Friday, 15 November 2019

CRETACEOUS HADROSAUR TOOTH

A rare and very beautifully preserved Cretaceous Hadrosaur Tooth. This lovely specimen is from one of our beloved herbivorous "Duck-Billed" dinosaurs from 68 million-year-old outcrops near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, and is likely from an Edmontosaurus.

When you scour the badlands of southern Alberta, most of the dinosaur material you'll find are from hadrosaurs. These lovely tree-less valleys make for excellent searching grounds and have led us to know more about hadrosaur anatomy, evolution, and paleobiology than for most other dinosaurs. We have oodles of very tasty specimens and data to work with. We've got great skin impressions and scale patterns from at least ten species and interesting pathological specimens that provide valuable insights into hadrosaur behaviour.

Given the ideal collecting grounds, many of the papers on hadrosaurs focus on our Canadian finds. These herbivorous beauties are also found in Europe, South America, Mexico, Mongolia, China and Russian.

Hadrosaurs had teeth arranged in stacks designed for grinding and crushing, similar to how you might picture a cow munching away on grass in a field. These complex rows of "dental batteries" contained up to 300 individual teeth in each jaw ramus. But even with this great number, we rarely see them as individual specimens.

They didn't appear to shed them all that often. Older teeth that are normally shed in our general understanding of vertebrate dentition, were resorped, meaning that their wee osteoclasts broke down the tooth tissue and reabsorbed the yummy minerals and calcium.

As the deeply awesome Mike Boyd notes, "this is an especially lucky find as hadrosaurs did not normally shed so much as a tooth, except as the result of an accident when feeding or after death. Typically, these fascinating dinosaurs ground away their teeth... almost to nothing." 

In hadrosaurs, the root of the tooth formed part of the grinding surface as opposed to a crown covering over the core of the tooth. And curiously, they developed this dental arrangement from their embryonic state, through to hatchling then full adult.

There's some great research being done by Aaron LeBlanc, Robert R. Reisz, David C. Evans and Alida M. Bailleul. They published in BMC Evolutionary Biology on work that looks at the histology of hadrosaurid teeth analyzing them through cross-sections. Jon Tennant did a nice summary of their research. I've included both a link to the original journal article and Jon Tennant's blog below.

LeBlanc et al. are one of the first teams to look at the development of the tissues making up hadrosaur teeth, analyzing the tissue and growth series (like rings of a tree) to see just how these complex tooth batteries formed.

They undertook the first comprehensive, tissue-level study of dental ontogeny in hadrosaurids using several intact maxillary and dentary batteries and compared them to sections of other archosaurs and mammals. They used these comparisons to pinpoint shifts in the ancestral reptilian pattern of tooth ontogeny that allowed hadrosaurids to form complex dental batteries.

References:

LeBlanc et al. (2016) Ontogeny reveals function and evolution of the hadrosaurid dinosaur dental battery, BMC Evolutionary Biology. 16:152, DOI 10.1186/s12862-016-0721-1 (OA link)

To read more from Jon Tennant, visit: https://blogs.plos.org/paleocomm/2016/09/14/all-the-better-to-chew-you-with-my-dear/?fbclid=IwAR0EkT8Oi3UMJUithYEGJynIu4em7z1gZiSirVqx_OYCUKB8GXpkCZGgA3E

Photo credit: Derrick Kersey.

For more awesome fossil photos like this from Derrick, visit his page: https://www.facebook.com/prehistoricexpedition/

Thursday, 14 November 2019

ZENAPSIS MORTALITY PLATE

A Devonian fish mortality plate showing all lower shields of Zenaspis podolica (Lankester, 1869) and Stensiopelta pustulata (or Victoraspis longicornualis) from Lower Devonian deposits of Podolia, Ukraine.

Zenaspis is an extinct genus of jawless fish which existed during the early Devonian period. Due to it being jawless, Zenaspis was probably a bottom feeder.

The lovely 420 million-year-old plate you see here is from Podolia or Podilia, a historic region in Eastern Europe, located in the west-central and south-western parts of Ukraine, in northeastern Moldova. Podolia is the only region in Ukraine where Lower Devonian remains of ichthyofauna can be found near the surface.

For the past 150 years, vertebrate fossils have been found in more than 90 localities situated in outcrops along banks of the Dniester River and its northern tributaries, and in sandstone quarries. At present faunal list of Early Devonian agnathans and fishes from Podolia number 72 species, including 8 Thelodonti, 39 Heterostraci, 19 Osteostraci, 4 Placodermi, 1 Acanthodii, and 1 Holocephali (Voichyshyn 2001a, modified).

In Podolia, Lower Devonian redbeds strata (the Old Red Formation or Dniester Series) can be found up to 1800 m thick and range from Lochkovian to Eifelian in age (Narbutas 1984; Drygant 2000, 2003). In the lower part (Ustechko and Khmeleva members of the Dniester Series) they consist of multicoloured, mainly red, fine-grained cross-bedded massive quartz sandstones and siltstones with seams of argillites (Drygant 2000).

We see fossils beds of Zenaspis in the early Devonian of Western Europe. Both Zenaspis pagei and Zenaspis poweri can be found up to 25 centimetres long in Devonian outcrops of Scotland.

Reference: Voichyshyn, V. 2006. New osteostracans from the Lower Devonian terrigenous deposits of Podolia, Ukraine. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51 (1): 131–142. Photo care of Fossilero Fisherman.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

HADROSAURUS OF THE UPPER CRETACEOUS NANAIMO GROUP

Hadrosaurus, also known as the "duck-billed" dinosaurs, were a very successful group of plant-eaters that thrived throughout western Canada during the late Cretaceous, some 70 to 84 million years ago. Hadrosaurs may have lived as part of a herd, dining on pine needles, twigs and flowering plants.

There are two main groups of Hadrosaurs, crested and non-crested. The bony crest on the top of the head of the hadrosaurs was hollow and attached to the nasal passages. It is thought that the hollow crest was used to make different sounds. These sounds may have signalled distress or been the mating calls used to attract mates. Given their size it would have made for quite the trumpeting sound.

This beautiful specimen graces the back galleries of the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I was very fortunate to have a tour this past summer with the deeply awesome Mike Trask joined by the lovely Lori Vesper. The museum houses an extensive collection of palaeontological and archaeological material found on Vancouver Island, many of which have been donated by the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society.

Dan Bowen, Chair of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, shared a photo of the first partly articulated dinosaur from Vancouver Island ever found. The research efforts of the VIPS run deep in British Columbia and this new very significant find is no exception. A Hadrosauroid dinosaur is a rare occurrence and further evidence of the terrestrial influence in the Upper Cretaceous, Nanaimo Group, Vancouver Island.

This fossil bone material was found years ago by Mike Trask of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society. You may recall that he was the same fellow who found the Courtenay elasmosaur. The bone was initially thought to be a plesiosaur but turned out to be a hadrosauroid. The find was confirmed by hadrosaur authority Dr. David Evans, senior curator of the Royal Ontario Museum.
You can see the articulated Hadrodauriod fossil bone Mike found now prepped fully prepped.

This fellow has kissing cousins over in the state of New Jersey where this species is the official state fossil. The first of his kind was found by John Estaugh Hopkins in New Jersey back in 1838.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

EDIBLE 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.

Monday, 11 November 2019

BEAKS AND FRILLY SADDLES

A lovely example of the ammonite, Cératites Nodosus, an extinct genus of nektonic marine carnivore from shell limestone superior deposits near Alsace on the Rhine River plain of northeastern France.

You can see the nice ceratitic suture pattern on this specimen with his smooth lobes and frilly saddles. The sutures would have increased the strength of the shell and allowed Ceratites (de Haan, 1825) to dive deeper, bearing the additional pressure of the sea in search of food.

Ammonite shells are made up predominantly of calcium carbonate in the form of aragonite and proteinaceous organic matrix or conchiolin arranged in layers: a thin outer prismatic layer, a nacreous layer and an inner lining of prismatic habitat. While their outer shells are generally aragonite, aptychus are distinct as they are composed of calcite.

The aptychus we see here, hard anatomical structures or curved shelly plates now understood to be part of the body of an ammonite, are often referred to as beaks. If you look closely at this specimen, you can see the beak of the ammonite, that wee pointed piece, near the centre.

These ammonites lived in open shallow, to subtidal and basinal environments some 247 to 221 million years ago. We've found them, thus far, in just over forty collections from nearly ninety fossil deposits around the globe. Fossils of species have been found in the Triassic of Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

The parent taxon is Ceratitinae according to E. T. Tozer 1981. That's our own Tim Tozer, one of the great knights-errant of the Triassic timescale. It was Tim Tozer and Norm Silberling who published the classic milestones of the Triassic timescale, "Biostratigraphic Classification of the Marine Triassic in North America, Geological Society of America, Special Paper 110." The Global Triassic: Bulletin 41 from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science by Lucas and Spielmann honours them in their work. Collection of Ange Mirabet, Strasbourg, France.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

SKOMER ISLAND PUFFIN

This lovely fellow with his distinctive colouring is an Atlantic Puffin or "Sea Parrot" from Skomer Island near Pembrokeshire in the southwest of Wales. Wales is bordered by Camarthenshire to the east and Ceredigion to the northeast with the sea bordering everything else. It is a fine place to do some birding if it's seabirds you are interested in.

These Atlantic Puffins are one of the most famous of all the seabirds and form the largest colony in Southern Britain. They live about 25 years making a living in our cold seas dining on herring, hake and sand eels. Some have been known to live to almost 40 years of age. They are good little swimmers as you might expect, but surprisingly they are great flyers, too! They are hindered by short wings, which makes flight challenging but still possible with effort. Once they get some speed on board, they can fly up to 88 km an hour.

Their sexy orange beaks (dead sexy, right?) shift from a dull grey to bright orange when it is time to attract a mate. While not strictly monogamous, most Puffins choose the same mate year upon year producing adorable chicks or pufflings (awe) from their mating efforts. Female Puffins produce one single white egg which the parents take turns to incubate over a course of about six weeks. Their dutiful parents share the honour of feeding the wee pufflings five to eight times a day until the chick is ready to fly. Towards the end of July, the fledgling Puffins begin to venture from the safety of their parents and dry land. Once they take to the seas, mom and dad are released from duty and the newest members of the colony are left to hunt and survive on their own.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

DEEPLY GROOVY DORIPPE SINICA

A beautiful example of the decapod, Dorippe sinica, from Holocene deposits near Shizuoka, Japan. This regal fellow has a strongly sculptured carapace. He looks like he would have been quite the bruiser moving about on the seafloor looking for tasty snacks. He likely enjoyed just about any form of meat, potentially dining on fish, worms, eggs, squid, starfish or even a few of his slow-moving cousins.

The carapace is deeply grooved with conspicuous wart-like tubercles; anterolateral margin, between the base of the exorbital tooth and cervical groove, smooth, without tubercles or denticles.

The teeth on the lower orbital margin in the cluster. Carpus of cheliped distinctly granulated on the upper surface and with a conspicuous row of granules along the anterior margin. Though missing here, the merus of second and third pereiopods are almost cylindrical. (Türkay 1995). This specimen was collected and is the collection of the deeply awesome Takashi Ito of Japan

Friday, 8 November 2019

YORKSHIRE ANDROGYNOCERAS

A stunning example of the ammonite Androgynoceras from the Yorkshire Coast, England.

The Geology of Yorkshire in northern England shows a very close relationship between the major topographical areas and the geological period in which their rocks were formed. The rocks of the Pennine chain of hills in the west are of Carboniferous origin whilst those of the central vale are Permo-Triassic.

The North York Moors in the north-east of the county are Jurassic in age while the Yorkshire Wolds to the southeast are Cretaceous chalk uplands. The plain of Holderness and the Humberhead levels both owe their present form to the Quaternary ice ages. The strata become gradually younger from west to east. Much of Yorkshire presents heavily glaciated scenery as few places escaped the direct or indirect impact of the great ice sheets as they first advanced and then retreated during the last ice age. This beauty is in the collection of the deeply awesome Harry Tabiner.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

OH MIGHTY CHORDATE

You and I are vertebrates, we have backbones. Having a backbone or spinal column is what sets apart you, me and almost 70,000 species on this big blue planet.

So which lucky ducks evolved one? Well, ducks for one. Warm-blooded birds and mammals cheerfully claim those bragging rights. They're joined by our cold-blooded, ectothermic friends, the fish, amphibians and reptiles. All these diverse lovelies share this characteristic.

And whether they now live at sea or on land, all of these lineages evolved from a marine organism somewhere down the line, then went on to develop a notochord and spinal column. Notochords are flexible rods that run down the length of chordates and vertebrates. They are handy adaptations for muscle attachment, helping with signalling and coordinating the development of the embryonic stage. The cells from the notochord play a key role in the development of the central nervous system and the formation of motor neurons and sensory cells. Alas, we often take our evolution for granted.

Let's take a moment to appreciate just how marvellous this evolutionary gift is and what it allows us to do. Your backbone gives your body structure, holds up that heavy skull of yours and connects your tasty brain to your body and organs. Eating, walking, fishing, hunting, your morning yoga class, are all made possible because of this adaptation. Pick pretty near anything you love to do and it is only possible because of your blessed spine.

And it sets us apart from our invertebrate friends.

While seventy thousand may seem like a large number, it represents less than three to five percent of all described animal species. The rest is made up of the whopping 97%'ers, our dear invertebrates who include the arthropods (insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and myriapods), mollusks (our dear chitons, snails, bivalves, squid, and octopus), annelids (the often misunderstood earthworms and leeches), and cnidarians (our beautiful hydras, jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals).

You'll notice that many of our invertebrate friends occur as tasty snacks. Having a backbone provides a supreme advantage to your placement in the food chain. Not always, as you may include fish and game on your menu. But generally, having a backbone means you're more likely to be holding the menu versus being listed as an appetizer. So, enjoy your morning 'downward dog' and thank your backbone for the magical gift it is.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

VIPS RESEARCH FROM THE FIELD

Meet Fergusonites hendersonae, a Late Hettangian (Early Jurassic) ammonite from the Taseko Lakes area of British Columbia, Canadian Rockies.

I had the very great honour of having this fellow, a new species of nektonic carnivorous ammonite, named after me by paleontologist Louse Longridge from the University of British Columbia. I'd met Louise as an undergrad and was pleased as punch to hear that she would be continuing the research by Dr. Howard Tipper.

We did several expeditions over three field seasons to the Taseko Lake area of the Rockies. We were joined by many wonderful researchers from Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society and Vancouver Paleontological Society, as well as the University of British Columbia.

The fossils found here are from the Lower Jurassic, Lower Sinemurian, Little Paradise Member of the Last Creek formation. Several ammonites species can be found here including Arnioceras semicostatum and Arnioceras miserable.

Both Dan Bowen, VIPS and John Fam, VanPS, were instrumental in planning those fossil field trips. The VIPS has been especially active in planning and executing excellent research expeditions that have brought many new fossil species to light. These trips were no exception. They were to yield many new species and help mint out a new Ph.D. We endured elevation sickness, rain, snow, grizzly bears and very chilly nights (we were sleeping next to a glacier at one point) but were rewarded by the enthusiastic crew, helicopter rides (which really cuts down the hiking time) excellent specimens and stunningly beautiful country. We were also blessed with excellent access as the area is closed to collecting except via permit.

Building on the work of Dr. Howard Tipper and Dr. Louise Longridge, along with Taylor et al from 2001, Pengfei Hou did a Master's thesis through UBC in 2014 on Sinemurian (Early Jurassic) stratigraphy at Last Creek, British Columbia and Five Card Draw, Nevada, looking at the paleontological and environmental implications of the assemblages.

As part of that work, he collected over 400 ammonite specimens from the Last Creek Formation in Last Creek, British Columbia and the Sunrise Formation in Five Card Draw, Nevada. The research led to three new species: Tipperoceras n. sp. A, Tmaegoceras obesus n. sp., Arnioceras n. sp.

Reference: PaleoDB 157367 M. Clapham GSC C-208992, Section A 09, Castle Pass Angulata - Jurassic 1 - Canada, Longridge et al. (2008)

Full reference: L. M. Longridge, P. L. Smith, and H. W. Tipper. 2008. Late Hettangian (Early Jurassic) ammonites from Taseko Lakes, British Columbia, Canada. Palaeontology 51:367-404
PaleoDB taxon number: 297415; Cephalopoda - Ammonoidea - Juraphyllitidae; Fergusonites hendersonae Longridge et al. 2008 (ammonite); Average measurements (in mm): shell width 9.88, shell diameter 28.2; Age range: 201.6 to 196.5 Ma. Locality info: British Columbia, Canada (51.1° N, 123.0° W: paleo coordinates 22.1° N, 66.1° W)

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

WEE SNOUT LION: CURCULIONIDAE

Wee Eocene Snout Weevil / Photo: Jim Barkley
A lovely fossil Snout Weevil, family Curculionidae, from the Green River Formation of Western Colorado, USA.

This fellow is from the collection of the deeply awesome Jim Barkley. He gets credit for the lovely photography, too, which shows the exquisite detail on this specimen.

Fossil weevil specimens can be found in the Eocene Green River Formation that outcrops in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. The Formation is famous for its diverse faunal and floral assemblage of fossils and its fish in particular.

The site boasts beautifully preserved fossil stromatolites, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Specimens include reptiles, a broad selection of mammals and, surprise, even primates!

Weevils are herbivorous beetles. They're what your Mamma would call, "good little eaters." And there are plenty of them. The Curculionidae is the family of the "true" weevils and is one of the largest animal families. We likely still haven't met them all. A family reunion would include 6,800 genera and 83,000 species at last count. But don't place your final catering order just yet. If we include all the closely related weevil-type beetles in the superfamily Curculionoidea, we'd have to include an additional ten families. Quadruple that catering menu.

Weevils look like little tiny anteaters with a long 'snout' or rostrum, at the front of their head. Some of the members of this family have rather poor reputations as they make a living by damaging plants of interest to us humans.

Topping the hugely unpopular list is the boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis, a native of Mexico (until it's US invasion in 1892) and famous destroyer of cotton crops.

The Ips genus, feeding on Ponderosa pine, introduces a fungus to the tree. The fungus blocks resin canals, which leaves the weevil free to eat. Resin would normally wash the insects out; it is a defence mechanism. The fungus often kills the tree, and groups of dead trees are a focus for forest fires. In this way the insect is indirectly responsible for serious fires. The maize weevil, Sitophilus zeamais, is a major pest. It attacks both standing crops and stored cereal products, including wheat, rice, sorghum, oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, peas, and cottonseed.

Monday, 4 November 2019

ERINACEUS EUROPAUS

This little cutie is a Western European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaus, in the subfamily Erinaceinae (Fischer, 1814). They are native to western Europe, Asia, Africa and have been introduced (oops!) to New Zealand.

There are seventeen species of hedgehog in five genera. They share distant ancestry with the family Soricidae (shrews) and the gymnures.

Hedgehogs are considered "Living Fossils" as they have changed very little over the past 15 million years. These small mammals are loners with their own kind but live in close proximity to our human population. They dwell in inhabited areas, farmland, deciduous forests and desert. You'll know them by their distinctive spiny look (which may remind you of very tasty chocolates from Purdy's in Canada) and their adorable piglike snorts and grunts as they make their way through the underbrush looking for tasty snacks.

Look for them in the evening in hedgerows and undergrowth as they hunt for frogs, toads, snails, bird eggs, grassroots, berries, insects, worms and snakes. They fatten themselves up in preparation for hibernation. They'll find a nice burrow or built a nest in leaves or compost heaps. In Europe, they generally hibernate by October or November and become active again in March to mid-April once temperatures reach over 15 degrees.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

MAASTRICHTIAN CLUPEIFORMES

A stunning example of the Late Cretaceous fish, Gasteroclupea branisai, from Bolivia. This beauty is housed in the Natural History Museum Alcide d'Orbignay of Cochabamba.

Gasteroclupea is a genus of prehistoric clupeiform fish related to modern anchovies and herrings.

Clupeiformes are physostomes, which means that the gas bladder has a pneumatic duct connecting it to the gut. This handy little evolutionary feature lets them fill or empty the gas bladder via their mouth. They typically lack lateral lines but have nicely defined eyes, fins and scales. They are generally silvery fish with streamlined, spindle-shaped, bodies, and often found in schools. Most species eat plankton which they filter from the water with their gills.

Gasteroclupea date back to the Maastrichtian of the Late Cretaceous. We find fossils of the genus in the Yacoraite Formation of Argentina and in the El Molino Formation of Bolivia, as you see here. Photo credit: Gilberto Juárez Huarachi‎.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

PHEASANT PHASIANUS

These playful lovelies are beautiful examples of the Common Pheasant, Phasianus Cholchicus.

We associate them with tweet shorn English aristocrats jauntily going about the hunt on horseback. Pheasants build their nests on the ground and can fly for short distances. They spend their days searching around field and stream looking for tasty insects, seeds and grain.

Friday, 1 November 2019

ARMOURED AGNATHA

This lovely specimen, showing both the positive and negative of the fossil, is an armoured agnatha jawless bony fish, Victoraspis longicornualis, from Lower Devonian deposits of Podolia, Ukraine.

Victoraspis longicornualis was named by Anders Carlsson and Henning Bloom back in 2008. The new osteostracan genus and species were described based on material from Rakovets' present-day Ukraine. This new taxon shares characteristics with the two genera Stensiopelta (Denison, 1951) and Zychaspis (Javier, 1985).

Agnatha is a superclass of vertebrates. This fellow looks quite different from our modern Agnatha, which includes lamprey and hagfish. Ironically, hagfish are vertebrates that do not have vertebrae. Sometime in their evolution, they lost them as they adapted to their environment. Photo: Fossilero Fisherman

Thursday, 31 October 2019

SHONISAURUS OF NEVADA

The beauties you see here are ichthyosaurs. The largest of their lineage is the genus Shonisaurus who ruled our ancient seas 217 million years ago.

At least 37 incomplete fossil specimens of the marine reptile have been found in hard limestone deposits of the Luning Formation, in far northwestern Nye County of Nevada. This formation dates to the late Carnian age of the late Triassic period when present-day Nevada and parts of the western United States were covered by an ancient ocean.

The first researcher to recognize the Nevada fossil specimens as ichthyosaurs was Siemon W. Muller of Stanford University. He had the work of Sir Richard Owen and others to build on. That being said, there are very few contenders for a species that boasts vertebrae over a foot wide and weighing in at almost 10 kg or 21 lbs. Muller contacted the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley. Surface collecting by locals continued at the site but no major excavation was planned.

Sir Richard Owen, the British biologist, comparative anatomist and paleontologist, coined the name ichthyopterygia, or "fish flippers," one hundred and fourteen years earlier, but that wee bit of scientific knowledge hadn't made its way west to the general population. The finds at Luning were still, "marine monsters."

Owen, too, was building on research going back to 1699, the very first recorded fossil fragments found of these beasties in Wales. Shortly thereafter, fossil vertebrae were published in 1708 from the Lower Jurassic.

The first complete skeleton was discovered in the early 19th century by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph along the Dorset Jurassic Coast. Mary's find was described by a 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. All of this early work was instrumental in aiding the researchers who would join the project at Luning.

Owen is considered to have been an outstanding naturalist with a remarkable gift for interpreting fossils. Contrary to common belief, advanced study does help with identifying fossils, but what is truly needed is a keen eye. The finds at Luning were blessed to be seen by an enthusiastic local with just that right kind of keen eye.

Almost a quarter of a century after Muller's initial reports, Dr. Charles L. Camp from UCMP received correspondence further detailing the finds from a lovely Mrs. Margaret Wheat of Fallon. She wrote to Camp in September of 1928 to say that she'd been giving the quarry section a bit of a sweep, as you do, and had uncovered a nice aligned section of vertebrae with her broom. The following year, Dr. Charles L. Camp went out to survey the finds and began working on the specimens, his first field season of many, in 1954.

Back in the 1950s, these large marine reptiles were rumoured to be "marine monsters," as the concept of an ichthyosaur was not well understood by the local townsfolk. Excitement soon hit West Union Canyon as the quarry began to reveal the sheer size of these mighty beasts. Four of the specimens were fully excavated. Most of the ichthyosaur bones were left in situ, partially because the work was tremendously difficult, and partially to allow others to see how the specimens were laid down over 200 million years ago.

Camp continued to work with Wheat at the site and brought on Sam Welles and a host of students to help with excavations. The team understood the need for protection at the site. They canvassed the Nevada Legislature to establish the Ichthyosaur Paleontological State Monument. You can see one of the Park Rangers above giving a tour within the lovely Fossil Hut building they built on the site to protect the fossils.

In 1957, the site was incorporated into the State Park System and Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park was born. The park Twenty years later, in 1977, the population of Nevada weighed in and the Legislature designated Shonisaurus popularis as the State Fossil of Nevada. Visitors are welcome to collect fossils from the exposures of the Upper Triassic (Early Norian, Kerri Zone) of the Luning Formation, West Union Canyon, just outside Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park.

Address: State route 844, Austin, NV 89310, United States. Area: 4.58 km². Open 24 hours;
Elevation: 6,975 ft (2,126 m); Tel: +1 775-964-2440; http://parks.nv.gov/parks/berlin-ichthyosaur

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

CANGREJO FÓSIL: COSTACOPLUMA

Cuticular structure in a Late Maastrichtian crab, Costacopluma mexicana, from deposits near the town of from near Paredón, Ramos Arizpe in what is now southern Coahuila (formerly Coahuila de Zaragoza), north-eastern Mexico. We see this same species in the Upper Cretaceous Moyenne of Northeast Morocco and from the Pacific slope, Paleocene of California, USA. This beauty is in the collection of José F. Ventura‎.

While the crustacean cuticle has been the subject of study for over 250 years (Reaumur, 1712, in Drach, 1939), the focus of that early work has been the process of moulting. Because crabs and other crustaceans have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells through a process called moulting. Just as we outgrow our shoes, crabs outgrow their shells.

In 1984, Roer and Dillaman took a whole new approach, instead looking at the exoskeleton as a mineralized tissue. The integument of decapod crustaceans consists of an outer epicuticle, an exocuticle, an endocuticle and an inner membranous layer underlain by the hypodermis. The outer three layers of the cuticle are calcified.

The mineral is in the form of calcite crystals and amorphous calcium carbonate. In the epicuticle, the mineral is in the form of spherulitic calcite islands surrounded by the lipid-protein matrix. In the exo- and endo-cuticles the calcite crystal aggregates are interspersed with chitin-protein fibres which are organized in lamellae. In some species, the organization of the mineral mirrors that of the organic fibres, but such is not the case in certain cuticular regions in the xanthid crabs.

Control of crystal organization is a complex phenomenon unrelated to the gross morphology of the matrix. Since the cuticle is periodically moulted to allow for growth, this necessitates a bidirectional movement of calcium into the cuticle during post-moult and out during premolt resorption of the cuticle.

These movements are accomplished by active transport affected by a Ca-ATPase and Na/Ca exchange mechanism. The epi- and exo-cuticular layers of the new cuticle are elaborated during pre-moult but do not calcify until the old cuticle is shed. This phenomenon also occurs in vitro in the cuticle devoid of living tissue and implies an alteration of the nucleating sites of the cuticle in the course of the moult.

We're still learning about the relationship between the mineral and the organic components of the cuticle, both regarding the determination of crystal morphology and about nucleation. While the Portunidae offers some knowledge of the mechanisms and pathways for calcium movement, we know nothing concerning the transport of carbonate. These latter areas of investigation will prove fertile ground for future work; work which will provide information not only on the physiology of Crustacea but also on the basic principles of mineralization. I'm interested to see what insights will be revealed in the years to come. Certainly, the bidirectional nature of mineral transport and the sharp temporal transitions in the nucleating ability of the cuticular matrix provide ideal systems in which to study these aspects of calcification.

Torrey Nyborg, Francisco J. Vega and Harry F. Filkorn, Boletín de la Sociedad Geológica Mexicana, Vol. 61, No. 2, Número especial XI Congreso Nacional de Paleontología, Juriquilla 2009 (2009), pp. 203-209. Coahuila paleo coordinates:25°32′26″N 100°57′2″W

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

BIBONIDAE: LATE BLOOMING POLLINATORS

A recent post of the fossils found at McAbee in the Interior of British Columbia has me thinking of March Flies. March Flies are hardy, medium-sized flies in the Order Diptera, with a body length ranging from 4.0 to 10.0 mm. They tend to make for excellent specimens as they fossilize rather well. This species is one of the most satisfying fossils to collect in the Eocene deposits of McAbee and in the outskirts of Princeton, British Columbia.

The body is black, brown, or rusty, and thickset, with thick legs. The antennae are moniliform. The front tibiae bear large strong spurs or a circlet of spines. The tarsi are five-segmented and bear tarsal claws, pulvilli, and a well-developed empodium. As it is with many species, these guys included, the teens of this species are troublesome but the adults turn out alright. As larvae, Bibionidae is an agricultural pest, devouring all those tasty young seedlings you've just planted.

Then, as they mature their tastes turn to the nectar of flowers from fruit trees and la voila, they become your best friends again. With their physical and behavioural transformation complete, Bibionidae becomes a welcome garden visitor, pulling their weight in the ecosystems they live in by being important pollinators.

Monday, 28 October 2019

MARINE REPTILES OF THE WESTERN INTERIOR SEAWAY

During the Cretaceous Period, the Western Interior Seaway split North America into two landmasses. Part of the seaway was the Bearpaw Sea, a warm, shallow sea that covered 1.7 million square kilometres of coastal plain about 74 million years ago.

It was home to many marine reptiles, ammonites, fishes, and other aquatic life. Elasmosaurs (long-necked plesiosaurs) were one group of marine reptiles that inhabited prehistoric waters. They were primarily fish eaters, and used their long necks to strike at fish, then trapped them in their interlocking teeth. A new genus and species of elasmosaur, Albertonectes vanderveldei, was uncovered in 2007 during routine ammonite shell mining.

Albertonectes has 76 neck vertebrae, the most of any animal known. (Compare this to giraffes that only have seven neck vertebrae. Albertonectes had a neck that was 6.5 metres long. Was it flexible and able to bend sharply and quickly? Or was it stiff, with a gentle arc that could cover a large area? Paleontologists used computer modelling to study the neck’s flexibility. The neck broke into four segments when it collapsed on the seafloor. This indicates that it was rigid enough to break easily and supports the hypothesis for having a stiff neck.

Another hypothesis is that gastroliths were used for digestion. Living animals that have gastroliths normally eat seeds, fruits, or tough vegetation. Since flesh is easier to digest than plant tissue, a carnivorous elasmosaur probably wouldn’t have needed gastroliths to grind up its food.

This incredible specimen provides insight into what marine communities were like during the Cretaceous Period. The fossilized remains of other animals that lived alongside Albertonectes are found in the rocks formed at the bottom of the Bearpaw Sea.

These included potential prey such as small fishes, ammonites, and crayfish. From recovered shark teeth, and tooth marks left on bone, palaeontologists determined that the carcass of Albertonectes was scavenged by one or more sharks. Read more on this impressive find at:
https://royaltyrrellmuseum.wpcomstaging.com/…/albertonecte…/

Sunday, 27 October 2019

WEYLA OF THE SUNRISE FORMATION

Weyla (Nielsen, 1963)
A lovely example of the large bivalve, Weyla, from the earliest known Jurassic Ferguson Hill Member (Hettangian and Sinemurian) of the Sunrise Formation in the New York Canyon area of west-central Nevada, USA.

The end-Triassic mass extinction was global, severe, and accompanied by worldwide disturbance to carbonate ramp and platform sedimentation. We hiked through the earliest known Jurassic carbonate ramp produced in the back-arc basin along NE Panthalassa following the extinction event to determine the biotic constituents and timing of local ecological recovery.

The Ferguson Hill Member (Hettangian and Sinemurian) of the Sunrise Formation in the New York Canyon area of west-central Nevada, USA has a lovely counterpart in the Rockies of British Columbia, Canada, explored over three field seasons in the early 2000's before being closed off as a provincial park.

In the Hettangian, post-extinction biosiliceous sedimentation extended to the inner ramp, where an ooid and grapestone shoal marked the outermost extent of a narrow belt of carbonate sedimentation. An early recovery phase in the late Hettangian is characterized by widespread, laterally homogeneous, demosponge-dominated level-bottom sedimentation across the mid- to inner-ramp, in addition to limited trophic tiering (sessile epifaunal suspension-feeding and mobile infaunal deposit-feeding), substantial ramp aggradation, and poor settling conditions for competitive benthic colonizers (e.g., corals, crinoids, infaunal bivalves). Within 1.6–2 Myr after the extinction (in the early Sinemurian), a late recovery phase is recognized by the appearance of epifaunal grazers (gastropods, echinoids) and suspension feeders (crinoids, solitary scleractinian corals), phototrophic microbialites (oncoids, and possibly photosymbionts within corals), and infaunal deposit or suspension feeders (bivalves).

Although the late recovery faunas included more trophic levels than pre-extinction carbonate ramp habitats, development and progradation of the first Jurassic carbonate ramp still relied heavily on sponge, microbialite, and abiotic mineralization.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

MARINE REPTILES OF THE HUMBOLDTS

A very well preserved ichthyosaur block with three distinct vertebrae and some ribs just peeking out. You can see the edges of the ribs nicely outlined against the matrix.

Ichthyosaurs are an extinct order of marine reptiles from the Mesozoic era. They 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.

They were visibly dolphin-like in appearance but seem to share some other qualities as well. These lovelies were warm-blooded and used their coloration as camouflage. The smaller of their lineage to avoid being eaten and the larger to avoid being seen by prey. Ichthyosaurs also had insulating blubber, a lovely adaptation to keep them warm in cold seas.

Over time, 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 hypothesis later confirmed by fossil embryo and wee baby ichy specimens.

We find their fossil remains in outcrops spanning from the mid-Cretaceous to the earliest Triassic. As we look through the fossils, we see a slow evolution in body design moving towards that enjoyed by dolphins and tuna by the Upper Triassic, albeit with a narrower, more pointed snout. 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 a premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

The block you see here is from Middle Triassic (Anisian/Ladinian) outcrops in the West Humboldt Mountains, Nevada.

Friday, 25 October 2019

SUNRISE FORMATION, NEVADA

At the entrance to the Pliensbachian-Toarcian localities at Joker Peak and Mina Peak Members of the Sunrise Formation, Nevada, USA.

The ammonites of this section were first studied by Dr. Paul Smith, past Chair of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia and more recently by Andrew Caruthers et al.

Caruthers and his team also took a goodly look at the Early Jurassic coral fauna. Caruthers is an interesting cat. He uses a combination of invertebrate paleontology and isotope geochemistry to ponder the effects of paleoclimate change and mass extinction. He's turned his eye in recent years to the Paleozoic of the Michigan Basin AND he's based in Kalamazoo, MI. Yep, Kalamazoo.

Others have taken up the mantle of discovery from these sites. Pengfei Hou did his 2014 Masters thesis comparing the Sinemurian (Early Jurassic) stratigraphic sections of Last Creek, British Columbia and Five Card Draw, Nevada including a detailed taxonomic study from the Involutum Zone to the lower part of the Harbledownense Zone of the Sinemurian.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

DUBIOUS DAONELLA DUBIA

Triassic ammonoids, West Humboldt Mountains, Nevada, USA. This was the site of the 1905 Expedition of the University of California’s Department of Geology in Berkeley funded by the beautiful and bold, Annie Alexander, the women to whom the UCMP owes both its collection and existence.

Paleontologist J.P. Smith joined that expedition and published on the marine fauna in the early 1900s. They formed the basis for his monograph on North American Middle Triassic marine invertebrate fauna published in 1914. N. J. Siberling from the US Geological Survey published on these outcrops in 1962. His work included nearly a dozen successive ammonite faunas, many of which were variants on previously described species. Evidently, his collections consisted mainly of weathered material and were made without stratigraphic control because he believed that most, if not all, of these species, were coexistent. The fossiliferous beds found here, as well as localities in north-western Nevada, were designated the 'Daonella dubia' zone. Dubious would be closer to the truth. We've since mapped them out from stratigraphic sections to place them in the correct order of their occurrence.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

SMILODON FATALIS

During the last ice age, huge cats bigger than an African lion prowled Alberta, including the fearsome beast commonly known as the "sabre-toothed tiger."

The proper name for the extinct predator with foot-long, serrated knife-like canines is Smilodon fatalis.

Up until the discovery of the fossil from Medicine Hat, Alberta, the species had never been found further north than Idaho. Or so it was thought...

A few years ago, a few small fossils caught the eye of researcher Ashley Reynolds as she was rummaging through the drawers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The drawer was part of a treasure trove of 1,200 specimens collected in the 1960s by University of Toronto paleontologist C.S. Churcher and his team. The specimens were collected over many field seasons along the bluffs of the South Saskatchewan River near Medicine Hat.

Churcher was a paleontologist with a keen eye and a delightful man. I had the very great pleasure of listening to many of his talks out at UBC and at a few VanPS meetings in the mid-2000s. "Rufus" was a thoroughly charming storyteller and shared many of his adventures from the field. He moved out to the West Coast for his retirement but his keen love of the science kept him giving talks to enthralled listeners keen to hear about his survey of the Dakhleh Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt, geomorphology, stratigraphy, recent biology, Pleistocene and Holocene lithic cultures, insights learned from Neolithic Islamic pottery to Roman settlements.

The specimens he had collected had been roughly sorted but never examined in detail. Reynolds, who was researching the growth patterns and life histories of extinct cats by looking at their bones, decided to look more carefully at what fossils Churcher had actually found, keen to add them to her research. And what a find she made!

One of the fossils labelled "Smilodon" was too small a piece to be identified. But another, a bone from the ancient cat's right front paw, was identical other Smilodon bones from the same part of the body, and was positively identified as Canada's first Smilodon. CBC did a nice write up on her discoveries. Read more on this story here:
https://www.cbc.ca/n…/technology/sabre-toothed-cat-1.5305505

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

LATE HETTANGIAN TO EARLY SINEMURIAN FAUNA

Hiking the hills of Nevada looking for David Taylor's faunal succession based on ammonoids established for the Late Hettangian to Early Sinemurian interval in the Western Cordillera.

It was a tremendous experience to walk through time and compare the fossil assemblages here with our own in the Canadian Rockies.

Here the faunal sequence consists of one zone and four informal biochronologic units or assemblages and was outlined by Taylor as follows: Paracaloceras morganense assemblage, Badouxia oregonensis assemblage, Canadensis Zone, Metophioceras trigonatum assemblage and Coroniceras involutum. They matched up to specimens we collected over three field seasons to similar faunal outcrops of Late Hettangian to Early Sinemurian of the Last Creek and Tyaughton area of the Canadian Rockies.

The succession also correlates with the interval delineated by the Northwest European Angulata Zone through the Lyra Subzone. Two new genera (Guexiceras and Tipperoceras) are described along with 23 new species. The phylogenetic relationships of the earliest Jurassic ammonite superfamilies indicate that it is useful to include under the Psiloceratida, the Psilocerataceae and their derivatives including the Lytocerataceae. The Arietitaceae were derived from Hettangian lytocerataceans.

Monday, 21 October 2019

OSTRACODERMS TO ANGLERFISH

The festive lassie you see here is an Anglerfish. They always look to be celebrating a birthday of some kind, albeit solo. This party is happening deep in our oceans right now and for those that join in, I hope they like it rough.

The wee candle you see on her forehead is a photophore, a tiny bit of luminous dorsal spine. Many of our sea dwellers have photophores. We see them in glowing around the eyes of some cephalopods. These light organs can be a simple grouping of photogenic cells or more complex with light reflectors, lenses, colour filters able to adjust the intensity or angular distribution of the light they produce. Some species have adapted their photophores to avoid being eaten, in others, it's an invitation to lunch.

In the anglerfish' world, it's dead sexy, an adaptation used to attract prey and mates alike.

Deep in the murky depths of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans, hopeful female anglerfish light up their sexy lures. When a male latches onto this tasty bit of flesh, he fuses himself totally. He might be one of several potential mates. She's not picky, just hungry. Lure. Feed. Mate. Repeat.

A friend asked if anglerfish mate for life. Well, yes.... yes, indeed they do.

Mating is a tough business down in the depths. Her body absorbs his over time until all that's left are his testes. While unusual, it is only one of many weird and whacky ways our fishy friends communicate, entice, hunt and creatively survive and thrive.

The evolution of fish began about 530 million years ago with the first fish lineages belonged to the Agnatha, a superclass of jawless fish. We still see them in our waters as cyclostomes but have lost the conodonts and ostracoderms to the annals of time. Like all vertebrates, fish have bilateral symmetry; when divided down the middle or central axis, each half is the same. Organisms with bilateral symmetry are generally more agile, making finding a mate, hunting or avoiding being hunted a whole lot easier.

When we envision fish, we generally picture large eyes, gills, a well-developed mouth. The earliest animals that we classify as fish appeared as soft-bodied chordates who lacked a true spine. While they were spineless, they did have notochords, a cartilaginous skeletal rod that gave them more dexterity than the cold-blooded invertebrates who shared those ancient seas and evolved without a backbone. Fish would continue to evolve throughout the Paleozoic, diversifying into a wide range of forms. Several forms of Paleozoic fish developed external armour that protected them from predators. The first fish with jaws appeared in the Silurian period, after which many species, including sharks, became formidable marine predators rather than just the prey of arthropods.

Fishes in general respire using gills, are most often covered with bony scales and propel themselves using fins. There are two main types of fins, median fins and paired fins. The median fins include the caudal fin or tail fin, the dorsal fin, and the anal fin. Now there may be more than one dorsal, and one anal fin in some fishes.

The paired fins include the pectoral fins and the pelvic fins. And these paired fins are connected to, and supported by, pectoral and pelvic girdles, at the shoulder and hip; in the same way, our arms and legs are connected to and supported by, pectoral and pelvic girdles. This arrangement is something we inherited from the ancestors we share with fishes. They are homologous structures.

When we speak of early vertebrates, we're often talking about fishes. Fish is a term we use a lot in our everyday lives but taxonomically it is not all that useful. When we say, 'fish' we generally mean an ectothermic, aquatic vertebrate with gills and fins.

Fortunately, many of our fishy friends have ended up in the fossil record. We may see some of the soft bits from time to time, as in the lovely fossil fish found in concretion in Brazil, but we often see fish skeletons. Vertebrates with hard skeletons had a much better chance of being preserved. In British Columbia, we have lovely two-dimensional Eocene fossil fish well-represented from the Allenby of Princeton and the McAbee Fossil Beds. We have the Tiktaalik roseae, a large freshwater fish, from 375 million-year-old Devonian deposits on Ellesmere Island in Canada's Arctic. Tiktaalik is a wonderfully bizarre creature with a flat, almost reptilian head but also fins, scales and gills. We have other wonders from this time. There are also spectacular antiarch placoderms, Bothriolepsis, found in the Upper Devonian shales of Miguasha in Quebec.

There are fragments of bone-like tissues from as early as the Late Cambrian with the oldest fossils that are truly recognizable as fishes come from the Middle Ordovician from North America, South America and Australia. At the time, South America and Australia were part of a supercontinent called Gondwana. North America was part of another supercontinent called Laurentia and the two were separated by deep oceans.

These two supercontinents and others that were also present were partially covered by shallow equatorial seas and the continents themselves were barren and rocky. Land plants didn't evolve until later in the Silurian Period. In these shallow equatorial seas, a large diverse and widespread group of armoured, jawless fishes evolved: the Pteraspidomorphi. The first of our three groups of ostracoderms. The Pteraspidomorphi are divided into three major groups: the Astraspida, Arandaspida and the Heterostraci.

The oldest and most primitive pteraspidomorphs were the Astraspida and the Arandaspida. You'll notice that all three of these taxon names contain 'aspid', which means shield. This is because these early fishes and many of the Pteraspidomorphi possessed large plates of dermal bone at the anterior end of their bodies. This dermal armour was very common in early vertebrates, but it was lost in their descendants. Arandaspida is represented by two well-known genera: Sacabampaspis, from South America and Arandaspis from Australia. Arandaspis have large, simple, dorsal and ventral head shields. Their bodies were fusiform, which means they were shaped sort of like a spindle, fat in the middle and tapering at both ends. Picture a sausage that is a bit wider near the centre with a crisp outer shell.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

CAMBRIAN ARTHROPODS OF THE BALANG

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, 19 October 2019

LATE SILURIAN EURYPTERID

The impressive homeotype specimen of Eurypterus lacustris from Late Silurian deposits in New York. UCMP Berkeley's paleontological collections.

About two dozen families of eurypterids “sea scorpions” are known from the fossil record. Although these ancient predators have a superficial similarity, including a defensive needle-like spike or telson at their tail end, they are not true scorpions. They are an extinct group of arthropods related to spiders, ticks, mites and other extant creepy crawlies.

Eurypterids hunted fish in the muddy bottoms of warm shallow seas some 460 to 248 million years ago before moving on to hunting grounds in fresh and brackish water during the latter part of their reign. Their numbers diminished greatly during the Permian-Triassic extinction, becoming extinct by 248 million years ago.

Friday, 18 October 2019

ESMERALDINA ROWEII

An Esmeraldina roweii multi-block of lovely trilobites from Lower Cambrian of Goldfield Nevada, plus a very interesting creature off to the lower left who looks to be an unidentified arthropod.

A very developed trilobite with long genal and axial spines, plus the ability to enroll. And all of this before the Olenellids existed. Collection of the deeply awesome George Walter Ast. Goldfield is located 247 miles southeast of Carson City, along U.S. Route 95.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

MAMMUT AMERICANUM

The American Mastodon, Mammut americanum. Mastodons resemble elephants, but are more like elephant cousins.

A second species, Mammut pacificus, has recently been described from fossils found in Idaho and California. This specimen can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Photo credit: Guy Leahy.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

MIDDLE TRIASSIC OF NEVADA

Searching for bedrock in outcrops of the West Humboldt Mountains, Nevada. Perhaps the most famous and important locality for the Middle Triassic (Anisian/Ladinian) of North America. These beautiful hills are home to Triassic ammonoid outcrops and plentiful ichthyosaur fossils.

J.P. Smith published on the marine fauna in the early 1900's. They formed the basis for his monograph on North American Middle Triassic marine invertebrate fauna published in 1914. N. J. Siberling from the US Geological Survey published on these outcrops in 1962. His work included nearly a dozen successive ammonite faunas, many of which were variants on previously described species.

Evidently, his collections consisted mainly of weathered material and were made without stratigraphic control because he believed that most, if not all, of these species were coexistent. The fossiliferous beds found here, as well as localities in north-western Nevada, were designated the 'Daonella dubia' zone. Dubious would be closer to the truth. Smith joined the 1905 Expedition of the University of California’s Department of Geology in Berkeley funded by the beautiful and bold, Annie Alexander, the women to whom the UCMP owes both its collection and existence.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

MIDDLE TRIASSIC PAPER CLAMS & AMMONOIDS

Paper clams or "flat clams" were widespread in the Triassic. They often dominate the rocks in which they are found, as in these specimens from the "Daonella dubia' zone. This designation was coined by J. P. Smith in the early 1900's for specific localities in the Humboldt Mountain Range.

Because of their widespread distribution and very high species turnover rates, they make for excellent biochronological macrofossils, helping us to correlate biological events through time.

We see the "cousins" of these Nevada specimens up in  Pine Pass near Chetwynd, British Columbia.

Pine Pass is part of the Pardonet Formation. Just a short hike from the road we were able to easily find the abundant outcroppings of the paper clam Monotis subcircularis, perfectly preserved and cemented in this strata from the Late Triassic.

Monday, 14 October 2019

GRASPING HOOKLETS AND CALAMARI

This well-preserved partial ichthyosaur was found in the Blue Lias shales by Lewis Winchester-Ellis in 2018. 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 fishbone 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 a 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 1950s 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 in northwestern Nye County of Nevada, USA. The finds go back to the 1920s. The specimens that may it to publication were collected by Margaret Wheat of Fallon and Dr. C. L. Camp, UCMP, in the 1950s.  The aptly named Shonisaurus popularis became the Nevada State Fossil in 1977. 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 computerized 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 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 a 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]

Sunday, 13 October 2019

ANAHOPLITES PLANUS

A beautiful specimen of the ammonite, Anahoplites planus (Mantell, 1822) from Albian deposits in Courcelles-sur-Voire, Aube, north-central France. Anahoplites (Sowerby, 1815) is a genus of compressed hoplitid ammonites with flat sides, narrow, flat or grooved venters, and flexious ribs or striae arising from weak umbilical tubercles that end in fine dense ventrolateral nodes.

Anahoplites is now included in the subfamily Anahoplitinae and separated from the Hoplitinae where it was placed in the older in the 1957 edition of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part L (Ammonoidea). Genera of the Hoplitinae tend to be more robust, with broader whorls and stronger ribs.

Anahoplites is found in Cretaceous (Middle to the late Albian) deposits from England, through Europe, all the way to the Transcaspian Oblast region in Russia to the east of the Caspian Sea. The Aube department, named after the local river, is the type locality of the Albian stage (d'ORBIGNY, 1842). Two formations are recognized in the clay facies (the "Gault" auct.) of the stratotype, the Argiles tégulines de Courcelles (82 m), overlain by the Marnes de Brienne (43 m). The boundary between the two formations is well-defined at the top of an indurated bed and readily identifiable in the field.

This involute (113 mm) specimen shows evidence of cohabitation by some of his marine peers. We see two different bryozoa, an oyster and some serpulids making a living and leaving trace fossils on his flat sides. This specimen was prepared with potase by José Juárez Ruiz of Spain.

Friday, 11 October 2019

PUNTLEDGE ELASMOSAUR

This toothy beauty is an elasmosaur, a large marine reptile now housed in the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island. This specimen was found by Mike Trask and his daughter in the winter of 1988 in the shale along the Puntledge River. It was the first elasmosaur found west of the Canadian Rockies and one of those moments that lights up and inspires a whole community.

The Puntledge Elasmosaur discovery led to the expansion of the local museum, the excavation site became a provincial heritage site and many, many teaching programs and guided tours have transpired since.

This is a far cry from other similar finds. You may remember an earlier find by Edward Drinker Cope. His 1868 discovery from outcrops in Kansas was originally described with the head incorrectly attached to the tail. It wasn't long before his archrival, one Othniel Charles March pointed it out quite publically. These were less gentle times and those two gents had a rivalry so underhanded and so public it is famously called, "the Bone Wars." The Courtenay and District Museum, the community surrounding it and allied organizations like the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, have a lot to be proud of. Their outreach and educational programs have inspired young and old alike.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

ICHTHYOSAUR QUARRIES OF THE HUMBOLDT

Looking out over the Middle Triassic exposures of the Humboldt Mountain Range.

These hills were the site of the 1905 Expedition of the University of California’s Department of Geology in Berkeley funded by the beautiful and bold, Annie Alexander, the women to whom the UCMP owes both its collection and existence. Annie brought together a paleontological crew to explore these localities and kept an expedition journal of their trip which is now on display at the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley.

Annie's interest was the ichthyosaurs and she was well pleased with the results. They dodged rattlesnakes and tarantulas, finding many new specimens as they opened up new quarries in the hills of the Humboldt Range of Nevada.

Ichthyosaurs range from quite small, just a foot or two, to well over twenty-six metres in length and resembled both modern fish and dolphins. The specimens from Nevada are especially large and well-preserved. They hail from a time, some 217 million years ago, when Nevada, and parts of the western USA, was covered by an ancient ocean that would one day become our Pacific Ocean. Many ichthyosaur specimens have come out of Nevada. So many, in fact, that they named it their State Fossil back in 1977.

Fossil fragments and complete specimens of these marine reptiles 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.