Monday, 24 June 2019

BLUE MUSSELS

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 that lived in the rivers of an ancient tropical plain in the Sahara of Africa during the Lower Cretaceous.

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. 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

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.

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 him 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 nonplussed. 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 received 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 is set to re-open to the public at 10AM 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 their continental plate, until they collided with and joined the Cordillera in what is now British Columbia. Continued pressure and volcanic activity helped create the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today with repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carving their final shape.

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 received 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 will re-open to the public at 10AM 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.


Monday, 3 June 2019

SINEMURIAN AMMONITES OF THE ROCKIES

Arnioceras semicostatum & Arnioceras miserable
These beauties are from a fossil field trip to the Arnioceras beds. The fossils found here are from the Lower Jurassic, Lower Sinemurian, Little Paradise Member of the Last Creek formation. The site is high up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Last Creek, British Columbia, Canada and best explored in the warm summer months as there are frequent snowfalls year-round.

This site is part of the research area for Dr. Howard Tipper, GSC (who is hugely missed) and Dr. Louise Longridge, University of British Columbia.

Several ammonites species can be found here including Arnioceras semicostatum & Arnioceras miserable. The two gastropods you see in the central block have yet to be identified to species. Here's hoping a nice grad student takes an interest. The rare but lovely gastros from this area would make an excellent thesis. Perhaps comparing their distribution to their counterparts in Europe.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

MIGHTY MARINE REPTILES: ICHTHYOSAURUS

Blue Lias Ichthyosaur / Photo: Lewis Winchester-Ellis
Ichthyosaurs were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods, until they were replaced as the top aquatic predators by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest (benthos) layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles.

Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

NORTH CASCADES

North Cascades, Cascade Range, western North America

Thursday, 30 May 2019

OREGON: FOSSILS ALONG THE FARALLON PLATE

Had you been swimming with the marine fossils that were laid down in the Eocene Epoch in Oregon, some 55 to 38 million years ago, you'd be treading water right up to where the Cascade Mountains are today.

The Farallon Plate took a turn north some 57 million years ago, sweeping much of western coastal Oregon along with it. The Cascades were beginning to uplift and acting as the breakwater for a retreating Pacific Ocean.

By the middle Oligocene, the Cascadia Subduction Zone was in full force. The growing pressure fracturing our magma shield and causing volcanic eruptions along the Western Cascades. Lassen Peak erupted twice in fairly recent history, 1914 and 1921. Mount St. Helens has had a long history of minor eruptions but there was a massive eruption as recently as 1980.

We see a fair bit of volcanic action in Oregon right through to the Miocene. We also see lovely marine fossils from this same era. The soft ocean sediments of Oregon contain beautifully preserved gastropods, bivalves, wood, bone and cephalopods that range in age from 15 to 30 million years old.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

VERTIPECTEN FUCANUS

Vertipecten fucanus / Miocene / Clallam Formation
Some water worn samples of the fossil bivalve Vertipecten fucanus from lower Miocene deposits in the Clallam Formation. These were collected on the foreshore near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington.

Until Addicott's study from 1976, the area was considered middle Miocene. The new lower Miocene designation can be credited in large part to the restricted stratigraphic range of Vertipecten fucanus (Dall) and the restricted and overlapping ranges of several other mollusks.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

VISUAL POETRY: ON SUNSETS

Taking in the beauty and colours of  a sunset
One of the most satisfying moments is taking in a sunset after a long days hike. Pure visual poetry. Peaceful, meditative and well-earned. It is a time for reflection on the day, your world, fresh blisters - the gamut!

Have you ever wondered about the colors you see in these moments? What we see is actually a trick of the light. As rays of white sunlight travel through the atmosphere they collide with airborne particles and water droplets causing the rays to scatter. We see mostly the yellow, orange and red hues (the longer wavelengths) as the blues and greens (the shorter wavelengths) scatter more easily and get bounced out of the game rather early.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Sunday, 26 May 2019

OPHTHALMOPLAX BRASILIANA

Ophthalmoplax brasiliana  / Photo: José F. Ventura‎
Ventral view of the carnivorous portunoid crab Ophthalmoplax brasiliana (Maury, 1930) from the latest Maastrichtian (~66.2 Ma.) deposits near Coahuila, northern Mexico.

This marine species was originally thought to have been found only in the upper Member (Owl Creek Formation) Late/Upper Maastrichtian deposits of Tippah County in Mississippi, USA. Sohl and Koch published on the Mississippian finds in the USGS in 1983. Fedorov and Nyborg published on this same species again in 2017. Paleocoordinates: (34.8° N, 88.9° W: 38.3° N, 66.2° W)

Saturday, 25 May 2019

DRACULA, DINOSAURS & ANCIENT POT SHARDS

Râpa Roșie / Magyarosaurus dacus (von Huene, 1932)
Râpa Roșie is a geological and botanical reserve in the southwest Secaşelor Plateau, in mineral rich Alba County, central Romania. The distinctive red and white clays hold clues to our ancient past both from an archaeological and paleontological perspective.

Râpa Roșie sits in the southwestern part of the region known to you from books and lore as Transylvania. Home to Dracula, Late Cretaceous dwarf sauropod dinosaurs and ancient pot shards - oh my!

Paleo coordinates: 45°59′15″N 23°35′29″E

Friday, 24 May 2019

DINOSAUR PROVINCIAL PARK

Dinosaur Provincial Park / Alberta Badlands

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

FOSSILIZED WOOD

Fossilized Wood
Fossilized or petrified wood is amazing to behold in person. The original tree or branch is sometimes subjected to such a high degree of replacement that it is impossible to tell from the original at first glance. But fossilized it is. All of the original cells are replaced one by one with minerals, often a silicate such as quartz, leaving the original cell structure intact.

And while there is often amazing preservation of the big woody bits, the telltale leaves that help us identify that wood to species are often lost. If this is the case, we add our best guess at the genus and add xlon. So, Palmoxylon is the indeterminate wood of a palm, though we may never know which palm. If you have an interest in botany and fossils, you may want to consider making a career of it. The study of fossil wood is called palaeoxylology. And a palaeoxylologist is someone who studies fossil wood.

Monday, 20 May 2019

SQUAMISH: MOTHER OF WIND

Squamish Valley / Mother of Wind
Eagles, bears and breathtakingly beautiful scenery await those who travel north of Vancouver, British Columbia to the town of Squamish.

Situated at the head of Howe Sound and surrounded by mountains, Squamish is cradled in natural beauty as only a West Coast community can be. Growing in fame as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, visitors enjoy the breathtaking scenery while hiking, climbing, kicking back or participating in the growing number of attractions to explore in this wilderness community.

Before Europeans came to the Squamish Valley, the area was inhabited by the Squohomish tribes. They lived in North Vancouver and came to the Squamish Valley to hunt and fish. The first contact they had with European outsiders was in 1792, when Captain George Vancouver came to Squamish to trade near the residential area of Brackendale.

During the 1850s gold miners came in search of gold and an easier gold route to the Interior. Settlers began arriving in the area in 1889, with the majority of them being farmers relocating to the Squamish Valley. The first school was built in 1893 and the first hotel opened in 1902, on the old dock in Squamish.

Squamish means Mother of the Wind in Coast Salish, an homage to the winds that rise from the north before noon and blow steadily until dusk, making Squamish a top wind surfing destination and host to the annual PRO-AM sailboard races.

Stawamus Chief, Squamish
The Stawamus Chief, the second largest free standing piece of granite in the world at a staggering 2,297 ft or over 700 metres. It has made Squamish one of the top rock climbing destinations in North America. The Chief was formed in the early Cretaceous, 100 million years ago, as a pool of molten magma cooled deep in the Earth's belly.

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

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

After the flood, a majestic eagle came to him with a gift of salmon and told him that the world below was again hospitable and ready for his return. He climbed down the mountain to find his village covered by a layer of silt. All his people had perished, but the gods gave him another gift, a second survivor of the flood, a beautiful woman who became his wife. The couple took the eagle as their chief totem and have honored it ever since. If you are in Squamish in on the first Sunday after New Year's day, you can honour the eagles by participating in the Annual Brackendale Winter Eagle Count.

If you happen down the Sea to Sky Highway anytime between May to October, stop by the BC Museum of Mining or Squamish Adventure Centre. Both offer wonderful educational programs and cultural insights of the area with additional programs being planned..

The Squamish Lil̓wat Cultural Centre and the Whistler Centre for Sustainably are launching the Indigenous Tourism Start up Program (ITSP) with the hope of igniting indigenous-based social enterprises from communities in the Fraser Valley all the way to Lillooet.



Sunday, 19 May 2019

NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK

North Cascades National Park / Rainforest Pool

Saturday, 18 May 2019

MACROSCELIDES PROBOSCIDEUS

Elephant Shrew, Macroscelides proboscideus
This adorable little fellow is an Elephant shrew, Macroscelides proboscideus, one of 15 species of this order. These small, quadrupedal, insectivorous mammals strongly resemble rodents or opossums with their scaly tails, elongated snouts, and rather longish legs.

They are considered "Living Fossils" as they have not changed all that much in the past 30 million years. Elephant shew ought to have been named after rabbits. They move through the world like wee baby elephant-bunnies, snuffling and hopping about looking for tasty snacks.

Friday, 17 May 2019

PANOPEA ABRUPTA

The bivalve Panopea abrupta
This lovely large fossil bivalve is Panopea abrupta (Conrad) an extinct species of marine mollusc in the family Hiatellidae, subclass Heterodonta.

This specimen was collected from lower Miocene deposits in the Clallam Formation on the foreshore bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington.

Clallam Bay is a sleepy little town on the northwestern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It was founded back in the 1880s as a steamboat stop and later served as a Mill town. If you are planning to visit the fossil exposures, head to the edge of town where it meets the sea.

Once at the water's edge, head east along the shore until you can go no further. You'll find marine fossils in the sandstones on the shore and cliffs. Mind the tide as access to the fossil site is only possible at low or mid-tide. You'll have to swim for it if you time it poorly. Clallam Bay: 48°15′17″N 124°15′30″W

Thursday, 16 May 2019

WALLISEROPS: JOUST A PLAISANCE

Walliserops, Photo: Gianpaolo Di Silvestro
A beautiful detail of a Walliserops, a genus of spinose phacopid trilobite of the family Acastidae found in the Lower to Middle Devonian strata near Foum Zguid, Tata Province, Souss-Massa, southeastern Morocco.

Their wee horns or tridents suggest sexual dimorphism though this concept is still a hotbed of debate. Did they use them much as we used a traditional jousting lance back in the 14th century. It is an interesting proposition. Kudos and photo credit to Gianpaolo Di Silvestro

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

CAMBRIAN LASCAUX CHINOIS

Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, a Cambrian Fuxinhuiid Arthropod
This fellow is Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, a rather glorious fuxinhuiid arthropod. While he looks like he could be from the inside of the Lascaux Caves and their fire-kissed Palaeolithic paintings, albeit by a very ancient Picasso, he was found at a UNESCO World Heritage Cambrian fossil site in southern China.

As his name indicates, he is from a locality in the Yunnan region near Kunming. He is unusual in many ways, both because of the remarkable level of preservation and the position in which he was found.

This fellow was a bit of a tippy arthropod. His carapace had flipped over before fossilisation, allowing researchers to to examine this fuxianhuiid's head in great detail without a carapace in the way.

The study, published back in the February 27, 2013 issue of Nature, highlights the discovery of previously controversial limbs under the head. These limbs were used to shovel sediment into the mouth as the fuxianhuiid crawled across the seabed.

Using a feeding technique scientist's call 'detritus sweep-feeding', fuxianhuiids developed the limbs to push seafloor sediment into the mouth in order to filter it for organic matter – such as traces of decomposed seaweed – which constituted the creatures' food.

Fossils also revealed the oldest nervous system on record that is 'post-cephalic' – or beyond the head – consisting of only a single stark string in what was a very basic form of early life compared to today.

"Since biologists rely heavily on organisation of head appendages to classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth," said Javier Ortega-Hernández, from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences.

Ortega-Hernández co-authored the paper with Nicholas Butterfield and colleagues from Yunnan University in Kunming, South China.

The Xiaoshiba 'biota' in the Chiungchussu Formation Maotianshan shales of China's Yunnan Province is similar to the world-famous Chengjiang biota, and also produces spectacular arthropod fossils.

The recent publication on the Qingjiang biota found on the edge of the Yangze craton along the banks of China’s Danshui River are similar in age, competing with the world's most famous Cambrian fossil assemblage, the Burgess Shale.

The roughly 518-million-year-old site contains a dizzying abundance of beautifully preserved weird and wonderful life-forms, from jellyfish and comb jellies to arthropods and algae and is about 10 million years older than Burgess and if you're following Chinese lagerstätte, the site is just over a thousand miles from the Chengjiang site.

Photo credit: Yie Jang (Yunnan University)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

CENOMANIAN-TURONIAN IMPACT

Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaur by Edouard Riou, 1863
During the early Triassic period, ichthyosaurs evolved from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea. They were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods before being replaced as premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest benthos layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles.

Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last of their lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

FERNIE AMMONITE

This impressive big beauty is Titanites occidentalis, Western Giant, the second known specimen of this extinct fossil species. The first was discovered in 1947 in nearby Coal Creek by a British Columbia Geophysical Society mapping team.

Titanities is an extinct ammonite cephalopod genus within the family Dorsoplanitidae that lived during the upper Tithonian of the Late Jurassic, some 152 to 145 million years ago.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

ISOGRAPTUS MAXIMUS

Isograptus maximus / Photo: Gilberto Juárez Huarachi
This fellow is the graptolite, Isograptus cf. maximus, from the Piranha Formation, Middle Ordovician (Dapingian), Bolivia.

Graptolites (Graptolita) are colonial animals. The biological affinities of the graptolites have always been debatable. Originally regarded as being related to the hydrozoans, graptolites are now considered to be related to the pterobranchs, a rare group of modern marine animals.

The graptolites are now classed as hemichordates (phylum Hemichordata), a primitive group which probably shares a common ancestry with the vertebrates.

In life, many graptolites appear to have been planktonic, drifting freely on the surface of ancient seas or attached to floating seaweed by means of a slender thread. Some forms of graptolite lived attached to the sea-floor by a root-like base. Graptolite fossils are often found in shales and slates. The deceased planktonic graptolites would sink down to and settle on the sea floor, eventually becoming entombed in the sediment and are thus well preserved.

Graptolite fossils are found flattened along the bedding plane of the rocks in which they occur. They vary in shape, but are most commonly dendritic or branching (such as Dictoyonema), saw-blade like, or "tuning fork" shaped (such as Didymograptus murchisoni).

This fellow is pure "Bat Sign" with his showy "wings" looking like something out of a DC Comic. He's also received a nod as the Panem symbol in Hunger Games and been described as having eagle or angel wings. No matter how you interpret his symbolism, there is not doubt that he is ONE spectacular specimen and currently in the collection of the deeply awesome Gilberto Juárez Huarachi of Tarija, Bolivia.

Friday, 10 May 2019

URSUS AMERICANUS

Bear cubs are known for being playful and all together too curious. They usually stick pretty close to Mamma but sometimes an intriguing opportunity for discovery will cross their paths and entice them to slip away for just a few minutes. This alder tree was one such treat.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

ILYMATOGYRA ARIETINA

Ilymatogyra arietina (Oyster Slab) Lower Cretaceous, Washita Division, Del Rio Formation, Williamson County, Texas, USA

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

COAHUILACERATOPS MAGNACUERNA

Coahuilaceratops or "Coahuila Horn Face," is a relatively new genus of Ornithischia Ceratopsidae, a  herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaur who lived during the Upper Cretaceous (late Campanian) near the town of Porvenir de Jalpa (about 64 km / 40 miles west of Saltillo) in what is now southern Coahuila (formerly Coahuila de Zaragoza), northern Mexico.

The Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range runs northwest to southwest forming a spine through the centre of the State. East of the range, the arid landscape slopes gently through desert terrain down to the Rio Grande. It is home to wonderful common, rare and endangered cacti, beautiful (and one of my favourite) raptors, Aquila chrysaetos and the evolutionarily unlikely pronghorn, Antilocapra americana (if a monkey / owl / antelope had a baby...)

The world was a much wetter warmer place when these big beauties roamed. Picture them ambling through lush vegetation and rearing young next to freshwater rivers, brackish swamps and salty ancient seas. Many of the dinosaur remains from the area bear the marks or remains of fossilized snails and clams. Perhaps predation vs a symbiotic relationship as proximity isn't always intimacy. The Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna is known from holotype CPC 276, a partial skeleton of an adult along with bits and pieces of skull, a section of horn, pretty complete lower jaw, smidge of upper jaw and part of the frill.

Another specimen, CPS 277, has been touted as a possible juvenile Coahuilaceratops. All the specimens from Coahuilaceratops come from a single Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) locality of the Cerro del Pueblo Formation, northern Mexico.

This particular species of Coahuilaceratops was formally named C. magnacuerna by Mark A. Loewen, Scott D. Sampson, Eric K. Lund, Andrew A. Farke, Martha C. Aguillón-Martínez, C.A. de Leon, R.A. Rodríguez-de la Rosa, Michael A. Getty and David A. Eberth in 2010. Though the name was in circulation informally by those working in the study of ceratopsian dinosaurs as early as 2008.

Though challenged by examining and interpreting mere bits and pieces, the team posed estimates on the overall size of this new rather largish, 6.7 m / 22 ft, chasmosaurine. Coahuilaceratops' horns are also impressively large, estimated at 1.2 m / 4 feet. Rather long for a ceratopsian (consider that a Triceratops distinctive horn generally comes in under 115 cm / 45 inches and interesting in terms of evolutionary design. The holotypes are available for viewing at the Museo del Desierto en Saltillo, Coahuila. Photo credit: José F. Ventura

Monday, 6 May 2019

Friday, 3 May 2019

PROTOASTER HAEFNERI

This beautiful specimen is Protoaster Haefneri, a new species of edrioasteroid, an extinct lower Cambrian genus of echinoderm from the Kinzers Formation of York County, Pennsylvania.

The specimen was found by and named after Chris Haefner, and is set to be "unveiled" this September at a conference in Moscow, Russia.

He is one of only two specimens of this new lower Cambrian genus of echinoderm found in the 520 million years shales of the Kinzers. The specimens were collected during field work in 2017 and 2018 and form the basis of the research to be published this Fall by Dr. Samuel Zamora of Spain.

Protoaster Haefneri was a mobile bulbous creature (about the size of a smaller onion) with feeding tendrils extended from the sides.

This specimen (and one other) went into collections at the Natural History Museum of London in December 2018, as NHMUK PI EE 16659 and 16660.

Along with this new edrioasteroid, other Cambrian fauna were discovered, including delicate soft-bodied creatures we think of from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and trilobites matching species from the lesser known and slightly older, lower Cambrian Eager Formation, near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The locality is plentiful. Field work revealed two massive complete Anomalocarid (six and eight inches in length; one a new species); a new species of brown algae, over a hundred specimens of the cupcake-looking echinoderm, Camptostroma roddyi, upwards of four hundred Olenellus trilobites and forty complete Wannerias.

We'll definitely be seeing more photos and fauna from this productive 20-acre hilltop site. I'm rather hoping this flood of specimens will rekindle excitement into the naming of Wanneria, and perhaps someone taking up the mantle to continue the as yet unpublished work of Lisa Bohach.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

TEMPLO PALENQUE

Templo de las Inscripciones Palenque

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

POSIDONIA ERUENDOS

Early Jurassic Ichthyosaur Paddle
This beautifully preserved Ichthyosaur paddle is from Early Jurassic (183 Million Years) deposits in the Ohmden, Posidonia Shale Formation, Baden-Württemberg, east of the Rhine, southwestern Germany.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

BLUE LIAS ICHTHYOSAUR

This well-preserved partial ichthyosaur was found in the Blue Lias shales by Lewis Winchester-Ellis in 2018. An exciting find to be sure. The vertebrae you see are from the tail section of this marine reptile.

The find includes stomach contents which tell us a little about how this particular fellow liked to dine.

As with most of his brethren, he enjoyed fish and cephalopods. Lewis found fish bone and squid tentacle hooklets in his belly. Oh yes, these ancient cephies had grasping hooklets on their tentacles. I'm picturing them wiggling all ominously. The hooklets were the only hard parts of the animal preserved in this case as the softer parts of this ancient calamari were fully or partially digested before this ichthyosaur met his end.

Ichthyosaurus was an extinct marine reptile first described from fossil fragments found in 1699 in Wales. Shortly thereafter, fossil vertebrae were published in 1708 from the Lower Jurassic and the first member of the order Ichthyosauria to be discovered.

To give that a bit of historical significance, this was the age of James Stuart, Jacobite hopeful to the British throne. While scientific journals of the day were publishing the first vertebrae ichthyosaur finds, he was avoiding the French fleet in the Firth of Forth off Scotland. This wasn’t Bonnie Prince Charlie, this was his Dad. Yes, that far back.

The first complete skeleton was discovered in the early 19th century by Mary Anning & her brother Joseph along the Dorset Jurassic Coast. Joseph had mistakenly, but quite reasonably, taken the find for an ancient crocodile. Mary excavated the specimen a year later and it was this and others that she found that would supply the research base others would soon publish on.

Mary's find was described by British surgeon, Sir Everard Home, an elected Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1814. The specimen is now on display at the Natural History Museum in London bearing the name Temnodontosaurus platyodon, or “cutting-tooth lizard.”

In 1821, William Conybeare and Henry De La Beche, a friend of Mary's, published a paper describing three new species of unknown marine reptiles based on the Anning's finds.

The Rev. William Buckland would go on to describe two small ichthyosaurs from the Lias of Lyme Regis, Ichthyosaurus communis and Ichthyosaurus intermedius, in 1837.

Remarkable, you'll recall that he was a theologian, geologist, palaeontologist AND Dean of Westminster. It was Buckland who published the first full account of a dinosaur in 1824, coining the name, "Megalosaurus."

The Age of Dinosaurs and Era of the Mighty Marine Reptile had begun.

Ichthyosaurs have been collected in the Blue Lias near Lyme Regis and the Black Ven Marls. More recently, specimens have been collected from the higher succession near Seatown. Paddy Howe, Lyme Regis Museum geologist, found a rather nice Ichthyosaurus breviceps skull a few years back. A landslip in 2008 unveiled some ribs poking out of the Church cliffs and a bit of digging revealed the ninth fossil skull ever found of a breviceps, with teeth and paddles to boot.

Specimens have since been found in Europe in Belgium, England, Germany, Switzerland and in Indonesia. Many tremendously well-preserved specimens come from the limestone quarries in Holzmaden, southern Germany.

Ichthyosaurs ranged from quite small, just a foot or two, to well over twenty-six metres in length and resembled both modern fish and dolphins.

Dean Lomax and Sven Sachs, both active (and delightful) vertebrate paleontologists, have described a colossal beast, Shonisaurus sikanniensis from the Upper Triassic (Norian) Pardonet Formation of northeastern British Columbia, Canada, measuring 3-3.5 meters in length. The specimen is now on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada. It was this discovery that tipped the balance in the vote, making it British Columbia's Official Fossil. Ichthyosaurs have been found at other sites in British Columbia, on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) but Shoni tipped the ballot.

The first specimens of Shonisaurus were found in the 1990s by Peter Langham at Doniford Bay on the Somerset coast of England.

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. Her efforts from 1999 through 2001, both in the field and lobbying back at home, paid off. Betsy published on this new species in 2004, the culmination of her life’s work and her last paper as we lost her to cancer in autumn of that year.

Charmingly, Betsy had a mail correspondence with Roy Chapman Andrews, former director of the American Museum of Natural History, going back to the late 1950's as she explored her potential career in palaeontology. Do you recall the AMNH’s sexy paleo photos of expeditions to the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia in China in the early 20th century? You’d remember if you’d seen them. Roy Chapman Andrews was the lead on that trip. His photos are what fueled the flames of my own interest in paleo.

We've found at least 37 specimens of Shonisaurus in Triassic outcrops of the Luning Formation in the Shoshone Mountains of Nevada, USA. The finds go back to the 1920's. The specimens that may it to publication were collected by M. Wheat and C. L. Camp in the 1950’s.  The aptly named Shonisaurus popularis became the Nevada State Fossil in 1984. Our Shoni got around. Isolated remains have been found in a section of sandstone in Belluno, in the Eastern Dolomites, Veneto region of northeastern Italy. The specimens were published by Vecchia et al. in 2002.

For a time, Shonisaurus was the largest ichthyosaurus known.

Move over, Shoni, as a new marine reptile find competes with the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) for size at a whopping twenty-six (26) metres.

The find is the prize of fossil collector turned co-author, Paul de la Salle, who (you guessed it) found it in the lower part of the intertidal area that outcrops strata from the latest Triassic Westbury Mudstone Formation of Lilstock on the Somerset coast. He contacted Dean Lomax and Judy Massare who became co-authors on the paper.

The find and conclusions from their paper put "dinosaur" bones from the historic Westbury Mudstone Formation of Aust Cliff, Gloucestershire, UK site into full reinterpretation.

And remember that ichthyosaur the good Reverend Buckland described back in 1837, the Ichthyosaurus communis? Dean Lomax was the first to describe a wee baby. A wee baby ichthyosaur! Awe. I know, right? He and paleontologist Nigel Larkin published this adorable first in the journal of Historical Biology in 2017.

They had teamed up previously on another first back in 2014 when they completed the reconstruction of an entire large marine reptile skull and mandible in 3-D, then graciously making it available to fellow researchers and the public. The skull and braincase in question were from an Early Jurassic, and relatively rare, Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis. The specimen had been unearthed in Warwickshire back in the 1950's. Unlike most ichthyosaur finds of this age it was not compressed and allowed the team to look at a 3-D specimen through the lens of computerised tomography (CT) scanning.

Another superb 3-D ichthyosaur skull was found near Lyme Regis by fossil hunter-turned-entrepreneur-local David Sole and prepped by the late David Costain. I'm rather hoping it went into a museum collection as it would be wonderful to see the specimen studied, imaged, scanned and 3-D printed for all to share. Here's hoping.

Lomax and Sven Sachs also published on an embryo from one of the largest ichthyosaurs known, a new species named Ichthyosaurus somersetensis. Their paper in the ACTA Palaeontologica Polonica from 2017, describes the third embryo known for Ichthyosaurus and the first to be positively identified to species level. The specimen was the collected from the Lower Jurassic strata (lower Hettangian, Blue Lias Formation) of Doniford Bay, Somerset, UK and is housed in the collection of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum (Lower Saxony State Museum) in Hannover, Germany.

We've learned a lot about them in the time we've been studying them. We now have thousands of specimens, some whole, some as bits and pieces. Many specimens that have been collected are only just now being studied and the tools we are using to study them are getting better and better.

While they resembled fish and dolphins, Ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles belonging to the order known as Ichthyosauria or Ichthyopterygia. In 2018, Benjamin Kear and his team were able to study ichthyosaur remains at the molecular level, Their findings suggest ichthyosaurs had skin and blubber quite similar to our modern dolphins.

While ichthyosaurs evolved from land-dwelling, lung-breathing reptiles, they returned to our ancient seas and evolved into the fish-shaped creatures we find in the fossil record today.

Their limbs fully transformed into flippers, sometimes containing a very large number of digits and phalanges. Their flippers tell us they were entirely aquatic as they were not well-designed for use on land. And it was their flippers that first gave us the clue that they gave birth to live young; a find later confirmed by fossil embryo and wee baby ichy finds.

They thrived during much of the Mesozoic era; based on fossil evidence, they first appeared around 250 million years ago (Ma) and at least one species survived until about 90 million years ago into the Late Cretaceous.

During the early Triassic period, ichthyosaurs evolved from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea. They were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods before being replaced as premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest benthos layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles.

Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

There are promising discoveries coming out of strata from the Cretaceous epeiric seas of Texas, USA from Nathan E. Van Vranken

His published paper from 2017, "An overview of ichthyosaurian remains from the Cretaceous of Texas, USA," looks at ichthyosaurian taxa from the mid-Cretaceous (Albian–Cenomanian) time interval in North America with an eye to ichthyosaurian distribution and demise.

The find and photos are all credited to Lewis Winchester-Ellis. Thank you for sharing your tremendous specimen with us. Lewis did much of the preparation of the specimen, removing the majority of the matrix. The spectacular final prep is credited to Lizzie Hingley, Stonebarrow Fossils, Oxfordshire. Her skill with an air scribe is unparalleled.

Link to Lomax Paper: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article…

Link to Nathan's Paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/…/10.1080/03115518.2018.1523462…

Nicholls Paper: E. L. Nicholls and M. Manabe. 2004. Giant ichthyosaurs of the Triassic - a new species of Shonisaurus from the Pardonet Formation (Norian: Late Triassic) of British Columbia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24(4):838-849 [M. Carrano/H. Street]