Saturday, 31 August 2019

DEVONIAN JAWLESS FISH

Armoured Agnatha / Photo: Fossilero Fisher
This lovely specimen 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, who include lamprey and hagfish. Ironically, hagfish are vertebrates who do not have vertebrae. Sometime in their evolution they lost them as they adapted to their environment.

Ref: Carlsson, A. & Blom, H. Paläont. Z. (2008) 82: 314. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02988898

Friday, 30 August 2019

ANDROGYNOCERAS OF YORKSHIRE

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 is Permo-Triassic.

The North York Moors in the north-east of the county are Jurassic in age while the Yorkshire Wolds to the south east 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, 29 August 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. Oops. 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.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

FLAT CLAMS: BIOCHRONOLOGICAL MACROFOSSILS

Paper clams or 'flat clams' were widespread in the Triassic. We call these bivalves 'flat clams' because of their very thin shell width and narrow valve convexity. They often dominate the rocks in which they are found, as in these specimens from Pine Pass near Chetwynd in the Foothills of northeastern 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. 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.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

MCABEE FOSSIL BEDS: EOCENE KAMLOOPS GROUP

The McAbee Fossil Beds are known for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species that lived in an old lake bed setting 52-53 million years ago.

It is one of the best local sites in the province to experience a fossil dig first-hand. It's an easy 4-hour drive from Vancouver and easily done as a rather longish day trip. I headed up there this past weekend with some wonderful enthusiastic crew. The site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under British Columbia's Heritage Conservation Act in July of 2012. The site was reopened to public tours and viewing this summer with plans to build out a visitor's centre and educational programs in the future.

We were greeted on the day by two wonderful hosts from the Bonaparte Band, Gayle Pierro and Leroy Antoine. Both were very welcoming and informative, sharing the lay of the land, a bit of their history with the workings and offering us a guided tour. From the road, it is a short drive up to the first staging area that houses visitor parking and a public washroom. The first Site Information station is a short stroll away and includes a tent with a table and maps showing plans for the site. Here, Gayle walked us through the vision for McAbee and showed us a selection of some of the species found here. We were asked to stop back on the way down and fill out a survey that asked about our experience and provide feedback that will help shape what McAbee is to become. A short hike up the hill towards the hoodoos leads to another staging area. Here, Leroy was our host and guide. He shared a bit more about the geology of the area and showed us specimens found over the summer.

As McAbee is a Heritage Site, their only request was that we stay within the marked area and trails and keep ourselves safe. Here safe means hydrated, shaded from the sun and avoiding both the resident rattlesnakes and cacti. McAbee offers an excellent opportunity for education and outreach both for locals and the larger community. It was very enjoyable to see the reactions of those visiting the site as they took in the wonderful diversity of fossil species and learning about the local history from our hosts.

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. Bonaparte's traditional territory is located within the Shuswap Nation. Local members of the Bonaparte Band are Secwepemc. They would like to share the spiritual significance of the area from a Secwepemc First Nation 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, fossil viewing, and hopefully supervised collecting will continue with oversight to ensure significant fossil finds make their way to science.

It would be good to see McAbee take a page out of the Courtney and District Museum's playbook. You'll recall that it was the Puntledge Elasmosaur that sparked the expansion of that museum and inspired a whole host of outreach and educational programs. The Courtenay Museum has been offering paid guided tours to the elasmosaur heritage site for over a dozen years. They are members of the British Columbia Paleontological Alliance (BCPA), a union of professional and amateur paleontological organizations working to advance the science of paleontology in the province by fostering public awareness, scientific collecting and education, and by promoting communication among all those interested in fossils. Within that context, the Courtenay Museum are bound both by the BCPA constitution and bylaws, and of course, the laws around fossil collecting in British Columbia.

One of the sister sites to McAbee, the Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park Fossil Beds, offers an honours system for their site. Visitors may handle and view fossils but are asked to not take them home. Both Driftwood Canyon and McAbee are part of 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. Each of these localities provides important clues to our ancient climate.

The fossils range in age from Early to Middle Eocene. McAbee had a more temperate climate, slightly cooler and wetter than other Eocene sites to the south at Princeton, British Columbia, Republic in north-central Washington, in the Swauk Formation near Skykomish and the Chuckanut Formation of northern Washington state. 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 ginkgo, 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, 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 over a hundred highly probable species from the site. Though rare, McAbee has also produced spiders, birds (and lovely individual feathers) along with multiple specimens of the freshwater crayfish, Aenigmastacus crandalli.

For insects, we see dragonflies, damselflies, cockroaches, termites, earwigs, aphids, leafhoppers, 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 Eocene sites in Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

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. You'll be pleased to know they have installed one at the site. McAbee is a site for hiking boots, hand, head and eye protection. They have a few resident rattlesnakes and prickly cacti to keep you on your toes. Keep yourself safe and well-hydrated.

As you drive up, you'll see 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, 26 August 2019

NORTHUMBERLAND FORMATION

The late Cretaceous ammonite Pachydiscus suchiaensis found in concretion amongst the 72 million-year-old grey shales of the Northumberland Formation, Campanian to the lower Maastrichtian, part of the upper Cretaceous, from Collishaw Point (Boulder Point to the locals), northwest side of Hornby Island, southwestern British Columbia.

Hornby is a glorious place to collect. The island is beautiful in its own right and the fossils from here often keep some of their original shell or nacre which makes them quite fetching.

This fellow is found amongst gastropods, shark teeth, fossil crabs, baculites and other bivalve fossils. A new species of pterosaur (flying reptile) Gwawinapterus beardi was found on the same beach site and named after Graham Beard, a local collector, author and great friend.

Like most of the fossils found at this locality, the specimen was found in concretions rolled smooth by time and tide. The concretions you find on the beach are generally round or oval in shape and are made up of hard, compacted sedimentary rock. If you are lucky, when you split them you see a fossil hidden within. The main topographic feature on Hornby Island is an arcuate mountain consisting of the resistant cliff-forming Geoffrey formation. Near Shingle Spit about half a mile from the coast is Mt. Geoffrey 920-foot peak; from there the mountain gradually drops in elevation to the southeast and to the north.  It consists of a structurally simple 700-foot conglomerate homocline striking N 20° W and dipping to the northeast at a shallow angle of about 6°. The apex of the arcuate mountain belt points to the southwest.

Behind the mountain and almost enclosed by it is the fertile, green Strachan Valley. On the large peninsula which extends in a southeast direction from the north of the island towards St. John’s Point, the Hornby Formation outcrops forming the cliffs on the east side of Tribune Bay. The highest of these is about 200 feet. The argillaceous Lambert and Spray formations form the subdued lowlands of the island.

The coast of Hornby is probably a rising shoreline, as indicated by the almost perpendicular cliffs along its periphery. A hundred (100) foot cliffs of Lambert shale extends from Shingle Spit to Phipps Point, while from the latter to Boulder Point, the cliffs are not as steep and are covered in many places by vegetation.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

DOVE CREEK MARINE REPTILE

This specimen of the teeth and lower jawbone of a large marine reptile was discovered by Rick Ross during the construction of the Inland Highway, near the Dove Creek intersection, on Vancouver Island. Given the size, this toothy fellow could have been as much as seven (7) metres long and weighed up to a tonne. If you look closely at the rock, you can see several smaller disc-shaped objects to the upper right. These are part of this fellow's sclerotic eye-ring.

This specimen is now housed in the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He's tagged as a mosasaur, but the court is still out (and will need more study) to see if we are looking at a Tylosaurus.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

HADROSAURUS: DUCK-BILLED DINOSAURS

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.

This beautiful specimen graces the back galleries of the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 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.

Friday, 23 August 2019

GREEN RIVER HETEROPTERAN

A delightful Heteropteran collected this past week by Jim Barkley from Eocene exposures of the Green River Formation of Western Colorado, which was once the bottom of an extensive series of Eocene lakes.

The Green River Formation is particularly abundant in beautifully preserved fossil fish, eleven species of reptiles including a 13.5ft crocodile, an armadillo-like mammal, Brachianodon westorum, bats, birds and other freshwater aquatic goodies.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

CARNOTAURUS OF ARGENTINA

Carnotaurus sastrei, a genus of large theropod dinosaur that roamed, Argentina, South America during the Late Cretaceous period, 72 to 69.9 million years ago.

This fellow (or at least his skull) is on display at the Natural History Museum in Madrid, Spain. For now, he is the only known genus of this species of bipedal predator.

The skull is quite unusual. Initially, it has a very marine reptile feel (but make no mistake this guy is clearly a terrestrial theropod). Once you look closer you see his bull-like horns (from whence he gets his name) that imply battle between rivals for the best meal, sexual partner and to be the one who leads the herd.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

RIOMAGGIORE: SUNSETS AND SQUID INK

Riomaggiore or 'Rimazuu' in the local Ligurian language, is a lovely seaside village that can trace its roots to the good taste of Monks who settled here in the early thirteenth century.

Here, great wine is produced and consumed along with a huge variety of seafood, figs, olives, capers and Limoncello in the wee restaurants and bars along the Via Colombo that look out onto the Gulf of Genoa. Inspired by the praise of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, I had the great pleasure to venture there years ago, prior to the huge slides that plagued the Cinque Terre. I ate one of my finest meals, a pasta made from squid ink, one evening I was there. Drawn to the picturesque beauty of the Liguria region, ancient vineyards and the irresistible "photo a moment" scenery, we travelled from village-to-village, all along the Cinque Terre.

Liguria remains one of the wildest parts of the Ligurian littoral east of Genoa. The coastline is home to incredibly complex and exciting geology. It is composed of the Maritime Alps in the west and the Ligurian "nappies," continental margin ophiolites, of the Apennines in the east.

Along the coast, the north-northwest convergence of the Alpine orogeny gives way to the active east-northeast convergence along the Apennines. All of this tasty geology can be observed while walking from town to town from Riomaggiore through Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare during our visit, meeting up with friends and then visiting them in their home city of Milan. If one is lucky enough to be invited as a guest, the geology of the Via dell Amore is true to its namesake and well worth the trip.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

BALEARITES OF MOROCCO

Collection of José Juárez Ruiz. The specimen is 202 mm.
This beautifully prepped specimen of a Balearites cf. balearis (Nolan, 1984) ammonite is from Upper Hauterivian deposits near Tamri, a small seaside town and rural commune in Agadir-Ida Ou Tanane Prefecture, Souss-Massa, Morocco. Aside from wonderful fossil localities, this area of Morocco has some of the most amazing surfing and banana plantations.

Balearites, with their planispiral shell (conch) and compressed whorls, is an extinct ancyloceratin genus ammonite in the family Crioceratitidae, suborder Ancyloceratina.

We find fossils of this genera in Romania, Slovakia, Austria, France, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Bulgaria and Morocco. This specimen is in the collection of José Juárez Ruiz and is roughly 202 mm. If you find this lovely interesting, you'll enjoy reading more on this genus and others in Arkell, W. J. et al., 1957. Mesozoic Ammonoidea, Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology Part L, Mollusca 4. 1957.

Monday, 19 August 2019

CERATITES AMMONITE WITH BEAK

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 one 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, 18 August 2019

ARMOURED WORM

A wonderful example of the “armoured” worm, Lepidocoleus sarlei, from Middle Silurian outcrops in the Rochester Shale Formation, Middleport, New York, USA. The Rochester Shales are known for their wonderful diversity of marine fossil specimens, especially our beloved invertebrates. I picture them living in their various layers, like an extensive, suspension-feeding apartment block with each group making a living and feeding across these beautifully diverse stratified communities.

There are lovely brachiopods, including the spiriferids Striipirifer and Eospirifer, the strophomenids Leptaena, Coolinia and Amphistrophia. We also see the orthids represented by Mendacella (formerly Dalejina) and Resserella.

They shales also house a stunning assortment of our echinoderm friends with their radial symmetry. We see cystoids, crinoids, asterozoans and edrioasteroids. The diversity of the crinoids is especially spectacular. We see the camerates Macrostylocrinus, Dimerocrinites, Saccocrinus and Eucalyptocrinites. Cladids are represented by the elegant and long-stemmed Dendrocrinus, with his lengthy anal sac and branched, non-pinnulate arms. Disparids occur as the wee Homocrinus, recumbent calceocrinids (Calceocrinus) and the coiled, Crinobrachiatus with his coiled bilateral symmetry.

We also see the flexible crinoids represented by Asaphocrinus, Icthyocrinus and Lecanocrinus. Gracing many of the beds is the rhombiferan cystoid Caryocrinites scattered in bits and pieces and on rarer occasions  fully intact, sometimes with rooted specimens associated with bryozoan thickets. The edrioasteroid Hemicystites occurs in select layers referred to as the Homocrinus Beds. These beds record a history from when the area that is now New York State was located south of the equator and covered by an ancient shallow sea.

The Lewiston Member of the Rochester Shale were first studied by James Hall in the 1850-60's. Many great paleontologists have contributed to our understanding of their place in geologic and paleontological history, including Eugene Ringueberg's work from 1884-88; Frank Springer's studies from 1914-22 and Carlton E. Brett (along with his students, Denis Tetreault, James Eckert and Wendy Taylor) in the 1970-90's.

While the site became famous back in the 1820s, it is because of these latter paleontologists that I came to know about the site and appreciate the full breadth of fauna. Collection of Felix Collantes. If you are interested in the diversity of fauna from this area, I highly recommend the 1999 publication by Taylor and Brett referenced below. It's a definitive work.

Reference:  Taylor and Brett 1999: Middle Silurian Rochester Shale of Western New York, USA, and Southern Ontario, Canada

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

PEMBROKESHIRE PUFFINS

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?) shifts from a dull grey to bright orange when it is time to attract a mate. While not strictly monogamous, most Puffin 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. They 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.

Friday, 16 August 2019

PLEISTOCENE BEARS

Fossil remains of Agriotherium, the short-faced giant bear, have been found in Collepardo, Italy. A fragment of a mandible was unearthed back in 2015 in the province of Frosinone. Thanks to several years of research and a recent CT scan, the team from Sapienza University of Rome were finally ready to publish.

Agriotherium is one of the largest of the mighty carnivores that lived in Europe back in the Pleistocene. They weighed as much as 900 kilos (almost 2,000 lbs) and grew up to 2.5 meters tall. These ancient bears roamed prehistoric Italy amid a humid and temperate climate, competing for food resources with some of our ancestors as they only becoming extinct 2.6 million years ago.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

PERFECTION & COHABITATION: 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 recognised 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.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

EUSTHENOPTERON FORDI: DEVONIAN FISH

An exquisite fossil specimen of an Eusthenopteron Fordi from the upper Devonian (Frasnian), Eescuminac Formation, Miguasha Park, Bay of Heat, Gaspé, Quebec, Canadian Museum of Natural History, Miguasha Collection.

If you look closely at this specimen, you can see the remarkable 3-D and soft-bodied preservation. This fish specimen reminds me of the ray-finned fossil fish you see in carbonate concretion from Lower Cretaceous deposits in the Santana Formation, Brazil.

Eusthenopteron would have shared our ancient seas with the first ammonites and primitive sharks, along with well-established fauna including the trilobites, brachiopods, coral reefs and a whole host of interesting arthropods.

Miguasha National Park / Parc National de Miguasha, is a protected area near Carleton-sur-Mer on the Gaspé Peninsula along the south side of the Saint Lawrence River to the east of the Matapedia Valley in Quebec, Canada. It was created in 1985 by the Government of Quebec and designated as a World Heritage Site in 1999 in honour of paleontological significance for Devonian fish, flower and spore fossils.

These fossils represent five of the six main fossil fish groups recorded from the Devonian (370 million years ago) including specimens of the lobe-finned fish and tetrapods. We see the placoderms, armoured prehistoric fish, in their heyday, dominating almost every known aquatic environment. The Devonian is known as the 'Age of Fishes,' but it could have equally been called the 'Age of Spores,' as this was a time of significant adaptive radiation of terrestrial biota and free-sporing vascular plants. Immense forests carpeted the continents and we see the first of the plant groups evolving leaves, true roots and seeds.

The site was discovered in 1842 by a local geologist and medical doctor, Abraham Gesner. He shared much of his collection with both the British Museum and Royal Scottish Museum for further study.  Other names for this site are the Miguasha Fossil Site, the Bay of Escuminac Fossil Site, the Upper Devonian Escuminac Formation, and the Hugh-Miller Cliffs. It is also sometimes referred to on fossil specimens as 'Scaumenac Bay' or 'Scaumenac Bay P.Q. Photo credit to the deeply awesome John Fam

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

PORPOCERAS VERTICOSUM: RIDGED BEAUTY

An exquisite specimen of the delicately ridged ammonite, Porpoceras verticosum, from Middle Toarcian outcrops adjacent the Rhône in southeastern France.

Porpoceras (Buchman, 1911) is genus of ammonite that lived during the early and middle Toarcian stage of the early Jurassic. We see members of this genus from the uppermost part of Serpentinum Zone to Variabilis Subzone. These beauties are found in Europe, Asia, North America and South America.

Ammonites belonging to this genus have evolute shells, with compressed to depressed whorl section. Flanks were slightly convex and venter has been low. The whorl section is sub-rectangular. The rib are pronounced and somewhat fibulate on inner whorls (just wee nodes here) and tuberculate to spined on the ventrolateral shoulder.

It differs from Peronoceras by not having a compressed whorl section and regular nodes or fibulation. Catacoeloceras is also similar, but it has regular ventrolateral tubercules and is missing the classic nodes or fibulation of his cousins.

This specimen hails from southern France near the Rhône, one of the major rivers of Europe. It has twice the average water level of the Loire and is fed by the Rhône Glacier in the Swiss Alps at the far eastern end of the Swiss canton of Valais then passes through Lake Geneva before running through southeastern France. This 10 cm specimen was prepared by the supremely talented José Juárez Ruiz

Monday, 12 August 2019

SPOTTED CLEANER SHRIMP

"Wash that for you, sir?" If you were a fish living in the warm turquoise waters off the coast of Bonaire in the southern Caribbean Sea, you may not hear those words, but you'd see the shrimp sign language equivalent. It seems Periclimenes yucatanicus or the Spotted Cleaner Shrimp are doing a booming business in the local reefs by setting up a Fish Wash service.

That's right, a Fish Wash. You'd be hard pressed to find a terrestrial Molly Maid with two opposable thumbs as studious and hardworking as this wee marine beauty. You'll find them each day cleaning and snacking on a host of parasites. As many as twenty to thirty shrimp gather together to assemble a  highly-efficient marine cleaning station. They're even open to partnerships and mergers, partnering up with Cleaner Wrasse, or cleaner fish, for larger, high-end clients.

Spotted cleaner shrimp are about 2.5 cm long and have a delightful transparent body with telltale white and brown spots. Their legs, or chelae, are striped in purple, white and red. They live about 24 metres (or 79 ft) down on the sea floor in many of our planet's most beautiful waters. Aside from the Caribbean, they also enjoy setting up shop in the Bahamas, southern Florida and live as far south as Panama and Columbia.They are carnivorous crustaceans in the family, Palaemonidae.

This quiet marine mogul is turning out to be one of the ocean's top entrepreneurs. Keeping its host and diet clean and green, the spotted shrimp hooks up with the locals, in this case, local sea anemones and sets up a fish wash. Picture a car wash but without the noise and teenage boys. The signage posted is the shrimps' natural coloring which attracts fish from around the reefs.

Wash on, wash off.

Once within reach, the shrimp cleans the surface of the fish, giving the fish a buff and the shrimp its daily feed. This is good news for the shrimp, especially this time of year as they breed and brood their eggs in summer. After hatching, the larvae pass through many (sadly, tasty) planktonic stages before setting up a fish wash of their own. Once they are older, they gain some protection from being eaten by their clients by a special signalling system that essentially shouts, "just here cooperation not as food." Here's to Periclimenes for keeping up the family business.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

NELUMBO: LOTUS, LOVERS & SCENT DIFFUSERS

This beauty is the fruit of the lotus, Nelumbo. This specimen was found by Green River Stone (GRS) in early Eocene outcrops of the Fossil Lake Member of the Green River Formation. The awesome possums from GRS are based out of North Logan, Utah, USA and have unearthed some world-class specimens. They've found Nelumbo leaves over the years but this is their first fossil specimen of the fruit.
And what a specimen it is! The spectacularly preserved fruit was found in 2018 and measures 6-1/2" round. Here you can see both the part and counterpart in fine detail. Doug Miller of Green River Stone sent copies to me this morning and a copy to the deeply awesome Kirk Johnson, resident paleontologist over at the Smithsonian Institute, to confirm the ID.

There is another spectacular specimen from Fossil Butte National Monument. They shared photos of a Nelumbo just yesterday. Nelumbo is a genus of aquatic plants in the order Proteales found living in freshwater ponds. You'll recognize them as the emblem of India, Vietnam and many wellness centres.

Interestingly, these lovelies can thermoregulate, producing heat. Nelumbo use the alternative oxidase pathway (AOX) to exchange electrons. Instead of using the typical cytochrome complex pathway most plants use to power mitochondria, they instead use their cyanide-resistant alternative. This is perhaps to generate a wee bit more scent in their blooms and attract more pollinators. The use of this thermogenic feature would have also allowed thermo-sensitive pollinators to seek out the plants at night and possibly use the cover of darkness to linger and mate.

So they functioned a bit little like a romantic evening meeting spot for lovers and a wee bit like the scent diffuser in your home. This lovely has an old lineage with fossil species in Eurasia and North America going back to the Cretaceous and represented in the Paleogene and Neogene. Photo: Doug Miller of Green River Stone / Lotus Image: Sarah-Anne Juliette McCarthy / Foliage Image: J.M.Garg - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7249919

Saturday, 10 August 2019

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: PLIENBACHIAN APODEROCERAS

Apodoceras / Stonebarrow Fossils
Apoderoceras is a wonderful example of sexual dimorphism within ammonites as the macroconch (female) shell grew to diameters in excess of 40 cm – many times larger than the diameters of the microconch (male) shell.

Apoderoceras has been found in the Lower Jurassic of Argentina, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and most of North-West and central Europe, including as this one is, the United Kingdom. This specimen was found on the beaches of Charmouth in West Dorset.

Neither Apoderoceras nor Bifericeras donovani are strictly index fossils for the Taylori subzone, the index being Phricodoceras taylori. Note that Bifericeras is typical of the earlier Oxynotum Zone, and ‘Bifericerasdonovani is doubtfully attributable to the genus. The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) has assigned the First Appearance Datum of genus Apoderoceras and of Bifericeras donovani the defining biological marker for the start of the Pliensbachian Stage of the Jurassic, 190.8 ± 1.0 million years ago.

Apoderoceras, Family Coeloceratidae, appears out of nowhere in the basal Pliensbachian and dominates the ammonite faunas of NW Europe. It is superficially similar to the earlier Eteoderoceras, Family Eoderoceratidae, of the Raricostatum Zone, but on close inspection can be seen to be quite different. It is therefore an ‘invader’ and its ancestry is cryptic.

The Pacific ammonite Andicoeloceras, known from Chile, appears quite closely related and may be ancestral, but the time correlation of Pacific and NW European ammonite faunas is challenging. Even if Andicoeloceras is ancestral to Apoderoceras, no other preceding ammonites attributable to Coeloceratidae are known. We may yet find clues in the Lias of Canada. Apoderoceras remains present in NW Europe throughout the Taylori Subzone, showing endemic evolution. It becomes progressively more inflated during this interval of time, the adult ribs more distant, and there is evidence that the diameter of the macroconch evolved to become larger. At the end of the Taylori Subzone, Apoderoceras disappeared as suddenly as it appeared in the region, and ammonite faunas of the remaining Jamesoni Zone are dominated by the Platypleuroceras–Uptonia lineage, generally assigned (though erroneously) to the Family Polymorphitidae.

In the NW European Taylori Subzone, Apoderoceras is accompanied (as well as by the Eoderoceratid, B. donovani, which is only documented from the Yorkshire coast, although there are known examples from Northern Ireland) by the oxycones Radstockiceras (quite common) and Oxynoticeras (very rare), the late Schlotheimid, Phricoderoceras (uncommon) Note: P. taylori is a microconch, and P. lamellosum, the macroconch), and the Eoderoceratid, Tetraspidoceras (very rare). The lovely large specimen (macroconch) of Apoderoceras pictured here is likely a female. Her larger body perfected for egg production.

Friday, 9 August 2019

DEINOTHERIUM: PREHISTORIC ELEPHANTS

This partial specimen of Deinotherium giganteum hails from Cerecinos de Campos, Zamora from the Middle-Upper miocene, c. 15.97-5.33 Million Years.

The genus Deinotherium could reach a height of over 3.5 meters. Its structure and size are similar to those of the present-day elephant. Deinotherium first appeared approximately 17 million years ago and became extinct relatively recently, just 1.6 million years ago.

One of the distinguishing features of Deinotherium is their curved tusks inserted only in the jaw. One of the tusks from this fellow, on display at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, while incomplete, was preserved rather nicely and shows the detail of where the tusk meets the jaw.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

GIANT GROUND SLOTH

In 1788, this magnificent specimen of a Megatherium sloth was sent to the Royal Cabinet of Natural History from the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.

The megatheria were large terrestrial sloths belonging to the group, Xenarthra. These herbivores inhabited large areas of land on the American continent. Their powerful skeleton enabled them to stand on their hind legs to reach leaves high in the trees, a huge advantage given the calories needed to be consumed each day to maintain their large size.

Avocados were one of the food preferences of our dear Giant ground sloths. They ate then pooped them out, spreading the pits far and wide. The next time you enjoy avocado toast, thank this large beastie. One of his ancestors may have had a hand (or butt) in your meal.

In 1788, Bru assembled the skeleton as you see it here. It is exhibited at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, in its original configuration for historic value. If you look closely, you'll see it is not anatomically correct. But all good paleontology is teamwork. Based upon the drawings of Juan Bautista Bru, George Cuvier used this specimen to describe the species for the very first time.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

GIANT TORTOISES & THE ISLAND RULE

Giant tortoises and other organisms that live and evolve on islands undergo a different set of selective pressures than those who live on our continental land masses. We call this the 'island rule'. Species develop unusual traits, becoming larger or smaller than their continental brethren.

Food is often restrictive or unvaried and predators are often reduced or all together absent. We see the evolutionary impact in the Giant tortoises of the Aldabra Atoll and Fregate Island in the Seychelles and Galápagos Islands in Ecuador.

They belong to an ancient group of reptiles, appearing about 250 million years ago and evolving to their large size by the Late Cretaceous, 70 or 80 million years ago. And they are big, weighing as much as 417 kg (919 lb) and can grow to be 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) long. The Galapagos giant tortoise is a wee bit smaller, weighing 215 kg (475 lb) with the males generally outweighing the females. They snack on plants and some have a slight curve to the shell behind their heads to allow them to reach up a wee bit higher to reach more food. The females lay their eggs in a pit dug specifically for this purpose. Once the hatchlings have incubated, they dig themselves out. I'm sure you've seen the adorable photos or videos of them hatching then making their way to the sea. 


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

WESTERN EUROPEAN HEDGEHOG

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 a 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 a very tasty chocolate 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, grass roots, 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.

Monday, 5 August 2019

DOUVELLICERAS SPINIFERUM

Douvelliceras spiniferum, Cretaceous Haida Formation
Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands lay at the western edge of the continental shelf due west of the central coast of British Columbia. They form Wrangellia, an exotic tectonostratigraphic terrane that includes Vancouver Island, parts western British Columbia and Alaska.

The Geological Survey of Canada sponsored many expeditions to these remote islands and has produced numerous reference papers on this magnificent terrain, exploring both the geology and paleontology of the area.

Joseph Whiteaves, the GSC 's chief palaeontologist in Ottawa, published a paper in 1876 describing the Jurassic and Cretaceous faunas of Skidegate Inlet, furthering his reputation globally as both a geologist and paleontologist.

The praise was well-earned and foreshadowed his significant contributions to come. Sixteen years later, he wrote up and published his observations on a strange Mount Stephen fossil that resembled a kind of headless shrimp with poorly preserved appendages. Because of the unusual pointed shape of the supposed ventral appendages and the position of the spines near the posterior of the animal, Whiteaves named it Anomalocaris canadensis. The genus name "Anomalocaris" meant "unlike other shrimps" and the species name "canadensis" referred to the country of origin.

Whiteaves work on the paleontology of the Queen Charlotte Island provided us with excellent reference tools, particularly his work on the Cretaceous exposures and fauna that can be found there.

One of our fossil field trips was to the ruggedly beautiful Cretaceous exposures of Lina Island. We’d planned this trip as part of our “trips of a lifetime.” Both John Fam and Dan Bowen can be congratulated for their efforts in researching the area and ably coordinating a warm welcome by the First Nations community and organizing fossil field trips to some of the most amazing fossil localities in the Pacific Northwest. With great sandstone beach exposures, the fossil-rich (Albian to Cenomanian) Haida formation provided ample specimens, some directly in the bedding planes and many in concretion. Many of the concretions contained multiple specimens of typical Haida Formation fauna, providing a window into this Cretaceous landscape.

It is always interesting to see who was making a living and co-existing in our ancient oceans at the time these fossils were laid down. We found multiple beautifully preserved specimens of the spiny ammonite, Douvelleiceras spiniferum along with Brewericeras hulenense, Cleoniceras perezianum and many cycads in concretion.

Pictured above is Douvilleiceras spiniferum with his naturally occurring black, shiny appearance. Danna Straaf had recently asked me what my favourite cephalopod is, and I have to say that it is a hard choice but this fellow is in the top three. He is 6 inches long and 5 inches deep, and a beautiful example of the species.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

SQUID EMPIRE: DANNA STAAF

Caught up with the Awesome Danna Staaf, "Cephalopodiatrist," today. If you haven’t picked up a copy of the infinitely readable, “Squid Empire,” please do! It’s an epic adventure through our primordial oceans, delightfully showcasing the rise & fall of the cephalopods as they moved from being the ocean’s top predator to its most delicious snack.

You’ll love Danna’s engaging writing style. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s awesome. It was named one of the best science books of 2017 by NPR. She writes about science with a particular penchant for marine biology. She also writes science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes for grown-ups and sometimes for kids. She also makes art, including technical illustrations, comic strips, calligraphy, and origami -- and gives fabulous talks!

Danna & I were colleagues of a sort years ago. We both wrote for Science 2.0 and waxed poetic about all things squidy, cephie & paleo. She's become a mother since then and was up at UBC giving a talk at the Beatty Museum in Vancouver with her hubby.

Here's her deliciously geeky site: http://www.cephalopodiatrist.com/p/home.html

Saturday, 3 August 2019

GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING

Aptly named, Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States (and one of the loveliest) and the third largest in the world. The rich yellow, red, orange, green and blue coloring you see here is the result of microbial mats of bacteria and archaea.

While a whole host of thermophilic (heat-loving) microorganisms are responsible, it is the cyanobacteria, one of the more common fellows from this group, which form most of the scum. Cyanobacteria grow together in huge colonies (bacterial mats) that form the delightfully colourful slimes and scum on the perimeter of hot springs. You can tell a fair bit about the water temperature and chemistry just by looking at the colour of the pools. The coloring shifts dependant upon the ratio of carotenoids to chlorophyll and ambient temperature. We see more orange and red in the summer and the colder temperature of late Fall and Winter bring more green to the coloring.

Friday, 2 August 2019

SYMBIOTIC SLOTHS

Ever wonder why the slow moving sloth has a slightly greenish hue? Ever consider the sloth at all? Well, perhaps not. Location, location, location, is the mantra for many of us in our macro world, but it is also true for the small world of algae.

Blue-green algae are microscopic, plant-like organisms. The term is used to describe any of a large, heterogeneous group of prokaryotic, principally photosynthetic organisms. These little oxygenic (oxygen-producing) fellows appeared are given credit for greatly increasing the oxygen content of the atmosphere, making possible the development of aerobic (oxygen-using) organisms and some very special relationships with some of the slowest moving mammals on the planet, the sloths or Folivora.

The tribes of South America who live close to these insect and leaf-eaters, call these arboreal browsers "Ritto, Rit or Ridette, which roughly translates to variations on sleep, sleepy, munching and filthy. Not all that far off when you consider the sloth and their lifestyle.

The sloth's body and shaggy coat, or pelage, provides a comfy habitat to two types of wee blue-green algae along with various other invertebrates. The hairs that make up the sloth's coat are long and coarse with grooves that help foster algal growth. They soak up water readily and make for the perfect habitat for algae, moths, beetles fungi and even cockroaches.

And, while Kermit the Frog says, "it's not easy being green," it couldn't be further from the truth for this slow-moving tree dweller. The blue-green algae gives the sloth a natural greenish camouflage, an arrangement that is certainly win-win.