Saturday, 20 July 2019

ANCIENT OCTOPUS FROM CRETACEOUS SEAS

Keuppia levante
A wonderful example of Keuppia  (Fuchs, Bracchi & Weis, 2009), an extinct genus of octopus that swam our ancient seas 95 million years ago.

Keuppia is in the family Palaeoctopodidae, and one of the earliest representatives of the order Octopoda. These ancient marine beauties are in the class cephalopoda making them relatives of our modern octopus, squid and cuttlefish.

This fellow with his remarkable soft-bodied preservation and inks sack and beak clearly visible is Keuppia levante. He hails from Late Cretaceous (Upper Cenomanian) limestone deposits near Hâdjoula in northwestern Lebanon.

The vampyropod coleoid, Glyphiteuthis abisaadiorum n. sp., is also found at this locality. This specimen is in the collection of David Appleton. Photo credit: David Appleton.

Friday, 19 July 2019

SLEEPY KOALAS

The Koala, Phasscolarctos cinereus, is a lovely marsupial native to Australia. These cuddly "teddy bears" are not bears at all.

Koalas belong to a group of mammals known as marsupials. They have pouches on their bellies where their newborns develop. Wee baby Koalas are called joeys. They are born blind and earless but use their strong sense of touch and smell to guide them instinctively up into their mother's pouch when they are born. They live in her pouch for about six months. When they are a little stronger (and braver and get curious) they forage out, riding on their mother's backs until they are about a year old. Adult Koalas love eucalyptus trees and spend their leisurely days eating and napping amongst the foliage.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

GONDWANA: EVOLUTION OF A SUPERCONTINENT

The ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, as we think of it, came into being about 500 million years ago. We refer to that time as the Ediacaran, the time of the beginnings of multicellular organisms. These were exotic and primitive beasties, interesting segmented worms, rounded jellyfish-like organisms, enigmatic tubular and sea-pen-like beauties.

Gondwana split into the landmasses we know today about 180 million years ago. Not lost, just reformed as Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. Gondwana joined with other landmasses to become Pangea by about 300 million years ago, before morphing again into Laurasia. By the middle of the Eocene, some fifty-five million years ago, only Australia, Antarctica and South America remained as they straddled the South Pole.

Free of ice and the giant marine and flying reptiles, a new line-up of mammals, flightless birds, crocodiles, snakes and turtles thrived in the warm, wet climate, rapidly adapting and dominating the forests, oceans and skies. New and fanciful creatures, the monotremes, marsupials and placentals explored and took root in the Gondwanan forests as conifers gave way to broad-leaved trees in an ever changing landscape.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

CHENGJIANG LOBOPODIAN

A rather nice Onychodictyon ferox (lobopod) from the Chengjiang Biota, Lower Cambrian, Yunnan, China. The Lobopodians, or Velvet Worms, are small marine and terrestrial animals averaging about 70 mm in length. All recent forms of these wee beasties are terrestrial. Most of the fossil Lobopodians are marine and closely resemble Aysheaia from the Burgess Shale. Collection of Marc R. Hänsel.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

OH PFEILSCHWANZKREBS!

Horseshoe crabs are classic living fossils. These marine and brackish water arthropods of the order Xiphosura are slowly evolving, conservative taxa.

Much like (slow) Water Striders (Aquarius remigis), (pretty slow) Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) and (the current winner on freakishly slow evolution) Elephant Sharks (Callorhinchus milii), these fellows have a long history in the fossil record with very few anatomical changes.

But slow change provide loads of great information. It makes our new friend, Yunnanolimulus luoingensis, an especially interesting and excellent reference point for how this group evolved. We can examine their genome today and make comparisons all the way back to the Middle Triassic (with this new find) and other specimens from further back in the Ordovician.

The evolution of their exoskeleton is well-documented by fossils, but appendage and soft-tissue preservation is extremely rare.

This new study analyzes details of appendage and soft-tissue preservation in Yunnanolimulus luopingensis, a Middle Triassic (ca. 244 million years old) horseshoe crab from Yunnan Province, SW China.

The remarkable preservation of anatomical details including the chelicerae, five pairs of walking appendages, opisthosomal appendages with book gills, muscles, and fine setae permits comparison with extant horseshoe crabs.

The close anatomical similarity between the Middle Triassic horseshoe crabs and their recent analogues documents anatomical conservatism for over 240 million years, suggesting persistence of lifestyle.

The occurrence of Carcinoscorpius-type claspers on the first and second walking legs in male individuals of Y. luopingensis indicates that simple chelate claspers in males are plesiomorphic for horseshoe crabs, and the bulbous claspers in Tachypleus and Limulus are derived.

As an aside, if you hadn't seen an elephant shark before and were shown a photo, you'd likely say, "that's no freaking shark." You'd be wrong, of course, but it would be a very clever observation. Callorhinchus millii look nothing like our Great White friends and are not true sharks at all. Rather, they are ghostsharks that belong to the subclass Holocephali (chimaera), a group known as ratfish. They diverged from the shark lineage about 400 million years ago.

If you have a moment, do a search for "Callorhinchus millii." The odd looking fellow with the ironic name, "kallos" means beautiful in Greek, sports black blotches on a pale silver elongate body. And their special feature? It's the fishy equivalent of "business in the front, party in the back," with a dangling trunk-like projection at the tip of their snout and well-developed rectal glands near the tail.

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=719594

Ref: Hu, Shixue & Zhang, Qiyue & Feldmann, Rodney & Benton, Michael & Schweitzer, Carrie & Huang, Jinyuan & Wen, Wen & Zhou, Changyong & Xie, Tao & Lü, Tao & Hong, Shuigen. (2017). Exceptional appendage and soft-tissue preservation in a Middle Triassic horseshoe crab from SW China. Scientific Reports. 7. 10.1038/s41598-017-13319-x.

Monday, 15 July 2019

SKØKKENMØDDINGER


Many First Nations sites were inhabited continually for centuries. These sites were both home, providing continuity and community and also formed a spiritual connection to the landscape.

The day to day activities of each of these communities would much like our own. Babies were born, meals were served and life followed a natural cycle.

As coastal societies lived their lives they also left their mark. Sometimes through totems and carvings but almost always through discarded shells and scraps of bone from their food. These refuse heaps contain a wealth of information about how that community lived, what they ate and what environmental conditions looked like over time. This physical history provides a wonderful resource for archaeologists in search of botanical material, artifacts, broken cooking implements and my personal favourite, mollusc shells.

These wonderfully informative heaps of the local gastronomic record provide a wealth of information. Especially those formed from enormous mounds of bivalves and clams. We call these middens. Left over time, these unwanted dinner scraps transform through a process of preservation.

The Danish term køkkenmøddinger (plural) was first used by Japetus Steenstrup, a Danish zoologist and biologist, to describe shell heaps and continues to be used by some researchers. I still prefer middens, but to each his own. 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. In prepping fossil specimens embedded in limestone, it is useful to know that limestone, itself a carbonate sedimentary rock, reacts with stronger acids, releasing carbon dioxide: CaCO3(s) + 2HCl(aq) → CaCl2(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l).

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 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.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

TYLOSTOMA TUMIDUM

This lovely big fellow is Tylostoma tumidum, an epifaunal grazing Lower Cretaceous Gastropod from white, micritic, coarsely nodular limestone deposits of the Goodland Formation at White Settlement west of Fort Worth, Texas, USA. (171.6 to 58.7 Ma).

The bedding here is massive with some thin clay beds. The macro fossil found here include the ammonite, Oxytropidoceras acutocarinatum, pelecypods such as Protocardia, Pinna and Lima wacoensis along with heart-shaped urchins in abundance and lovely gastropods such as this beauty, Tylostoma tumidum. This specimen shows the wear and tear of erosion common at the site.

Tylostoma have thick, smooth shells with a moderately elevated spire. Their aperture is ovato-lunate with the lips meeting above at a sharp angle. The outer lip is furnished internally, running the whole length and ending with a nice thickened edge. This chunky specimen is about 3 inches tip to tip.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

ANCIENT PLANKTON HUNTER

Pentremites sp. / Hardin County, Kentucky
This wee lovely Blastoid is Pentremites sp. from Mississippian deposits in Hardin County, Kentucky. This little fellow represents a specimen from the peak of their diversity in the Mississippian.

Blastoids are an extinct type of stemmed or stalked suspension feeding echinoderms, sometimes referred to as "sea buds."

They made a living feeding on planktonic organisms that inhabited our ancient seas from shelf to basin. Their lineage dates back to the Ordovician and died out at the end of the Permian, about 250 million years ago. This little guy measures 10mm top to bottom and 5mm at his widest.

Friday, 12 July 2019

TRAGOPHYLLOCERAS LOSCOMBI

Tragophylloceras loscombi / Dorset Coast
A very interesting Tragophylloceras loscombi (134 mm with the peristome / 41 mm) from Lower Pliensbachian deposits near the coastal village of Seatown near Charmouth on the Dorset coast of the UK.

This lovely specimen is in the collection of the deeply awesome José Juárez Ruiz. He was amongst the many belemnite guards and ammonite shells of this lovely collection spot. Both beautiful in and of itself and highly prized for its fossil finds along the silty mudstone cliffs and fossiliferous boulders.

This fellow like to live in the offshore, deep subtidal shelves of our ancient seas around 189 to 183 million years ago.

He was a nektonic carnivore, an active swimmer cruising our ancient seas looking for tasty daily sustenance. Ammonites belong to the class of animals called mollusks. More specifically they are cephalopods and first appeared in the lower Devonian Period. Cephalopods were an abundant and diverse group during the Paleozoic Era.

Varying in size from millimeters to meters across, these elegant marine dwellers are prized as both works of art and index fossils helping us better understand and date strata. Cousins in the Class Cephalopoda, meaning "head-footed," ammonites are closely related to modern squid, cuttlefish and octopus with complex eye structures and advanced swimming abilities. They used these evolutionary benefits to their advantage, making them successful marine predators cruising our ancient oceans expertly capturing prey with their tentacles.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

PLATRYACHELLA: DEVONIAN BRACHIOPOD

Platryachella sp. / Devonian Brachiopod
This fellow is Platyrachella sp. a brachiopod from Middle Devonian deposits of the renamed the Little Cedar Formation, Cedar Valley Group (probably out of the Solon Member) near Benton County, deep in the agricultural belt of east-central Iowa.

Driving through Benton you see long, gently rolling slopes, farms of corn and soybean growing in deep black soil.

Benton also has three very productive quarries that produce limestone, gravel and clay for industrial uses. While the quarries focus on the commercial aspects of the many varieties of limestone produced there, they also boasts some very nice macro fossils like the brachiopod specimen you see here. While brachiopods share some similarities with their molluscan friends they are in a phylum all their own. Clams or bivalves are molluscs, the second-largest phylum of invertebrates with about 85,000 extant species.

Brachiopods are small marine shellfish that are not so common today but back in the Palaeozoic they were plentiful the world over. The two valves that make up a brachiopods shell are of different sizes and if you look closely you'll see that the hinge runs top and bottom  -- versus left and right like a clam.

Brachiopods have been with us a long time. Their lineage dates back to the Cambrian with over 12,000 fossil species and 350 living species sorted between 6,000 genera. There are two major groups of brachiopods, articulate with toothed hinges and simple open and closing muscles to manipulate their shells and inarticulate brachiopods with untoothed hinges and a more complex set of muscles used to control the brachial supports used to open and close their shells. This specimen is 7cm long and about 2.5cm deep

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

OLIGOCENE FOSSIL WHALE VERTEBRAE

Oligocene Fossil Whale vertebrae from Majestic Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA.

These lovely water worn specimens are difficult to ID to species with certainty but may be from an early baleen whale. Found amongst the beach pebbles on the Olympic Peninsula, they are likely cetacean and very likely baleen as this area is home to some of the earliest baleen whales in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1993, a 27-million-year-old specimen was discovered in deposits nearby that represents a new species of early baleen whale. It is especially interesting as it is from a stage in the group’s evolutionary history when baleen whales transitioned from having teeth to filtering food with baleen bristles.

Visiting researcher Carlos Mauricio Peredo studied the fossil whale remains, publishing his research to solidify Sitsqwayk (pronounced sits-quake) cornishorum, in the annals of science history.

The earliest baleen whales clearly had teeth, and clearly still used them. Modern baleen whales have no teeth, and have instead evolved baleen plates for filter feeding. So when did this evolutionary change occur and what factors might have caused it?

Traditionally, paleontologists have sought answers about the evolution of baleen whales by turning to two extinct groups: the aetiocetids and the eomysticetids. The aetiocetids are small baleen whales that still have teeth, but they are very small, and it remains uncertain whether or not they used their teeth.

In contrast, the eomysticetids are about the size of an adult Minke Whale and seem to have been much more akin to modern baleen whales; though it’s not certain if they had baleen. Baleen typically does not preserve in the fossil record being soft tissue; generally only hard tissue, bones & teeth, are fossilized.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

OLIGOCENE FOSSIL BEAVER

This may be the cutest fossil skull you'll see all day. This is Microtheriomys brevirhinus, an adorable teeny, 19 mm, fossil beaver skull from the John Day Formation in Oregon. Awe, right?

Paleontologists Dr William Korth of Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Dr Joshua Samuels of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument were chuffed to find a treasure trove of new fossil species during field work this past year building on the knowledge from previous finds. They have described four new genera and ten new species of prehistoric rodents that lived in what is now Oregon during the Oligocene -- 30- 22 million years ago.

The newly-discovered genera include this wee fellow, the early beaver, Microtheriomys brevirhinus, a dwarf tree squirrel, Miosciurus covensis, a primitive pocket mouse, Bursagnathus aterosseusm the birch mouse Plesiosminthus fremdi, an early relative of beavers, Allotypomys pictus along with bits and pieces of Proapeomys condoni; Apeomys whistleri; Neoadjidaumo arctozophus, Proheteromys latidens & Trogomys oregonensis.

Of these ten new species, four represent completely new genera: Allotypomys, Microtheriomys, Proapeomys, and Bursagnathus. It's a bit like winning the paleo lottery.

“This study fills some substantial gaps in our knowledge of past faunas, specifically smaller mammals,” said Dr Samuels, who is a co-author of the paper published in the Annals of Carnegie Museum. “Some of the new species are really interesting in their own right, and will ultimately help improve our understanding of the evolution of beavers and pocket mice.”

Monday, 8 July 2019

CHOCOLATE CHIP SEA STAR

Protoeaster nodosus / Chocolate Chip Sea Star
If you're lucky enough to swim in the warm, shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific region, you may encounter one of the most charming of all the sea stars, the Protoeaster nodosus.

These beauties are commonly known as Horned Sea Stars or, my personal favorite, Chocolate Chip Sea Stars.

They are part of the class Asteroidea (starfish or sea stars) one of the most diverse groups within the phylum Echinodermata and have a lengthy lineage in the fossil record stretching all the way back to the Triassic. These echinoderms make a living on near-shore sandy bottoms or lurk in the sea grass meadows of some of our most beautiful waters.

Chocolate Chip Sea Stars live in the waters off the Philippine Sea, off the coast of Australia and New Guinea. Their range extends to the Marshall Islands through central and southeastern Polynesia, past Easter Island and all the way up to Hawaii. Pretty much pick any of the top contenders for a warm, tropical vacation and they've beat you to it!

This species of sea star have black rows of "horns" or "spines" meant to scare off predators. A noble deterrent for his fishy friends but I find this signature decoration rather fetching. These fellows like to graze on choice corals and sponges. They are also happy to make a meal of snails and bitter sea urchin when these ambrosial treats are presented. And they are social, both to mate, gathering in groups to aid in fertilization and acting as soft cover for shrimp, wee brittle stars and juvenile leatherjackets or filefish, who tuck in and enjoy the protective cover of those dark nodes.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

BALANG: TUZOIA SINENSIS

Tuzoia sinensis (Pan, 1957) / York Yuxi Wang Collection
A large extinct bivalved arthropod, Tuzoia sinesis (Pan, 1957) from Cambrian deposits of the Balang Formation. The Balang outcrops in beautiful Paiwu, northwestern Hunan Province in southern China. The site is intermediate in age between the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna of Yunnan and the Lower to Middle Cambrian, Kaili Lagerstätten of Guizhou in southwestern China.

This specimen was collected earlier this week. It is one of many new and exciting arthropods to come from the site.

Balang has a low diversity of trilobites and many soft-bodied fossils similar in preservation to Canada's Burgess Shale. Some of the most interesting finds include the first discovery of anomalocaridid appendages (Appendage-F-type) from China along with the early arthropod Leanchoiliids with his atypical frontal appendages (and questionable phylogenetic placement) and the soft-shelled trilobite-like arthropod, Naraoiidae.

While the site is not as well-studied as the Chengjiang and Kaili Lagerstätten, it looks very promising. The exceptionally well-preserved fauna includes algae, sponges, chancelloriids, cnidarians, worms, molluscs, brachiopods, trilobites and a few non-mineralized arthropods. It is an exciting time for Cambrian paleontology. The Balang provides an intriguing new window into our ancient seas and the profound diversification of life that flourished there.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

SAUROPTERYGIAN MANDIBLE

Libonectes atlasense / Andy Chua Collection
A beautifully preserved mandible of an Libonectes atlasense, an elasmosaurid plesiosaur from early Turonian, Upper Cretaceous,  deposits of the Akrabou Formation near Asfla Village, Goulmima, Errachidia Province in eastern central Morocco.

The collecting area is in the region of Drâa-Tafilalet. You may know Errachidia as Ksar Souk. It was renamed My Rachid, in honor of Moroccan royal family. Libonectes is an genus of sauropterygian reptile belonging to the plesiosaurs. Specimens have been found in the Britton Formation of Texas and the Akrabou Formation of Morocco. Sauropterygian reptiles were a diverse taxon of extinct aquatic reptiles that arose from terrestrial ancestors just after the Permian extinction event. They flourished during the Triassic then all but the Plesiosaurs became extinct at the end of the Triassic -- with Plesiosaurs dying out at the end of the Cretaceous.

Friday, 5 July 2019

KASKAPAU FORMATION: DINOSAUR BONE

Dinosaur bone / Kaskapau Formation
Bones from a variety of dinosaurs have been found in the Tumbler Ridge area of British Columbia.

Here plaster is used to protect a valuable dinosaur bone collected from Flatbed Creek near Tumbler Ridge. The bone is from the Kaskapau Formation (Turonian) and was found a few metres away from a Tetrapodosaurus, "four-footed lizard," trackway.

Both Rich McCrea and Lisa Buckley have published extensively on the fossil material from this area. Additional Papers: Arbour et al. (2008ish) wrote up a paper in the Canadian Journal of Earth Science on dinosaur material collected in the 60s from BC; Rylaarsdam et al. contributed to the same journal two years earlier on the association of dinosaur footprints and skeletal material in the Kaskapau Formation.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

LAMPLIT DINOSAUR TRACKS

Ankylosaur Trackway / Tumbler Ridge
A detailed view of the Dinosaur Trackway near Wolverine River, Tumbler Ridge, northeastern British Columbia.

The tracks are filled with water to reflect the lamplight, making them both beautiful and easier to view.

There are three types of footprints found in the Tumbler Ridge GeoPark. At the Wolverine River Tracksite there are theropods (at least four different sizes) and ankylosaurs. Also found in the area are ornithopod tracks from herbivorous dinosaurs with their nice wide tracks. You'll recognize them by their short-wide prints with three blunt toes. There are rare wee hand prints associated with some of those tracks if you look closely.


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

ANKYLOSAUR TRACKWAY

Fossil Field Trip / Ankylosaur Trackway
After an exciting hike in the dark through the woods and down a steep incline, we reached the river. The tracks in this photo are from a type of armored dinosaur that date from the very end of the Cretaceous, between 68-66 million years ago.

Imagine a meandering armored tank munching on ferns and low-growing vegetation. There are two types of footprints at the Wolverine River Tracksite, the meat-eating theropods (at least four different sizes) and the slow, lumbering plant-eating ankylosaurs.

The trackway you see here was made by one of those armored lumbering ankylosaurs and a few of the prints carry skin impressions. Filling the prints with water and using lamplight was genius for viewing tracks as they are all but invisible in the bright sunlight.

There are two types of footprints at the Wolverine River Tracksite, the meat-eating theropods (at least four different sizes) and the slow, lumbering plant-eating ankylosaurs. Filling the prints with water and using light in a clever way was a genius idea for viewing tracks that are all but invisible in bright sunlight by day.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

FOOTSTEPS THROUGH TIME

Dinosaur Trackway / Trace Fossils
Walking along the beach at sunset, the last rays of the day catch the edges of ancient trackways of meat-eating dinosaurs who hunted in packs 100 million years ago. These were living, breathing, fear and awe-inspiring beasts that we may never meet in person but can imagine in vivid detail.

It is through their footsteps, these trace fossils, that we get our first peek at behavior we might not otherwise have known. Trace fossils or ichnofossils are burrows, footprints, tracks or even feces left behind by plants and animals that lived long ago. They may have scurried across a muddy exposure or eaten a tasty meal then pooped it out -- leaving behind clues to how they lived, what they ate and what the environment was like at the time.

Dinosaur footprints are an excellent example as they tend to make the news and are met with great excitement. Worm burrows on the other hand often go unnoticed and do not receive the hoopla and applause they deserve.

Ichnofossils can tell us a great deal about ancient environments, the behavior of ancient life and fill in gaps for us through the information they contain. As you might expect, trace fossils are often formed in soft substrates, particularly nice soft mud and sand. Those footprints you left at the beach or along a soft riverbank are candidates for fossilized trackways given the right condition and ichnological studies of the future.

Monday, 1 July 2019

SOUTHERN INTERIOR PICTOGRAPH

Red Ochre Pictograph / Dan Bowden Photography
BC's interior is home to thousands of red ochre pictographs that symbolize the connection of the landscape and the spiritual world.

This beautiful and mystical red ochre pictograph is from the southern Interior of British Columbia on traditional territory of the Upper Similkameen, Lower Similkameen and Penticton First Nations.

Red, orange and yellow ochre from the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs have been used as a paint for over 4,000 years. The name, "Tulameen" derives from a Thompson First Nation word that means "red earth." Ochre is a natural clay Earth pigment that gets its color from ferric oxide mixed with clay and sand. It has been used by traditional peoples around the world in art, ceremony and burials. 


Sunday, 30 June 2019

PLESIOSAURS OF THE YORKSHIRE COAST

Plesiosaur vertebrae / Liam Langley Collection
These two lovely Plesiosaur vertebrae were found by Liam Langley on fossil field trips to the Yorkshire Coast on the east coast of England.

Plesiosaurus were large, carnivorous air-breathing marine reptiles with strong jaws and sharp teeth that moved through the water with four flippers. We'd 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 dragonflies.

We've 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. 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.

Plesiosaurs first appeared in the latest Triassic, during the Rhaetian. They thrived in the Jurassic and vanished at the end of the Cretaceous in time with the K-Pg extinction event along with a host of other species.

They are one of the marine reptiles that we associate with the infamous Mary Anning, a paleo darling of the early 19th century who found the first fossil remains in the winter of 1823. These two vertebrae grace the home of the talented Mr. Langley. Anning's plesiosaur can be viewed in London's Natural History Museum.


Saturday, 29 June 2019

BRACHIOPOD

Fossil Brachiopod / Prolific Palaeozoic Shellfish
Looking down at the pebbly sand, you see just the wee top of this lovely fossil brachiopod poking out. Glee, delight and wonder follow as you roll it over in your hands and notice how it differs from clams you may be more familiar with.

Clams or bivalves are molluscs, the second-largest phylum of invertebrates with about 85,000 extant species. While brachiopods share some similarities with their molluscan friends they are in a phylum all their own.

Brachiopods are small marine shellfish that are not so common today but back in the Palaeozoic they were plentiful the world over. The two valves that make up a brachiopods shell are of different sizes and if you look closely you'll see that the hinge runs top and bottom  -- versus left and right like a clam.

Their lineage dates back to the Cambrian with over 12,000 fossil species and 350 living relatives sorted between 6,000 genera. There are two major groups of brachiopods, articulate with toothed hinges and simple open and closing muscles to manipulate their shells and inarticulate brachiopods with untoothed hinges and a more complex set of muscles used to control the brachial supports used to open and close their shells.

Friday, 28 June 2019

NEOCOMITES OF SPAIN

Neocomites (Teschenites) flucticulus
This beautiful specimen is Neocomites (Teschenites) flucticulus a fast-moving nektonic carnivorous ammonite (Thieuloy, 1977) sharing a prolific boulder with a delicate heteromorph straight-shelled ammonite Bochianites. These beauties were found on a fossil field trip to Hauterivian, Early Cretaceous deposits in the Baetic Cordillera earlier this year. The Baetic Cordillera is one of the main systems of mountain ranges in Spain along the southern and eastern Iberian Peninsula. There are several productive outcrops here that yield lovely Cretaceous ammonites and other marine species.

Neocomites is known from about a dozen offshore marine deep subtidal Cretaceous deposits in France, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

This lovely specimen is the first Neocomites I've seen come out of fossil deposits in Spain. It was found and prepped by the talented Manuel Peña Nieto of Córdoba, Spain.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

FOSSIL PREPARATION: MAMMOTH TEETH

Mammoths of Wrangell Island
Mammoths were were herbivore grazers native to Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. They lived out their long lives, 60-80 years, on the mammoth steppe, a periglacial landscape with lush grass vegetation. Mammoths used their well-designed teeth to graze on grasses, leaves, trees, shrubs and moss. Theirs was not a pretty end. Mammoths from this isolated population on Wrangell Island lost the genetic lottery with DNA mutations so abundant that they eventually led to their extinction.

In a paper published in PLOS in 2017, Rebekah Rogers describes that last populations of these once mighty beasts:

"The last woolly mammoths to walk the Earth were so wracked with genetic disease that they lost their sense of smell, shunned company, and had a strange shiny coat."

These genetic mutations may have given the last woolly mammoths "silky, shiny satin fur and let do a loss of olfactory receptors, responsible for the sense of smell, as well as substances in urine involved in social status and attracting a mate." In any event, their end was not a pretty one or the graceful exit one might have imagined. Excess of genomic defects in a woolly mammoth on Wrangel island; Rebekah L. Rogers , Montgomery Slatkin; Published: March 2, 2017https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1006601

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

EOCENE FOSSIL TURTLE

Baena arenosa / Green River Stone Company
An Eocene Cryptodiran Fossil Turtle, Baena arenosa, from fine-grained lime mud outcrops in the Green River Formation, Wyoming, USA.

This fellow, with the extra long tail, marks the last of his lineage as the extinct family Baenidae appeared first in the Jurassic and died out at the end of the Eocene. We've found specimens of Baena, along with 14 other species of turtles in seven genera and five families in the lower Eocene San Jose Formation, San Juan Basin of New Mexico.

This specimen is from the Green River Formation of Wyoming which was once the bottom of one of an extensive series of Eocene lakes. The Green River Formation is particularly abundant in beautifully preserved fossil fish, eleven species of reptiles including a 13.5ft crocodile, an armadillo-like mammal, Brachianodon westorum, bats, birds and other fresh-water aquatic goodies.

This specimen of a beautiful Baena was found and prepped by the Green River Stone Company. They purchased their private 12 acre quarry about 20 years ago. It's at the Eocene lake's centre, shared with Fossil Butte National Monument about 24 kilometres (15 miles) west of Kemmerer, Lincoln County, Wyoming.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

FOSSIL SAND DOLLARS

Fossil Sand Dollars / Cassibuloid Ancestry
These lovelies are fossil sand dollars with their beautiful five-fold radial symmetry and petal-like pattern. They are echinoids, a group of lovely echinoderms with flattened, rigid, globular skeletons made of thin calcium carbonate plates. They look a bit like sea-biscuits and are sometimes referred to as such.

Their ancestors diverged from an irregular order of echinoids called cassibuloids during the Jurassic. The first true genus of sand dollar, Togocyamus, arose during the Paleocene. While millions of years old, they retain their recognizable form and look very similar to ones we might find living in our oceans and along burrowing on our beaches today.

Monday, 24 June 2019

BLUE MUSSELS

Blue Mussels / Mytilus edulis
Blue mussels live in intertidal areas and inlets attached to rocks and other hard substrates by strong, stretchy thread-like structures called byssal threads.

They are tasty, edible marine bivalves, molluscs, in the family Mytilidae and they've done well for themselves. Mussels have a range of over 4000 km in waters around the world.

Temperature, salinity and food supply are key factors in how mussels grow and have a huge impact on their shape. Environmental stressors cause curvatures to show up in mussel populations and can help us understand environmental changes happening in our local waters.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

PREHISTORIC BOWFIN

Calamopleurus cylindricus (Agassiz, 1841) / Collection of David Murphy
This well-preserved fossil fish skull is from Calamopleurus (Agassiz, 1841), an extinct genus of bony fishes related to the heavily armored ray-finned gars.

They are fossil relics, the sole surviving species of the order Amiiformes. Although bowfins are highly evolved, they are often referred to as primitive fishes and living fossils as they retain many of the morphologic characteristics of their ancestors.

This specimen is from Calamopleurus cylindricus of the Family Amiidae. He was found in Lower Cretaceous outcrops of the Santana Formation in the Araripe Basin UNESCO Global Geopark of northeastern Brazil.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

CRETACEOUS AFRICA SUPER CROC

Sarcosuchus imperator / Fotografía / Andy Chua
An impressive Super Croc tooth and scute from Sarcosuchus imperator, an extinct genus of giant crocodile-like reptiles that lived in the rivers of an ancient tropical plain in the Sahara of Africa during the Lower Cretaceous.

Sarcosuchus were ambush hunters, eating anything that entered their watery homes from wee fish to large dinosaurs. These big beasties were the precursors to our modern crocodiles -- and they were big. Really big. Almost twice as large as their modern saltwater cousins, weighing in at 8-10 tons. They lived 50-60 years. Modern Saltwater & Nile crocodiles live 70-100 years on average. This scute and tooth are from the Elrhaz Formation, Gadoufaoua, Ténéré Desert, Niger.

Friday, 21 June 2019

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is a 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot.

While the park is mostly in Wyoming, it spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers. You'll maybe know it by its most famous geyser, Old Faithful. It's also home to hundreds of animal species, including Black bear, Canada lynx, Bobcats, Northwestern gray wolves, Bighorn sheep, American bison, elk and antelope.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

SHORE CRAB: CARCINUS MAENAS

European Green Shore Crab / Carcinus maenas
The adaptable European Green Shore Crab, Carcinus maenas, lives in a wide range of environments from fully marine to brackish estuaries.

They make a living off the sea floor, dining on worms, mollusks, small crustaceans and any number of bits and pieces that fall their way.

Shore Crabs are euryhaline, meaning they can tolerate a wide range of salinities (4 to 52 %), and survive in temperatures of zero to 30 °C (32 to 86 °F).

This adaptability gives them a very wide range and competitive edge. This fellow is from the chilly waters of central Norway. The ability to eat pretty near anything and survive in extremely cold climates means he'll do quite well beneath the ice this winter.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

CAVEATIS PORCINA CEDRUS

Anavitrinella pampinaria / Dan Bowden Photography
A Common gray moth of the family Geometridae. 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 city-owned Stanley Park.

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 one of his recent visits to the city.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

ANCIENT SALMON OF THE SOUTHERN INTERIOR

Sockeye Salmon / Oncorhynchus nerka
In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia.

Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice free and the climate warm and hospitable. Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually began its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Eighteen thousand year-old salmon also challenge the archaeological notion that aboriginal people of the Interior have had access to salmon as a significant protein source for only a few thousand years. In the popular view, people living in the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys were felt to have moved to settlements that were semi-permanent about 4,500 years ago.

By that time they would have had a seasonally regulated diet composed primarily of salmon and supplemented by local game - deer, elk, small mammals – and available shellfish, birds and plant foods. If salmon were present much earlier, it is possible that this pattern of food utilization may have arisen earlier than thought.

Monday, 17 June 2019

HAIDA GWAII BOUNTY

Seafood Bounty / Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
“When the tide is out, the table is set.” This wisdom from those who call Haida Gwaii home is still true today. The enormous difference between high and low tide in Haida Gwaii – up to twenty three vertical feet – means that twice a day, vast swathes of shellfish are unveiled, free for the taking.

Archaeological evidence tells us that by roughly five thousand years ago, gathering shellfish replaced hunting and fishing as a primary food source on the islands. The shellfish meat was skewered on sticks, smoked and stored for use in winter or for travel.

The Queen Charlotte Islands or Haida Gwaii are at the western edge of the continental shelf and form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane of former island arcs, which also includes Vancouver Island, parts of western mainland British Columbia and southern Alaska.

While we’ll see that there are two competing schools of thought on Wrangellia’s more recent history, both sides agree that many of the rocks, and the fossils they contain, were laid down somewhere near the equator. They had a long, arduous journey, first being pushed by advancing plates, then being uplifted, intruded, folded, and finally thrust up again. It’s reminiscent of how pastry is balled up, kneaded over and over, finally rolled out, then the process is repeated again.

This violent life story applies to most of the rock that makes up the Insular Belt, the outermost edge of the Cordillera. Once in their present location, the rocks that make up the mountains and valleys of this island group were glaciated and eroded to their present form.

Despite this tumultuous past, the islands have arguably the best-preserved and most fossil-rich rocks in the Canadian Cordillera, dating from very recent to more than 200 million years old. On these details, there is a pretty broad consensus. On much else, including exactly where the Wrangellia terrane was born and how fast it moved to its present position, there is lively debate. But we all agree on their bounty and beauty.


Sunday, 16 June 2019

RED-TAILED RAPTOR

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

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

Saturday, 15 June 2019

PLEISTOCENE SOCKEYE SALMON


Pleistocene Fossil Salmon
Salmon have permeated First Nations mythology and have been prized as an important food source for thousands of years. 

For the Salish people of the Interior of British Columbia, Canada, salmon was the most important of the local fishing stock and salmon fishing season was a significant social event which warranted the nomination of a “Salmon Chief” who directed the construction of the hooks, weirs and traps and the distribution of the catch.

In the Interior of the province, archaeological evidence dates the use of salmon as a food source back 3,500 years. Sheri Burton and Catherine Carlson were able to isolate and amplify mitochondrial DNA from salmon remains from archaeological sites near Kamloops, and identified the species as Oncorhynchus nerka, or Sockeye salmon. No older salmon remains had been found in the Kamloops area until the 1970’s, when fossil salmon concretions were collected on the south shore of Kamloops Lake.

These concretions were originally dated as Miocene (24 – 5.5 million years old) by the Geological Survey of Canada, based on analysis of pollen grains found in the concretions. However, many local experts, including UBC geology professor W.R. Danner and the late geologists W.H. Mathews and Richard Hughes, suspected the remains were from the much more recent, Late Pleistocene epoch.

It was not until the early 1990s that Catherine Carlson and Ken Klein found definitive proof of this.

By good luck, the fish remains in the Kamloops Lake concretions had not been completely replaced by minerals – enough of the original organic bone collagen remained for radiocarbon dating. The corrected date is approximately 18,000 years. It is likely that erosion during the time of deposition had carried pollen down from Miocene layers in surrounding hills, to be deposited around the dead fish, causing the initial over-estimation of the age of the concretions.

This lovely specimen is Oncorhynchus nerka, a Late Pleistocene Fossil Sockeye Salmon, from the fine-grained, silty clays on the south shore of Kamloops Lake, British Columbia, Canada. The site was originally collected in the 1970's by the late geologist and paleontologist Richard Hughes. I was introduced to the site much later after it's redescovery by Catherine Carlson and Kenneth Klein in the fall of 1991 with the help of local and gracious host, Bill Huxley.

They later wrote up and published a chapter in Rolf Ludvigsen's "Life in Stone: A Natural History of British Columbia's Fossils." It was Huxley who shared it's location with John Leahy, a local Kamloops resident and avid fossil hunter, and him with me. 

This specimen was collected by John in the 1990's, his tenth partial salmon from this site and the sole one in my collection.

An age of 18,000 plus years sets the fossils firmly as the only salmonids of the Late Pleistocene in North America, a very significant find. The date also changed our ideas about the early climate of the Interior; the Thompson Valley could not have been covered by glacial ice for as long as originally thought. Indeed, it makes the Interior ice-free only 2,000 years after the Last Glacial Maximum and some 4,000 years before our western continental coastline and the Rocky Mountain Foothills.  

It has long been accepted that the most recent series of ice ages began approximately 1.6 million years ago, beginning as ice accumulations at higher altitudes with the gradual cooling of the climate. Four times the ice advanced and receded, most recently melting away somewhere around 10,000 years ago. Ice retreated from southwestern British Columbia and the Puget Sound area around 15,000 years ago. 

In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia. Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice free and the climate warm and hospitable. 

Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually began its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Eighteen thousand year-old salmon also challenge the archaeological notion that aboriginal people of the Interior have had access to salmon as a significant protein source for only a few thousand years. In the popular view, people living in the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys were felt to have moved to settlements that were semi-permanent about 4500 years ago. 

By that time they would have had a seasonally regulated diet composed primarily of salmon and supplemented by local game - deer, elk, small mammals – and available shellfish, birds and plant foods. If salmon were present much earlier, it is possible that this pattern of food utilization may have arisen earlier than thought.

Richard Hughes had originally identified the fossilized Kamloops salmon as Oncorhynchus nerka or Sockeye salmon, the same species found in the 3,500 year old archaeological sites. But, using the carbon-13 isotope ratio, Klein and Carlson were able to determine that these salmon did not feed on protein from a marine source and relied solely on a freshwater diet. 

In other words, they could not have spent part of their life in the ocean, as modern Sockeye salmon do. Based on the specimens’ smaller heads and stunted bodies, the longest measuring in at a pint-sized 11.5 cm, Klein and Carlson feel that the fossils are likely Kokanee, a modern landlocked variety of Sockeye.

Friday, 14 June 2019

CRETACEOUS CRANBERRY ARMS

Middle Campanian Plant Fossils / Cranberry Arms
Back in 1996, Vancouver Island local, Jim Bell was moving rocks with his excavator near the Cranberry Arms Pub as part of the Duke Point Highway construction. During one of those loads, he saw a massive fossil palm frond on the side of a rock -- a real showstopper. This wasn't just any frond, he'd scooped up the biggest Geonomites Imperialis ever found.

The fossil caused a stir amongst his construction colleagues but it was nothing compared to the whoops and squeals from local paleo enthusiasts. And rightly so. What do you think of when you envision palm trees? You see warm, tropical beaches, hammocks swaying in the wind, am I right? Most of the fossils found in the Nanaimo Group of Vancouver Island are marine, so a tropical terrestrial site was hot news!

I learned about the site from a very excited paleo colleague calling late one night. He excitedly shared that they'd found a new Late Cretaceous plant site up near Cedar on Vancouver Island. While this is exciting for some, the construction company was not nearly as excited. These were plant fossils after all, and not some new species of dinosaur or ancient hominid. The construction was briefly paused to allow some collecting to take place but was set to continue the following week. They did have a highway to build. Many keen volunteers swooped in to see what could be unearthed. Phone calls were made. Shifts were scheduled. Headlamps were employed as folks took to digging in the dark to maximize the limited collecting window.

Many beautiful specimens were collected. The fossilized leaves, branches and plant remains from broadleaf trees, shrubs, conifers and ferns were immortalized as they slipped into the muds and fine sand of a balmy river environment and slowly buried. 70 million years later, we were doing our best to dig them right back up again.

The fossils included plants and seeds you would expect to find in a much warmer, wetter environment than the climate enjoyed on Vancouver Island today. Perhaps as much as 10° warmer. We see similar specimens of Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) down in Washington State in the Eocene Chuckanut Formation. It is thrilling to see the correlation and transition in both faunal species and environmental conditions for the Pacific Northwest from the Cretaceous to the Eocene. The specimen you see here was generously gifted as a souvenir to attendees of the Third BCPA Symposium in Victoria, British Columbia. Specimen: Middle Campanian Plant Fossils from the Protection Formation, Reserve Member, Cranberry Arms, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

CRETACEOUS CAPILANO RIVER

Cretaceous Plant Material / Three Brothers Formation
Vancouver has a spectacular mix of mountains, lowlands all wrapped lovingly by our deep blue Pacific. When we look to the North Shore, the backdrop is made more spectacular by the Coast Mountains with a wee bit of the Cascades tucked in behind.

If you were standing on the top of the Lion's Gate Bridge looking north you'd see the Capilano Reservoir is tucked in between the Lions to the west and Mount Seymour to the east on the North Shore. The bounty of that reservoir flows directly into your cup! If you look down from the reservoir you'll see the Capilano River as it makes it's way to the sea.

The Capilano River on Vancouver's North Shore flows through the Coast Mountains and our coastal rainforest down to the Capilano watershed enroute to Burrard Inlet. The headwater's are at the top of Capilano up near Furry Creek. They flow down through the valley, adding in water from rain, snow melt and many tributaries before flowing into Capilano Lake. The lake in turn flows through Capilano Canyon and feeds into the Capilano River.

The Capilano River's path, water levels and sediment deposition have been significantly altered by our hand.

We have Ernest Albert Cleveland to thank for much of our drinking water as it is caught and stored by the dam that bears his name. It was his vision to capture the bounty from our watershed and ensure it made its way into our cups and not the sea. Both the water and a good deal of sediment from the Capilano would flow into Burrard Inlet if not held back by the 91 meter concrete walls of the Cleveland Dam. While it was not Ernest's intention, his vision and dam had a secondary benefit. In moving the mouth of the Capilano River he altered the erosion pattern of the North Shore and unveiled a Cretaceous Plant Fossil outcrop that is part of the Three Brothers Formation.

The fossil site is easily accessible from Vancouver and best visited in the summer months when water levels are low. The level of preservation of the fossils is quite good. The state in which they were fossilized, however, was not ideal. They look to have been preserved as debris that gathered in eddies in a stream or delta.

There are a mix of Cretaceous species found only in the sandstone. You will see exposed shale in the area but it does not contain fossil material. Interesting, but again not fossiliferous, are the many granitic and limestone boulders which look to have been brought down by glaciers from as far away as Texada Island. Cretaceous plant material (and modern material) found here include Poplar (cottonwood)  Populus sp. Bigleaf Maple, Acer machphyllum, Alder, Alnus rubra, Buttercup  Ranvuculus sp., Epilobrium, Red cedar, Blackberry and Sword fern.

From downtown Vancouver, drive north through Stanley Park and over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Take the North Vancouver exit toward the ferries. Turn right onto Taylor Way and then right again at Clyde Avenue. Look for the Park Royal Hotel. Park anywhere along Clyde Avenue.

From Clyde Avenue walk down the path to your left towards the Capilano River. Watch the water level and tread cautiously as it can be slippery if there has been any recent rain. Look for beds of sandstone about 200 meters north of the private bridge and just south of the Highway bridge. The fossil beds are just below the Whytecliff Apartment high rises.


Wednesday, 12 June 2019

A RARE BIT OF TURTLE

Fossil Turtle / Aspideretes subquadratus
A rare bit of Turtle Shell from an Aspideretes subquadratus, Upper Cretaceous, Belly River Formation on Sand Creek, Red Deer River, Alberta, Canada.

The holotype (No. 5724) is housed at the Royal Ontario Museum of Palaeontology. It was collected 100 years ago, on a University of Toronto Fossil Expedition in 1919. It was found by Canada's own George F. Sternberg.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

MCABEE FOSSIL SITE RE-OPENS

Eocene Plant Fauna / Eohiodon Fish Fossil / McAbee
An Eohiodon rosei and Eocene plant fossils from the McAbee Fossil Beds. McAbee is part of an old lake bed deposited 52 million years ago and is one of the most diverse fossil sites known in British Columbia.

The McAbee beds are known worldwide for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species. The site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under British Columbia's Heritage Conservation Act and closed to the public in July of 2012. This decision has now been reversed.

McAbee re-opened to the public on June 21, 2019, with plans to build out a visitor's centre and educational programs. Funding is in place to have two staff on site this summer to welcome visitors from the general public Thursday to Monday 10AM-5PM. Collecting will be open access with no fees charged. The Province is committed to providing access to scientists, the lay public and tourists interested in local First Nations history. The direction on what happens next at McAbee is being driven by the Heritage Branch in consultation with members of the Shuswap Nation and Bonaparte Band.

Local members of the Bonaparte Band want to share the spiritual significance of the area from a First Nations perspective and see McAbee as an indigenous tourism destination. So it looks like it will be paleontology, archaeology with a cultural focus to add spice. In any case, collection of fossils will continue, likely through the use of day-permits with oversight to ensure significant fossil finds make there way to museums. It is an exploratory year for those running it. They'll be asking a lot of questions from those who drop by then collating that information to make recommendations, seek funding and set a plan for the future. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

DAIHUA FLOWERS

Daihua sanqi, Yunnan Province, China
This lovely fossil is Daihua sanqiong, an unusual 518-million year old sea creature that shares characteristics with our modern comb jelly. The animal’s 18 tentacles are all fine and feather-like, with rows of large cilia adorning the exterior.

The specimen was found in mudstones south of Kunming in the Yunnan Province of southern China by co-author of the study, Professor Hou Xianguang.

This isn’t the first biological discovery found in this particular region. It was named the Daihua Sanqiong after the Dai tribe in Yunnan and “hua” which means “flower” in Mandarin in honor of its flower-like shape. I met the colorful Dai several times while in Kunming in 2018. They are beautiful people with a rich cultural history. It pleases me that this specimen will be named for them.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

SHONISAURUS SIKANNIENSIS

Shonisaurus sikanni / Sikanni Chief River
Dr. Betsy Nicholls, Rolex Laureate Vertebrate Palaeontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, excavated the type specimen of Shonisaurus sikanniensis over three field sessions in one of the most ambitious fossil excavations ever ventured.

More than 200 million years ago, the Shonisaurus sikanniensis swan in our ancient seas. A 70-foot long specimen encased in limestone was unearthed on the banks of the Sikanni Chief River. Many beautiful souls contributed to our knowledge and excavation of Shoni including Dean Lomax, Sven Sachs and our own Betsy Nicholls.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

CIBELELLA CORONATA

Cibelella Coronata / Photo: Alexei Molchanov
A spectacular specimen of the trilobite Cibelella Coronata from upper Ordovician deposits along the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Coast, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Friday, 7 June 2019

URSUS ARCTOS CARNIVORA

Grizzly Bear / North American Brown Bear
A slow stroll down to the river to fish, this Grizzly (North American brown bear) is an excellent fisher. Her high fat, protein-rich diet has contributed to her lovely coat and larger size. Grizzlies are the kings of the Keto diet. She and her kin are omnivores, eating plants, animals and even human food if they can get at it. She'll likely gain around 400 lbs or 180 kg before winter comes in preparation for hibernation and to produce milk for her offspring.

At age five, female (sows) grizzlies begin mating and bearing young, usually two cubs every other year. The cubs arrive over the winter and feast on their mother's milk all snuggled inside a wintery den.

The great ancestors of the North American brown bear are the Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Taking a look at this beauty, it seems an implausible lineage.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

ROCKY MOUNTAIN TRENCH

Trapper Cabin on Isaac Lake / Bowron Provincial Park
The Bowron Canoe Circuit is a 149,207 hectare geologic wonderland, where a fortuitous combination of plate tectonics and glacial erosion have carved an unusual 116 kilometre near-continuous rectangular circuit of lakes, streams and rivers bound on all sides by snow capped mountains.

From all descriptions, something like heaven.

The east and south sides of the route are bound by the imposing white peaks of the Cariboo Mountains, the northern boundary of the Interior wet belt, rising up across the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the Isaac Formation, the oldest of seven formations that make up the Cariboo Group (Struik, 1988).

Some 270 million years ago, had one wanted to buy waterfront property in what is now British Columbia, you’d be looking somewhere 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 rock that would eventually become the Cariboo Mountains and form the lakes and valleys of Bowron was far out in the Pacific Ocean, down near the equator.

With tectonic shifting, these rocks drifted north-eastward, riding the 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.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

EVENING ON ISAAC LAKE

Isaac Lake / Bowron Provincial Park
Isaac is the longest of the pristine lakes in the Bowron Lake circuit in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. It is beautiful to paddle and offers well-appointed camping sites on the shore after a full day on the water.

Isaac is picture perfect, nestled between Mount Falkner and Kaza Mountains to the west and southwest and Mount Amos along with the reindeer-themed, Vixen and Dasher Peaks to the east.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

EOCENE FOSSIL FEATHER

Eocene Fossil Feather / McAbee Fossil Beds
This wee feather is from the Eocene fossil beds at McAbee. McAbee is part of an old lake bed deposited 52 million years ago and is one of the most diverse fossil sites known in British Columbia.

The McAbee beds are known worldwide for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species.

The site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under British Columbia's Heritage Conservation Act and closed to in July of 2012. But this decision is soon to be reversed.

McAbee reopened to the public on June 21, 2019, with plans to build out a visitor's centre and educational programs. McAbee will be open to the public this summer from Thursday to Monday 10AM-5PM.

We are still learning about how the collecting will take place. The Province is committed to providing access to the site to scientists and the lay public. The direction on what happens next at McAbee is being driven by the Heritage Branch in consultation with members of the Shuswap Nation and Bonaparte Band.

Local members of the Bonaparte Band want to share the spiritual significance of the area from a First Nations perspective and see McAbee as an indigenous tourism destination. So it looks like it will be paleontology, archaeology with a cultural focus to add spice. In any case, collection of fossils will continue, likely through the use of day-permits with oversight to ensure significant fossil finds make there way to museums.

While the area is referred to as the Okanagan, the term is used in a slightly misleading fashion to describe an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington, in the south. The grouping includes the fossil sites of Driftwood Canyon, Quilchena, Allenby, Tranquille, McAbee, Princeton and Republic.

Fossils from the Okanagan highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to our ancient climate. The fossils range in age from Early to Middle Eocene and provide significant the most a snapshot of ancient life and the climate at that time. 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.

The McAbee fossil beds consist of 30 metres of fossiliferous shale in the Eocene Kamloops Group.
The fossils are preserved here as impressions and carbonaceous films. We see gymnosperm (16 species); a variety of conifers (14 species to my knowledge); two species of ginko, a large variety of angiosperm (67 species); a variety of insects and fish remains, the rare feather and a boatload of mashed deciduous material. Nuts and cupules are also found from the dicotyledonous Fagus and Ulmus and members of the Betulaceae, including Betula and Alnus.

We see many species that look very similar to those growing in the Pacific Northwest today. Specifically, we see cypress, dawn redwood, fir, spruce, pine, larch, hemlock, alder, birch, dogwood, beech, sassafras, cottonwood, maple, elm and grape. If we look at the pollen data, we see 103 (highly probable) species from the site. Though rare, McAbee has also produced spiders, birds and a single specimen of the freshwater crayfish, Aenigmastacus crandalli.

For insects, we see dragonflies, damselflies, cockroaches, termites, earwigs, aphids, leaf hoppers, spittlebugs, lacewings, a variety of beetles, gnats, ants, hornets, stick insects, water striders, weevils, wasps and March flies. The insects are particularly well-preserved.

Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

My first trips up there were as a teenager, dragging my mother, sister and pretty near anyone else I could convince to hike up into the outback. This was years before Dave Langevin and John Leahy, mineral rights/lease-holder and resident curator, respectively, began working at the site.

Once they did a whole new world opened up with their efforts. Much of the overburden was removed and new exposures revealed. John also used to leave a jeep at the base of the hill with a bit of gas in it that we'd hot wire and use to avoid the hike heading up and pack down fossils heading back. Good man, John. He was an avid collector and meticulous in his curation. Most of his collection is now in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia.

McAbee is located just east of Cache Creek, just north of and visible from Highway 1/97. 14.5 km to be exact and exactly the distance you need to drink one large coffee and then need a washroom. I've measured. Luckily, they've just installed some so you're in luck! There are telltale hoodoos on the ridge to let you know you've reached the right spot. If you have a GPS, pop in these coordinates and you're on your way. 50°47.831′N 121°8.469′W.