Thursday, 2 January 2020
Many are marine, but two-thirds of all living species live in freshwater or on land. Their entry into the fossil record goes all the way back to the Cambrian.
Slugs and snails, abalones, limpets, cowries, conches, top shells, whelks, and sea slugs are all gastropods. They are the second-largest class of animals with over 60,000–75,000 known living species. The two beauties you see here are Turritella, a genus of medium-sized sea snails with an operculum, marine gastropod mollusks in the family Turritellidae. They hail from the Paris Basin and have tightly coiled shells, whose overall shape is basically that of an elongated cone. The name Turritella comes from the Latin word turritus meaning "turreted" or "towered" and the diminutive suffix -ella.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of collecting in the Paris Basin with a fellow named Michael. I had stalked the poor man from Sunday market to Sunday market, eventually meeting up with him in the town of Gordes. He graciously shared his knowledge of the local fossil localities from the hills south of Calais to Poitiers and from Caen to the Rhine Valley, east of Saarbrücken. I deeply regret losing my notebook from that trip but cherish the fossils and memories.
The Paris Basin has many fine specimens of gastropods. These molluscs were originally sea-floor predators, though they have evolved to live happily in many other habitats. Many lines living today evolved in the Mesozoic. The first gastropods were exclusively marine and appeared in the Upper Cambrian (Chippewaella, Strepsodiscus). By the Ordovician, gastropods were a varied group present in a variety of aquatic habitats. Commonly, fossil gastropods from the rocks of the early Palaeozoic era are too poorly preserved for accurate identification. Still, the Silurian genus Poleumita contains fifteen identified species.
Most of the gastropods of the Palaeozoic belong to primitive groups, a few of which still survive today. By the Carboniferous, many of the shapes we see in living gastropods can be matched in the fossil record, but despite these similarities in appearance the majority of these older forms are not directly related to living forms. It was during the Mesozoic era that the ancestors of many of the living gastropods evolved.
In rocks of the Mesozoic era, gastropods are more common as fossils and their shells often very well preserved. While not all gastropods have shells, the ones that do fossilize more easily and consequently, we know a lot more about them. We find them in fossil beds from both freshwater and marine environments, in ancient building materials and as modern guests of our gardens.