they are now placed in one of the major dinosaur clades, Theropoda, specifically as maniraptorans. 

The unusual arms and body anatomy (extrapolated after relatives) of Therizinosaurus is a wonderful example of convergent evolution with chalicotheriines and other primarily herbivorous mammals, suggesting similar feeding habits. 

Their elongated hand claws were more useful when pulling vegetation within reach rather than being used for active attack or defence because of their fragility, however, they may have had some role for intimidation. Its arms also were particularly resistant to stress, which suggests a robust use of these limbs. Therizinosaurus was a very tall animal, likely having a reduced competition over the foliage in its habitat and outmatching predators like Tarbosaurus.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021


Aioloceras besairiei (Collingnon, 1949)
Beauty is a stimulant that is administered through the eyes.

And just look at this beauty. This gorgeous burnt orange and creamy visual feast is the ammonite Aioloceras besairiei (Collingnon, 1949) from the Upper Cretaceous (Lower Albian) Boeny region of Madagascar. 

This is specimen #00783B in the collections of the Vancouver Palaeontological Society, (VIPS). The chambers have a wonderful calcite filling best viewed by carefully slicing these specimens in two. 

There is a small imperfection near the centre that renders this ammonite its signature mark of perfection. This lovely is in my care as a study specimen. 

Madagascar is an island country is about 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean and a wonderful place to explore off the beaten track. Exotic, beautiful and geologically interesting — it remains high on my bucket list to explore. 

Madagascar has some of the most pleasing of all the fossil specimens I have ever seen. This beauty is no exception. The shell has a generally small umbilicus, arched to acute centre and falcoid ribs that spring in pairs from the umbilical tubercles then disappear on the outer whorls. Take that magical body plan with its pleasing symmetry and add an infilling with spectacular calcite — spectacular! 

It is rightfully Aioloceras besairiei — and correctly labelled as such by the VIPS — but some specimens I have looked at earlier were marked as a Cleoniceras besairiei. This is impossible, of course, as Cleoniceras and Grycia are not present in Madagascar. This lovely, seen in cross-section, is now far from home and in my collection to enjoy for a time before returning to Courtenay on Vancouver Island. 

Aioloceras besairiei are within beudanticeratinae. Cleoniceras and Grycia are the boreal genera. If you would like to see — or argue — the rationale on the name, consider reading Riccardi and Medina's riveting work from back in 2002, or Collingnon from 1949.

The beauty you see here measures in at a whopping 23 cm. It hails from the youngest or uppermost subdivision of the Lower Cretaceous. I had originally thought this locality was older, but dating reveals it to be from the Lower Albian, approximately 113.0 ± 1.0 Ma to 100.5 ± 0.9 Ma. This locality produces ammonites that are beyond measure in their singular beauty. 

Aioloceras are found in the Cretaceous of Madagascar at geo coordinates 16.5° S, 45.9° E: paleo-coordinates 40.5° S, 29.3° E.; and in four localities in South Africa: at locality 36, near the Mzinene River at 28.0° S, 32.3° E: paleo-coordinates 48.6° S, 7.6° E. 

We find them near the Mziene River, at a second locality north of Hluhluwe where the Mzinene Formation overlies the Aptian-Albian Makatini Formation at 28.0° S, 32.3° E: paleo-coordinates 48.6° S, 7.6° E; and at Haughton Z18, on the Pongola River in the Albian III, Tegoceras mosense beds at 27.3° S, 32.2° E: paleo-coordinates 48.0° S, 7.8° E.

If you happen to be trekking to Madagascar, know that it's big. It is 592,800 square kilometres (or  226,917 square miles), making it the fourth-largest island on the planet — bigger than Spain, Thailand, Sweden and Germany. So, enjoy your time and wear comfortable shoes. 

If you are interested in learning more about this species, check out the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part L (Ammonoidea). R.C. Moore (ed). Geological Soc of America and Univ. Kansas Press (1957), p L394. Or head over to look at the 2002 paper from Riccardi and Medina. 2002. Riccardi, A., C. & Medina, F., A. The Beudanticeratinae and Cleoniceratinae (Ammonitina) from the Lower Albian of Patagonia in Revue de Paléobiologie - 21(1) - Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de la ville de Genève, p 313-314 (=Aioloceras besairiei (COLLIGNON, 1949). You have Bertrand Matrion to thank for the naming correction. Good to have friends in geeky places!

Collignon, M., 1933, Fossiles cenomaniens d’Antmahavelona (Province d’ Analalave, Madagascar), Ann. Geol. Serv. Min. Madagascar, III, 1934 Les Cephalopods du Trias inferieur de Madagascar, Ann. Paleont. XXII 3 and 4, XXII 1.

Besairie, H., 1971, Geologie de Madagascar, 1. Les terrains sedimentaires, Ann. Geol. Madagascar, 35, p. 463.

J. Boast A. and E. M. Nairn collaborated on a chapter in An Outline of the Geology of Madagascar, that is very readable and cites most of the available geologic research papers. It is an excellent place to begin a paleo exploration of the island.

If you happen to parle français, check out: Madagascar ammonites: http://www.ammonites.fr/Geo/Madagascar.htm

Monday, 30 August 2021


Unescoceratops koppelhusae, Julius Csotonyi
A very sweet small leptoceratopsid dinosaur, Unescoceratops koppelhusae — a new species in the collections of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta.

The colourful and beautifully detailed painting you see here is by the very talented Julius Csotonyi who captured the magnificence of form and potential colouring to bring this small leptoceratopsid dinosaur to life.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, named in honour of Joseph Burr Tyrrell, is a palaeontology museum and research facility in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. 

This jaw is the holotype specimen of this small leptoceratopsid dinosaur. Only a handful of isolated fossils have been found from this species, including a jaw that is the holotype specimen now in collections at the Royal Tyrell. 

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, named in honour of Joseph Burr Tyrrell, is a palaeontology museum and research facility in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. 

Unescoceratops koppelhusae, RTMP Collections
The rusty chocolate jaw bone you see here is the puzzle piece that helped all of the research come together and help us to better understand more about the diminutive leptoceratopsid dinosaurs from Alberta. 

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Michael Ryan and David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto recently determined that the specimen was a new genus and species. 

Unescoceratops is a genus of leptoceratopsid ceratopsian dinosaurs known from the Late Cretaceous (about 76.5-75 million years ago) of Alberta, Canada. Unescoceratops is thought to have been between one and two meters long and less than 91 kilograms. A plant-eater, its teeth were the roundest of all Leptocertopsids.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
The genus name acknowledges the UNESCO  World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, where the fossil was found. 

In addition to its particularly beautiful scenery, Dinosaur Provincial Park – located at the heart of the province of Alberta's badlands – is unmatched in terms of the number and variety of high-quality specimens which, to date, represent more than 44 species, 34 genera and 10 families of dinosaurs, dating back 75-77 million years. 

The park contains exceptional riparian habitat features as well as badlands of outstanding aesthetic value.

The creamy beige and rust coloured hills around the fossil locality are outstanding examples of major geological processes and fluvial erosion patterns in semi-arid steppes. These badlands stretch along 26 kilometres of high quality and virtually undisturbed riparian habitat, presenting a landscape of stark but exceptional natural beauty.

The species name honours Dr. Eva Koppelhus, who has made significant contributions to vertebrate palaeontology and palynology. 

The genus is named to honour the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the locality where the specimen was found and from the Greek “ceratops,” which means 'horned face'. 

Dr Michael Ryan explained that he meant to honour UNESCO's efforts to increase understanding of natural history sites around the world.

© Julius T. Csotonyi An illustration of Unescoceratops koppelhusae, a plant-eating dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period that lived approximately 75 million years ago shared with his gracious permission. To view more of Julius Csotonyi's exquisite work visit: https://csotonyi.com/