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