Thursday, 30 April 2020

HOPLOSCAPHITES

This sweet beauty with lovely oil in water colouring is a Hoploscaphites nebrascensis (Owen, 1852) macroconch. This is the female form of the ammonite, her larger body perfect for egg production by the smaller males, or microconchs of the species.

Hoploscaphites nebrascensis is an upper Maastrichtian species and index fossil. It marks the top of ammonite zonation for the Western Interior. This species has been recorded from Fox Hills Formation in North and South Dakota as well as the Pierre Shale in southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska.

It is unknown from Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado due to the deposition of coeval terrestrial units. It has possibly been recorded in glacial deposits in Saskatchewan and northern North Dakota, but that is hearsay.

Outside the Western Interior, this species has been found in Maryland and possibly Texas in the Discoscaphites Conrad zone. This lovely one is in the collection of the deeply awesome (and enviable) José Juárez Ruiz. A big thank you to Joshua Slattery for his insights on the distribution of this species.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

TURTLE SHELLS AND DERMAL PLATES

Turtle shells are different from the body armour or armoured shells we see adorning dinosaurs like the ankylosaurs. These bad boys were blessed with huge plates of bone embedded into their skin that acted like a natural shield against predators. We find similar body body armour is found on a crocodile or armadillo.

Turtles are covered by a special bony or cartilaginous shell that originates in their ribs. It is a useful adaptation to help deter predators as their soft interior makes for a tasty snack. Though I've never eaten turtle, it was a common and sought after meat for turtle soup. I'd read of Charles Darwin craving it after trying it for the first time on his trip in 1831 aboard the HMS Beagle. It seems Charlie like to taste every exotic new species he had the opportunity to try.

Turtle armour is made of dermal bone and endochondral bones from their vertebrae and rib cage. It is fundamentally different from the armour seen on our other vertebrate friends and the design creates some unique features in turtles. Because turtle ribs fuse together with some of their vertebrae, they have to pump air in and out of the lungs with their leg muscles. Another unusual feature in turtles is their limb girdles (pectoral and pelvic) have come to lie 'within' their rib cage, a feature that allows some turtles to pull its limbs inside the shell for protection. Sea turtles didn't develop this behaviour (or ability) and do not retract into their shells like other turtles.

Armadillos have armour formed by plates of dermal bone covered in relatively small, overlapping epidermal scales called scutes, composed of bone with a covering of horn. In crocodiles, their exoskeletons form their armour, similar to ankylosaurs. A bit of genius design, really. It is made of protective dermal and epidermal components that begin as rete Malpighii: a single layer of short, cylindrical cells that lose their nuclei over time as they transform into a horny layer.

Depending on the species and age of the turtle, turtles eat all kinds of food including sea grass, seaweed, crabs, jellyfish, and shrimp,. That tasty diet shows up in the composition of their armour as they have oodles of great nutrients to work with. The lovely example you see here is from the Oxford Museum collections.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

HYPHANTOCERAS OF JAPAN

A stunning example of the heteromorph ammonite, Hyphantoceras orientale macroconch. This beauty corresponds to 'Morphotype C' from Aiba (2017). The specimen is a handful at 136 mm and was lovingly prepared by the hand holding it, that of the talented José Juárez Ruiz.

This an adult specimen (not the juvenile stage) from Upper Santonian outcrops near Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, Japan.

Aiba published on a possible phylogenetic relationship of two species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) earlier this year, proposing that a phylogenetic relationship may exist based on newly found specimens with precise stratigraphic occurrences in the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas, northwestern Hokkaido.

Two closely related species, Hyphantoceras transitorium and H. orientale, were recognized in the examined specimens from the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas. Specimens of H. transitorium show wide intraspecific variation in the whorl shape. The stratigraphic occurrences of the two species indicate that they occur successively in the Santonian–lowermost Campanian, without stratigraphic overlapping. The similarity of their shell surface ornamentations and the stratigraphic relationships possibly suggest that H.orientale was derived from H. transitorium. The presumed lineage is likely indigenous to the northwestern Pacific realm in the Santonian–earliest Campanian. Hyphantoceras venustum and H. heteromorphum might stand outside an H. transitorium H. orientale lineage, judging from differences of their shell surface ornamentation.

Aiba, Daisuke. (2019). A Possible Phylogenetic Relationship of Two Species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) in the Cretaceous Yezo Group, Northern Japan. Paleontological Research. 23. 65-80. 10.2517/2018PR010.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

HETEROMORPH AMMONITES

Heteromorph Ammonites, Sowerby 1837
Ammonite shells have been collected by people for millennia. These ammonites are known from the Late Triassic and the middle Jurassic but were most abundant and creative in their form in the Cretaceous (Wiedmann, 1969).

The beautiful plate you see here showing two ammonites is from Sowerby (1837) and is one of the very first scientifically accurate studies of heteromorph ammonites. We see similar species to the heteromorphs above in the Nanaimo Group of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

During medieval times they were believed to be snakes that had been turned into stone and were sold to people going on pilgrimages. They have been found in archaeological sites in many parts of the world. We find them in archaeological remains spanning human history, across cultures and civilizations.

Pictet's Paleontology Second Edition, 1853-57
Ammonites are prized for their scientific and aesthetic value and have been used as building materials, jewelry, amulets, charms to aid in the hunt, religious totems amongst other things. The original discus used by the ancient Greeks in their Olympics was a fossilized ammonite.

The beautiful plate to the left shows some of the heteromorph ammonites from Pictet's Paleontology in its second edition (1853-57). Some of the figures are copied from Astier or d'Orbigny works, not included in the first edition.

Ammonites are pleasing to the eye, usually taking on a planispiral form— although there are some helically spiralled and fully crazy spiralled forms — known as heteromorphs.

The most interesting of all the heteromorphs are the Cretaceous heteromorph ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina. The juveniles of this suborder played with every possible variation in their shell shape from regular planispiral and orthoconic to torticonic, hamitoconic and gyroconic.

The adults uncoiled the last whorl of their shell forming the characteristic U-shaped recurved body chamber you see below. A curious form as the aperture faces upward. Ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina may have developed a stationary brooding phase that could have several ecological advantages over free-swimming monomorphic ammonites.

Ancyloceras matheronianus
Alexander Arkipkin wrote a great paper on them in the Journal of Molluscan Studies back in 2014 — "Getting hooked: the role of a U-shaped body chamber in the shell of adult heteromorph ammonites."

His focus is on the morphological features of the adult shell in heteromorph ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina but does useful comparisons to a vast number of heteromorph ammonites in collections at the Department of Earth Sciences of the Natural History Museum, London.

Heteromorphs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They must have intrigued and mystified those who were first to find them as they do not have an intuitive shape at all for a marine predator. Do give Arkipkin's paper a read and bask in the wonder of the amazing forms of these ancient cephalopods.

Reference: Getting hooked: the role of a U-shaped body chamber in the shell of adult heteromorph ammonites. Journal of Molluscan Studies, Volume 80, Issue 4, November 2014, Pages 354–364, https://doi.org/10.1093/mollus/eyu019 https://academic.oup.com/mollus/article/80/4/354/1021718

Image 3-5: Ancyloceras matheronianus. A. General view. B. Inner part of vertical shaft with resolved ribs (RR). C. Inner part of U-shaped adult living chamber with less resolved ribs (WR). Abbreviations as in Figure 2. Scale bar = 1 cm.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

FRACTAL BUILDING: AMMONITES

Argonauticeras besairei, Collection of  José Juárez Ruiz.
An exceptional example of fractal building of an ammonite septum, in this clytoceratid Argonauticeras besairei from the awesome José Juárez Ruiz.

Ammonites were predatory, squidlike creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells.

Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beak-like jaws inside a ring of squid-like tentacles that extended from their shells. They used these tentacles to snare prey, — plankton, vegetation, fish and crustaceans — similar to the way a squid or octopus hunt today.

Catching a fish with your hands is no easy feat, as I'm sure you know. But the Ammonites were skilled and successful hunters. They caught their prey while swimming and floating in the water column. Within their shells, they had a number of chambers, called septa, filled with gas or fluid that were interconnected by a wee air tube. By pushing air in or out, they were able to control their buoyancy in the water column.

They lived in the last chamber of their shells, continuously building new shell material as they grew. As each new chamber was added, the squid-like body of the ammonite would move down to occupy the final outside chamber.

They were a group of extinct marine mollusc animals in the subclass Ammonoidea of the class Cephalopoda. These molluscs, commonly referred to as ammonites, are more closely related to living coleoids — octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish) than they are to shelled nautiloids such as the living Nautilus species.

The Ammonoidea can be divided into six orders:
  • Agoniatitida, Lower Devonian - Middle Devonian
  • Clymeniida, Upper Devonian
  • Goniatitida, Middle Devonian - Upper Permian
  • Prolecanitida, Upper Devonian - Upper Triassic
  • Ceratitida, Upper Permian - Upper Triassic
  • Ammonitida, Lower Jurassic - Upper Cretaceous
Ammonites have intricate and complex patterns on their shells called sutures. The suture patterns differ across species and tell us what time period the ammonite is from. If they are geometric with numerous undivided lobes and saddles and eight lobes around the conch, we refer to their pattern as goniatitic, a characteristic of Paleozoic ammonites.

If they are ceratitic with lobes that have subdivided tips; giving them a saw-toothed appearance and rounded undivided saddles, they are likely Triassic. For some lovely Triassic ammonites, take a look at the specimens that come out of Hallstatt, Austria and from the outcrops in the Humboldt Mountains of Nevada.

Hoplites bennettiana (Sowby, 1826).
If they have lobes and saddles that are fluted, with rounded subdivisions instead of saw-toothed, they are likely Jurassic or Cretaceous. If you'd like to see a particularly beautiful Lower Jurassic ammonite, take a peek at Apodoceras. Wonderful ridging in that species.

One of my favourite Cretaceous ammonites is the ammonite, Hoplites bennettiana (Sowby, 1826). This beauty is from Albian deposits near Carrière de Courcelles, Villemoyenne, near la région de Troyes (Aube) Champagne in northeastern France.

At the time that this fellow was swimming in our oceans, ankylosaurs were strolling about Mongolia and stomping through the foliage in Utah, Kansas and Texas. Bony fish were swimming over what would become the strata making up Canada, the Czech Republic and Australia. Cartilaginous fish were prowling the western interior seaway of North America and a strange extinct herbivorous mammal, Eobaatar, was snuffling through Mongolia, Spain and England.

In some classifications, these are left as suborders, included in only three orders: Goniatitida, Ceratitida, and Ammonitida. Once you get to know them, ammonites in their various shapes and suturing patterns make it much easier to date an ammonite and the rock formation where is was found at a glance.

Ammonites first appeared about 240 million years ago, though they descended from straight-shelled cephalopods called bacrites that date back to the Devonian, about 415 million years ago, and the last species vanished in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

They were prolific breeders that evolved rapidly. If you could cast a fishing line into our ancient seas, it is likely that you would hook an ammonite, not a fish. They were prolific back in the day, living (and sometimes dying) in schools in oceans around the globe. We find ammonite fossils (and plenty of them) in sedimentary rock from all over the world.

In some cases, we find rock beds where we can see evidence of a new species that evolved, lived and died out in such a short time span that we can walk through time, following the course of evolution using ammonites as a window into the past.

For this reason, they make excellent index fossils. An index fossil is a species that allows us to link a particular rock formation, layered in time with a particular species or genus found there. Generally, deeper is older, so we use the sedimentary layers rock to match up to specific geologic time periods, rather the way we use tree-rings to date trees. A handy way to compare fossils and date strata across the globe.

References: Inoue, S., Kondo, S. Suture pattern formation in ammonites and the unknown rear mantle structure. Sci Rep 6, 33689 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep33689
https://www.nature.com/articles/srep33689?fbclid=IwAR1BhBrDqhv8LDjqF60EXdfLR7wPE4zDivwGORTUEgCd2GghD5W7KOfg6Co#citeas

Photo: Hoplites Bennettiana from near Troyes, France. Collection de Christophe Marot

Friday, 24 April 2020

ETHELDRED BENETT: SPONGE HUNTRESS

Hoplites (Hoplites) bennettiana (Sowerby, 1826)
A beautiful example of the ammonite, Hoplites (Hoplites) bennettiana (Sowerby, 1826), from Early Albian localities in the Carrière de Courcelles Villemoyenne, Région de Troyes, near Champagne in northeastern France.

The species name is an homage to Etheldred Benett, an early English geologist often credited with being the first female geologist — a fossil collector par excellence.

She was also credited with being a man  —  the Natural History Society of Moscow awarding her membership as Master Etheldredus Benett in 1836. The confusion over her name (it did sound masculine) came again with the bestowing of a Doctorate of Civil Law from Tsar Nicholas I.

The Tsar had read Sowerby's Mineral Conchology, a major fossil reference work which contained the second-highest number of contributed fossils of the day, many the best quality available at the time. Forty-one of those specimens were credited to Benett. Between her name and this wonderous contribution to a growing science, the Russian Tsar awarded the Doctorate to what he believed was a young male scientist on the rise. He believed in education, founding Kiev University in 1834, just not for women. He was an autocratic military man frozen in time — the thought that this work could have been done by a female unthinkable. Doubly charming is that the honour from the University of St Petersburg was granted at a time when women were not allowed to attend St. Pete's or any higher institutions. That privilege arrived in 1878, twenty years after Nicholas I's death.

Benett took these honours (and social blunders) with grace. She devoted her life to collecting and studying fossils from the southwest of England, amassing an impressive personal collection she openly shared with geologist friends, colleagues and visitors to her home. Her specialty was fossils from the Middle Cretaceous, Upper Greensand in the Vale of Wardour — a valley in the county of Wiltshire near the River Nadder.

Etheldred was a local Wiltshire girl. Born Etheldred Benett on 22 July 1775 at Pyt House, Tisbury, Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of the local squire Thomas Benett. Etheldred's interest was cultivated by the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842), a founding member of the Linnean Society. Benett's brother had married Lucy Lambert, Aylmer's half-sister. Aylmer was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of the Arts. He was also an avid fossil collector and member of the Geological Society of London. The two met and got on famously.

Aylmer kindled an interest in natural history in both of Benett's daughters. Etheldred had a great fondness in geology, stratigraphy and all things paleo, whilst her sister concentrated on botany. Etheldred had a distinct advantage over her near contemporary, the working-class Mary Anning (1799-1847), in that Benett was a woman of independent wealth who never married — and didn't need to — who could pursue the acquisition and study of fossils for her own interest.

While Anning was the marine reptile darling of the age, she was also greatly hindered by her finances. "She sells, seashells by the seashore..." while chanted in a playful spirit today, was not meant kindly at the time. Aylmer's encouragement emboldened Etheldred to go into the field to collect for herself — and collect she did. Profusely.

Benett’s contribution to the early history of Wiltshire geology is significant. She corresponded extensively with the coterie of gentlemen scientists of the day —  Gideon Mantell, William Buckland, James Sowerby, George Bellas Greenough and, Samuel Woodward. She also consorted with the lay folk and had an ongoing correspondence with William Smith, whose stratigraphy work had made a favourable impression on her brother-in-law, Aylmer.

Her collections and collaboration with geologists of the day were instrumental in helping to form the field of geology as a science. One colleague and friend, Gideon Mantell, British physician, geologist and paleontologist, who discovered four of the five genera of dinosaurs and Iguanadon, was so inspired by Benett's work he named this Cretaceous ammonite after her — Hoplites bennettiana.

Benett's fossil assemblage was a valuable resource for her contemporaries and remains so today. It contains thousands of Jurassic and Cretaceous fossil specimens from the Wiltshire area and the Dorset Coast, including a myriad of first recorded finds. The scientific name of every taxon is usually based on one particular specimen, or in some cases multiple specimens. Many of the specimens she collected serve as the Type Specimen for new species.

Fossil Sponge, Polypothecia quadriloba, Warminster, Wiltshire
Her particular interest was the collection and study of fossil sponges. Alcyonia caught her eye early on. She collected and recorded her findings with the hope that one of her colleagues might share her enthusiasm and publish her work as a contribution to their own.

Alas, no one took up the helm — those interested were busy with other pursuits (or passed away) and others were less than enthusiastic or never seemed to get around to it.

To ensure the knowledge was shared in a timely fashion, she finally wrote them up and published them herself. You can read her findings in her publication, ‘A Catalogue of Organic Remains of the County of Wiltshire’ (1831), where she shares observations on the fossil sponge specimens and other invert goodies from the outcrops west of town.

She shared her ideas freely and donated many specimens to local museums. It was through her exchange of observations, new ideas and open sharing of fossils with Gideon Mantell and others that a clearer understanding of the Lower Cretaceous sedimentary rocks of Southern England was gained.

In many ways, Mantell was drawn to Benett as his ideas went against the majority opinion. At a time when marine reptiles were dominating scientific discoveries and discussions, he pushed the view that dinosaurs were terrestrial, not amphibious, and sometimes bipedal. Mantell's life's work established the now-familiar idea that the Age of Reptiles preceded the Age of Mammals. Mantell kept a journal from 1819-1852, that remained unpublished until 1940 when E. Cecil Curwen published an abridged version. (Oxford University Press 1940). John A. Cooper, Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove, published the work in its entirety in 2010.

I was elated to get a copy, both to untangle the history of the time and to better learn about the relationship between Mantell and Benett. So much of our geologic past has been revealed since Mantell's first entry two hundred years ago. The first encounter we share with the two of them is a short note from March 8, 1819. "This morning I received a letter from Miss Bennett of Norton House near Warminster Wilts, informing me of her having sent a packet of fossils for me, to the Waggon Office..." The diary records his life, but also the social interactions of the day and the small connected community of the scientific social elite. It is a delight!

Though a woman in a newly evolving field, her work, dedication and ideas were recognized and appreciated by her colleagues. Gideon Mantell described her as, "a lady of great talent and indefatigable research," whilst the Sowerbys noted her, "labours in the pursuit of geological information have been as useful as they have been incessant."

Benett produced the first measured sections of the Upper Chicksgrove quarry near Tisbury in 1819, published and shared with local colleagues as, "the measure of different beds of stone in Chicksgrove Quarry in the Parish of Tisbury.” The stratigraphic section was later published by naturalist James Sowerby without her knowledge. Her research contradicted many of Sowerby’s conclusions.

She wrote and privately published a monograph in 1831, containing many of her drawings and sketches of molluscs and sponges. Her work included sketches of fossil Alcyonia (1816) from the Green Sand Formation at Warminster Common and the immediate vicinity of Warminster in Wiltshire.

Echinoids and Bivalves. Collection of Etheldred Benett (1775-1845)
The Society holds two copies, one was given to George Bellas Greenough, and another copy was given to her friend Gideon Mantell. This work established her as a true, pioneering biostratigrapher following but not always agreeing with the work of William Smith.

If you'd like to read a lovely tale on William's work, check out the Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester. It narrates the intellectual context of the time, the development of Smith's ideas and how they contributed to the theory of evolution and more generally to a dawning realization of the true age of the earth.

The book describes the social, economic or industrial context for Smith's insights and work, such as the importance of coal mining and the transport of coal by means of canals, both of which were a stimulus to the study of geology and the means whereby Smith supported his research. Benett debated many of the ideas Smith put forward. She was luckier than Smith financially, coming from a wealthy family, a financial perk that allowed her the freedom to add fossils to her curiosity cabinet at will.

Most of her impressive collection was assumed lost in the early 20th century. It was later found and purchased by an American, Thomas Bellerby Wilson, who donated it to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Small parts of it made their way into British museums, including the Leeds City Museum, London, Bristol and to the University of St. Petersburg. These collections contain many type specimens and some of the very first fossils found — some with the soft tissues preserved. When Benett died in 1845, it was Mantell who penned her obituary for the London Geological Journal.

In 1989, almost a hundred and fifty years after her death, a review of her collection had Arthur Bogen and Hugh Torrens remark that her work has significantly impacted our modern understanding of Porifera, Coelenterata, Echinodermata, and the molluscan classes, Cephalopoda, Gastropoda, and Bivalvia. A worthy legacy, indeed.

Her renown lives on through her collections, her collaborations and through the beautiful 110 million-year-old ammonite you see here, Hoplites bennettiana. The lovely example you see here is in the collection of the deeply awesome Christophe Marot.

Spamer, Earle E.; Bogan, Arthur E.; Torrens, Hugh S. (1989). "Recovery of the Etheldred Benett Collection of fossils mostly from Jurassic-Cretaceous strata of Wiltshire, England, analysis of the taxonomic nomenclature of Benett (1831), and notes and figures of type specimens contained in the collection". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 141. pp. 115–180. JSTOR 4064955.

Torrens, H. S.; Benamy, Elana; Daeschler, E.; Spamer, E.; Bogan, A. (2000). "Etheldred Benett of Wiltshire, England, the First Lady Geologist: Her Fossil Collection in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the Rediscovery of "Lost" Specimens of Jurassic Trigoniidae (Mollusca: Bivalvia) with Their Soft Anatomy Preserved.". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 150. pp. 59–123. JSTOR 4064955.

Photo credit: Fossils from Wiltshire.  In the foreground are three examples of the echinoid, Cidaris crenularis, from Calne, a town in Wiltshire, southwestern England, with bivalves behind. Caroline Lam, Archivist at the Geological Society, London, UK. http://britgeodata.blogspot.com/2016/03/etheldred-benett-first-female-geologist_30.html

Photo credit: Fossil sponges Polypothecia quadriloba, from Warminster, Wiltshire. The genus labels are Benett’s, as is the handwriting indicating the species. The small number, 20812, is the Society’s original accession label from which we can tell that the specimen was received in April 1824. The tablet onto which the fossils were glued is from the Society’s old Museum.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

EXPLORING THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA

One of the most beautiful in the Pacific Northwest is the Olympic Peninsula from Port Angeles to Neah Bay.

This stretch of coastline is home to the Clallam Formation, a thick, mainly marine sequence of sandstones and siltstones that line the northwestern margin of western Washington. These beachfront exposures offer plentiful fossils for those keen to make the trek.

The beautifully preserved clams, scallops and gastropods found here are mostly shallow-water marine from the late Eocene to Miocene. Time, tide and weather permitting, a site well worth visiting is the south flank of a syncline at Slip Point, near Clallam Bay. Head to the most Northwestern tip of the lower 48, visiting Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation located 75 miles NW of PA on Hwy 112. Cape Flattery is located approx 7 miles from Neah Bay. The newly constructed wooden walkway takes you to some of the most gorgeous, rugged and wild scenery on the Pacific Coast.

Be sure to take time to explore the internationally known Makah Museum. The museum is open every day during the summer months and closed Mondays and Tuesdays from Sept. 16 through May 31. The hours are 10AM-5PM. The Makah Museum is the nation's sole repository for archaeological discoveries at the Makah Coastal village of Ozette. The centuries-old village was located 15 miles south of present-day Neah Bay. Ozette served the Makah people as a year-around home well into the 20th century.

In 1970, tidal erosion exposed a group of 500-year-old Ozette homes that have been perfectly preserved in an ancient mudslide. The thousands of artifacts subsequently discovered have helped recreate Makahs' rich and exciting history as whalers, fishermen, hunters, gatherers, craftspeople, basket weavers, and warriors. Lake Ozette is located off of Hwy 112 on the Hoko-Ozette Road and follows the road 21 miles to the Ozette Ranger Station.

Three miles of the planked trail leads you to Sand Point, one of the most beautiful and primitive beaches on the coast. Continuing north along the beach you will find dozens of Indian petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, ask for the interpretive handout at the ranger station. The northern point of this 9-mile triangular trail is Cape Alava, with a rocky shore and reefs to explore at low tide.

Cape Alava is also the site of an ancient Makah village. The site is now closed and marked with a small sign. Be sure to check a tide table and carry the 10 essentials - and lots of film as seals, deer, eagles and perhaps osprey, otters and whales may be there, rain or shine! Hike north to Cape Alava along the beach to keep the ocean breeze at your back, and avoid Vibram-soled shoes as the cedar plank walkway can be slick!

Salt Creek County Park located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles offers fascinating tidal pools, (ask your hosts regarding tide tables).

The Dungeness Spit and Wildlife Refuge offers great beach hiking and wildlife. The Olympic Game Farm in Sequim is great for children of all ages. Ediz Hook in Port Angeles provides great views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Ediz Hook is part of the 5.5 miles of Waterfront Trail; perfect for jogging, walking and biking. The Elwha Valley west of Port Angeles is a beautiful drive along the rushing Elwha River. Madison Falls is an easy hike. Further up the valley beyond Lake Mills is the trailhead to the Olympic Hot Springs.

Port Townsend, known as "Washington's Victorian Seaport" is less than an hour east of Sequim. Victorian homes and commercial buildings erected during the late 1800s are still the city's trademark, along with Fort Worden State Park.

Park fee: A pass is required to enter the Olympic National Park. The fee is $10.00 per carload and is good for 7 days. It can be attained at any of the Park entrances. No pass is required during the winter months for the Elwha Valley or the Sol Duc Valley. Phone # for Olympic National Park Visitors Center in Port Angeles is 360-452-2713.

Getting here…

Directions: From Vancouver, it is a 5-6 hour drive to the Olympic Peninsula. Head South on Oak or Knight to connect up with Hwy 99 to the US border and continue South on Hwy 5, past Bellingham, take Hwy 20 to Anacortes.Head South on Hwy 20 until you get to the Keystone Jetty. Take the ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. From Port Townsend take Hwy 20 until it connects with Hwy 101. Turn right onto Hwy 101 and head West.

You will pass through Port Angeles. This is an excellent place for you to top up your food stores and fill up with gas. Just after Port Angeles, look for a sign for Hwy 112 (towards Joyce, Neah Bay & Seiqu). Turn right and head West. It is about another 30 km from Port Angeles to Whiskey Creek. From the turn-off, it is about 10 miles to Joyce.

This little town has restaurants and gas stations. From Joyce, it is another 3 miles to the campsite at Whiskey Creek where Joe or Ronee can help direct you to your cabin or campsite.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

CRINOIDS: LILIES OF THE SEA

This lovely specimen is Zeacrinites magnoliaeformis, an Upper Mississippian-Chesterian crinoid found by Keith Metts in the Glen Dean Formation, Grayson County, Kentucky, USA.

Crinoids are unusually beautiful and graceful members of the phylum Echinodermata. They resemble an underwater flower swaying in an ocean current. But make no mistake they are marine animals. Picture a flower with a mouth on the top surface that is surrounded by feeding arms. Awkwardly, add an anus right beside that mouth. That's him!

Crinoids with root-like anchors are called Sea Lilies. They have graceful stalks that grip the ocean floor. Those in deeper water have longish stalks up to 3.3 ft or a meter in length.

Then there are other varieties that are free-swimming with only vestigial stalks. They make up the majority of this group and are commonly known as feather stars or comatulids. Unlike the sea lilies, the feather stars can move about on tiny hook-like structures called cirri. It is these same cirri that allows crinoids to latch to surfaces on the seafloor. Like other echinoderms, crinoids have pentaradial symmetry. The aboral surface of the body is studded with plates of calcium carbonate, forming an endoskeleton similar to that in starfish and sea urchins.

These make the calyx somewhat cup-shaped, and there are few, if any, ossicles in the oral (upper) surface called a tegmen. It is divided into five ambulacral areas, including a deep groove from which the tube feet project, and five interambulacral areas between them. The anus, unusually for echinoderms, is found on the same surface as the mouth, at the edge of the tegmen.

Crinoids are alive and well today. They are also some of the oldest fossils on the planet. We have lovely fossil specimens dating back to the Ordovician.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

GASTROPOD OF THE ITALIAN PENINSULA

A beautiful example of two water-worn specimens of the gastropod Persististrombus latus (Gmelin, 1791) captured after a storm captured by the deeply awesome José Juárez Ruiz from Palma De Mallorca, Spain.

In his original description of Strombus latus, Gmelin describes this new species in his paper from 1791, page 3520: "latus. 35. Str. testae labro prominulo inferne bis emarginato, spirae anfractu primo medio laevi utrinque transversim striato, reliquis nodis obtusis coronatis."

Persististrombus latus is the most iconic representative of the Senegalese fauna, a fossil assemblage of tropical water organisms thought to have colonized the Mediterranean Sea during the last interglacial period.

This lovely Eocene gastropod has become an important stratigraphic marker of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5.5, which allows for the correlation of raised coastal deposits, useful in studying sea-level variations and tectonic uplift.

Persististrombus latus is found in shallow marine sediments of Tyrrhenian age (∼124 ka) in several localities of the Italian peninsula. Gmelin's early work on the species is from upper Pleistocene deposits of the marine terraces of the Crotone peninsula of southern Italy. If you fancy a visit to this locality, head to: N38°45'00" - N39°04'60", E17°04'60" - E17°19'60".

Commonly known as the Bubonian Conch, this species of sea snail is a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Strombidae, the true conchs. These fellows are herbivorous, dining on wee bits of algae, seagrass and other detritus found along the seafloor. They grow to around 2.76" - 6.5" (7cm - 16.5cm). We find them in the fossil record and also as modern shells in the Atlantic Ocean along West Africa, Senegal, Gabon, Cape Verde, Ascension Island and Angola. They like it warm, preferring seas of 57.2 °F - 68 °F (14°C - 20°C).

Ronald Nalin, Valentina Alice Bracchi, Daniela Basso, Francesco Massari; Persististrombus latus (Gmelin) in the upper Pleistocene deposits of the marine terraces of the Crotone peninsula (southern Italy). Italian Journal of Geosciences ; 131 (1): 95–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.3301/IJG.2011.25

Gmelin J.F. (1791). Vermes. In: Gmelin J.F. (Ed.) Caroli a Linnaei Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Ed. 13. Tome 1(6). G.E. Beer, Lipsiae [Leipzig]. pp. 3021-3910.

Monday, 20 April 2020

NUMMULITES OF THE PYRAMIDS

Built to endure the tests of time, the pyramids of Giza were built of limestone, granite, basalt, gypsum (mortar), and baked mud bricks quarried at Giza and sites further up the river Nile at Aswan.

Together they form some of the oldest (and last remaining) wonders of the ancient world. The great pyramids of Giza, with their smooth exteriors carved from fine grain white limestone quarried at Tura on the Giza-plateau, are built from stone that speaks of Egypt's much older geologic history.

The limestone from Tura was the finest and whitest of all the Egyptian quarries and chosen for the facing stones for the richest tombs. It is interesting in that it is made up almost entirely of Nummulites, a lovely single-celled organism. Nummulites (Lamarck, 1801) are the calcareous chambered shells (tests) of extinct forms of marine, amoeba-like organisms  — protozoans or protists — called foraminifera that accumulated in huge quantities during the early Cenozoic. They look very much like little white, round crackers or cross-sections of plants with their concentric rings.

Imagine millions of them with their wee calcium carbonate skeletons living, dying and sinking to the seafloor. Over time, these little lovelies gathered in layers, pressure and time doing the rest. They became cemented together and helped form some of the most beautiful limestones we have today. It is remarkable to think that Khufu or Cheops, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, the oldest and largest of the pyramids at Giza built back in the 4th dynasty golden age and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, is made up of teeny, tiny single-celled fossils — mindblowing!

They are commonly found as fossils in Eocene to Miocene marine rocks, particularly around southwest Asia and the Mediterranean — including the Eocene limestones of Egypt that lived in the Tethys sea.

Fossil Nummulites / Urbasa, Navarre
Foraminifera are still alive in our oceans, though none quite as large as Nummulites. Nummulites vary in diameter from very small, just 1.3 cm (0.5 inches) to 5 cm (2 inches) but grew much larger, up to six inches wide back in the Middle Eocene.

The small size of most cells has to do with how they move the nutrients they need across their cell membrane — a process called diffusion. Nummulites grew much larger, six inches is mighty big for a single-celled organism, because of their overall design. They evolved to increase their surface area and create a greater opportunity for diffusion. Clever.

In our modern Nummulites, we see a symbiotic relationship with algae that allowed them to grow much larger. Each of these little fellows has a community of them living with him. Lorraine Casazza, a University of California at Berkeley paleontologist did some great work on the nummulites from Egypt.

For the central chamber, with the sarcophagus of the pharaoh, lovely reddish-pink granite from Aswan was used. The granite helped to take the weight of this massive construction. The ancient Egyptians also used nummulite shells as coins. It is not surprising then that the name "Nummulites" is a diminutive form of the Latin nummulus meaning "little coin," a direct reference to their shape and usage.

A Nummulite Protozoan Foraminiferan
Back in 2013, archaeologists made an unlikely find in a cave seven hundred kilometres from Giza. Their find, a 4,600-year-old papyrus scroll, details an ancient shipload of rock, likely destined for  Khufu's pyramid, the pyramid that would later be known as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The papyrus is addressed to Ankh-haf, Khufu’s half-brother, and describes the undertaking of an expedition by a 200-man crew to the limestone quarries near Tura, on the eastern shore of the Nile. After loading the blocks onto their ship, the expedition indented to float down the river Nile for a successful delivery. They were then joined by another 100,000 slaves who had the unenviable task of unloading the 2-3 ton blocks of limestone built from nummulites, then pulling them across ramps to be dragged to the construction site.

It is amazing to have documentation from the 4th dynasty and poetic that this shipping order should be for materials, immortalized first as nummulites in the Eocene, excavated, carved and immortalized at Giza.

Herodotus' Histories, Book VIII
The Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt during the construction of Khufu's pyramid by more than 100,000 slaves. Herodotus wasn't a fan of Khufu, describing him as a cruel tyrant.

In his literary work Historiae, Book II, chapter 124–126, Herodotus writes: "As long as Rhámpsinîtos was king, as they told me, there was nothing but orderly rule in Egypt, and the land prospered greatly. But after him Khéops became king over them and brought them to every kind of suffering: He closed all the temples; after this he kept the priests from sacrificing there and then he forced all the Egyptians to work for him.

So some were ordered to draw stones from the stone quarries in the Arabian mountains to the Nile, and others he forced to receive the stones after they had been carried over the river in boats, and to draw them to those called the Libyan mountains. And they worked by 100,000 men at a time, for each three months continually. Of this oppression there passed ten years while the causeway was made by which they drew the stones, which causeway they built, and it is a work not much less, as it appears to me, than the pyramid.

For the length of it is 5 furlongs and the breadth 10 fathoms and the height, where it is highest, 8 fathoms, and it is made of polished stone and with figures carved upon it. For this, they said, 10 years were spent, and for the underground chambers on the hill upon which the pyramids stand, which he caused to be made as sepulchral chambers for himself in an island, having conducted thither a channel from the Nile."

It is estimated that 5.5 million tonnes of nummulites limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. Built by an evil genius, yes, but stunning none-the-less. Unintentionally, it may have been one of the largest — and arguably cruellest — paleontological excavations ever attempted.

Photo of Fossil nummulites in Urbasa, Navarre by Theklan - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1125411

Photo: Nummulites from above and horizontally bisected by R A Lydekker - Life and Rocks, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3048471

Photo: Fragment from Herodotus' Histories, Book VIII on Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2099, Early 2nd Century AD. Papyrology Rooms, Sackler Library, Oxford

References: Nummulite', Tiscali Dictionary of Animals, retrieved 17 August 2004
Hottinger, Lukas (2006-09-08). "Illustrated Glossary of terms used in foraminiferal research". Paleopolis. Retrieved 2018-11-11.

Reference: Lorraine Casazza, UCMP: https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/science/fieldnotes/casazza_0711.php

Fancy a visit to Cheops? Visit: 29°58′45″N 31°08′03″E

Sunday, 19 April 2020

EGYPT: SINAI PENINSULA

Much of Egypt's history is carved in her rock. We think of Egypt as old, with remarkable human history, but the land that formed this part of the world tells us of a much older time in the Earth's past.

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia.

Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip (Palestinian territories) and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean Sea lie Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, although none of these share a land border with Egypt.

Five hundred kilometres southwest of Cairo, the flat sabkha plain stretches in all directions covered by a small layer of dark, round pebbles. There are spectacular limestone pillars dotting the landscape of the wonderful karst topography. This land, once the breadbasket of Egypt and the stomping ground of the Pharaohs, is now ruled by pipelines and rusted-out trucks abandoned as wrecks marking the passage of time. Beneath the sand, rust and human history lie some very interesting geology. This rock has been sculpted both through erosion and at the hands of her craftsmen.

The rock here was formed when the Earth's crust was just beginning to cool, 4 to 2.5 billion years ago, during the Archaean. Other rock dates back to the Proterozoic when the Earth's atmosphere was just beginning to form. The oldest of these are found as inliers in Egypt’s Western Desert. The rocks making up the Eastern Desert are largely late Proterozoic in age, the time when bacteria and marine algae were the principal forms of life.

Throughout the country, this older basement is overlain by Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks. Cretaceous outcrops are common. We also find sediments that tell a story of repeated marine transgression and regressions, sea levels rising and falling, characteristic of the Cenozoic. It is from Egypt's Cenozoic geology that we get the limestones used for the great pyramids.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

RISE OF THE ANGIOSPERMS

Florissantia sp., from the Allenby Formation, Princeton, BC
Plant fossils are found coast-to-coast in Canada, from 45-million-year-old mosses in British Columbia to fossil forests on Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere islands in the Canadian Arctic.

The early angiosperms developed advantages over contemporary groups — rapid reproductive cycles —  which made them highly efficient, adapting well to "weedy" growth. These modifications, including flowers for the attraction of insect pollinators, proved advantageous in many habitats.

Interaction between plant and pollinator has been a driving force behind the astounding diversification of both flowering plants and insects.

Some of the earliest known flowering plants are found in northeastern British Columbia coalfields. Late Cretaceous (about 101–66 million years ago) floras of the Dawson Creek area of British Columbia, and Milk River, Alberta, reveal increasing dominance by angiosperms. These fossils, while generally resembling some living angiosperms, represent old, extinct families, and their relationships to living groups remain unclear.

Eocene Alder Leaves, McAbee 2019
At the end of the Cretaceous, the climate cooled, inland seas covering much of western Canada drained, and dinosaurs became extinct. At the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene is evidence of extinction amongst land plants, too. During this interval of mass extinction, the Earth was struck by a massive meteorite. The fallout from this impact is preserved in boundary sediments in southern Saskatchewan as a pale clay, rich in rare earth elements such as iridium.

In the early Paleogene period (66–56 million years ago), we entered the age of mammals. Paralleling the rise of mammals is the rise of modern flora, which consists overwhelmingly of our glorious flowering plants. One of the most prolific fossil sites for Paleogene flowering plants, fruits and seeds is the Messel pit in Germany. In 2012, a research group found over 140 different plant species, 65 of which were previously unknown.

Early Paleogene fossils are found over much of Alberta —  Red Deer River, Lake Wabamun coalfields and Robb to Coal Valley coalfields —  and southern Saskatchewan —  Eastend area to Estevan coalfield —  to as far north as Ellesmere Island. These floras reveal a variety of flowering plants, including members of the sycamore, birch and walnut families, but the most abundant fossil plants are the katsuras and the dawn redwood, now native only to southeastern Asia.

In the mid-Paleogene period (56–34 million years ago) brief climatic warming coincided with the rapid diversification of flowering plants. Eocene fossils in British Columbia (Princeton, Kamloops and Smithers areas) reveal increasing numbers of modern plant families, with extinct species of birch, maple, beech, willow, chestnut, pine and fir.

Fossil Leaves, Princeton, British Columbia, Canada
Exceptionally well-preserved fossil forests found on Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere islands in the Canadian Arctic illustrate clearly the contrast between modern Canadian vegetation and the floras of a much warmer past. These fossil forests, 40 to 60 million years old, consist of large stumps, many over 1 m in diameter, preserved where they grew, still rooted in ancient soil.

Thick mats of leaf litter that formed the forest floor reveal the types of plants inhabiting the forests.

Lush redwood and cypress swamps covered the lowlands, while the surrounding uplands were dominated by a mixed conifer and hardwood forest resembling that of modern eastern North America. Even accounting for continental drift, these forests grew well above the Arctic Circle, and bear witness to a time in Canada's past when a cold arctic climatic regime did not exist.

Around 45-50 million years ago, during the middle Eocene, a number of freshwater lakes appeared in an arc extending from Smithers in northern British Columbia, south through the modern Cariboo, to Kamloops, the Nicola Valley, Princeton and finally, Republic, Washington.

The lakes likely formed after a period of faulting created depressions in the ground, producing a number of basins or grabens into which water collected — imagine gorgeous smallish lakes similar to Cultus Lake near Chilliwack, British Columbia.

The groaning Earth, pressured by the collision of tectonic plates produced a series of erupting volcanoes around the Pacific Northwest. These spouting volcanoes blew fine-grained ash into the atmosphere and it rained down on the land.

Eocene Plant Fossils, McAbee, BC
The ash washed into the lakes and because of its texture, and possibly because of low water oxygen levels on the bottoms that slowed decay beautifully preserved the dead remains of plant, invertebrate, and fish fossils —  some in wonderful detail with fascinating and well-preserved flora.

Near the town of Princeton, British Columbia, we see the results of that fine ash in the many fossil exposures. The fossils you find here are Middle Eocene, Allenby Formation with a high degree of detail in their preservation. Here we find fossil maple, alder, fir, pine, dawn redwood and ginkgo material. The Allenby Formation of the Princeton Group is regarded as Middle Eocene based on palynology (Rouse and Srivastava, 1970), mammals (Russell, 1935; Gazin, 1953); freshwater fishes (Wilson, 1977, 1982) and potassium-argon dating (Hills and Baadsgaard, 1967).

Several species of fossilized insects can be found in the area and rare, occasional fossil flowers and small, perfectly preserved fish. More than 50 flowers have been reported (Basinger, 1976) from the Princeton chert locality that crops out on the east side of the Similkameen River about 8 km south of Princeton, British Columbia.

The first descriptions of fossil plants from British Columbia were published in 1870–1920 by J.W. Dawson, G.M. Dawson, and D.P. Penhallow. Permineralized plants were first described from the Princeton chert in the 1970s by C.N. Miller, J.F. Basinger, and others, followed by R.A. Stockey and her students. W.C. Wehr and K.R. Johnson revitalized the study of fossils at Republic with the discovery of a diverse assemblage in 1977.

In 1987, J.A. Wolfe and Wehr produced a United States Geological Survey monograph on Republic, and Wehr cofounded the Stonerose Interpretive Center as a venue for public collecting. Systematic studies of the Okanagan Highlands plants, as well as paleoecological and paleoclimate reconstructions from palynomorphs and leaf floras, continue to expand our understanding of this important Early Eocene assemblage.

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 that 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. You can find well-preserved specimens of 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.

200 km to the south, fossil leaves and fish were first recognized at Republic, Washington, by miners in the early 1900s. We find the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) at Eocene sites in Republic and Chuckanut, Washington. Many early workers considered these floras to be of Oligocene or Miocene age. C.A. Arnold described Canadian occurrences of conifers and Azolla in the 1950s. Palynological studies in the 1960s by L.V. Hills, G.E.Rouse, and others and those of fossil fish by M.V.H. Wilson in the 1970–1980s provided the framework for paleobotanical research at several key localities.

With the succession of ice ages that swept down across North America in the Pleistocene, there were four intervening warm periods. These warmer periods help many species, including the genus Oenothera, enjoy four separate waves of colonization — each hybridizing with the survivors of previous waves. This formed the present-day subsection Euoenothera. The group is genetically and morphologically diverse and contains some of the most interesting of the angiosperms.

Today, there are about 145 species of herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Oenothera, all native to the Americas. It is the type genus of the family Onagraceae. We know them by many names — evening primrose, suncups, and sundrops  —  but they are not closely related to the true primroses (genus Primula).

Oenothera flowers are pollinated by insects, such as moths and bees. One of the most interesting things I've learned (thank you, Jim Barkley) is a clever little evolutionary trait exhibited by the beach evening primrose, Oenothera drummondil. These lovelies can actively sense and respond to the buzzing of bees. Marine Veits et al. were able to show that this species has evolved to respond to the sound of bees by producing nectar with a higher sugar concentration, certainly yummy by bee standards — therein attracting more pollinators and increasing the plant species reproductive success.

David R. Greenwood, Kathleen B. Pigg, James F. Basinger, and Melanie L. DeVore: A review of paleobotanical studies of the Early Eocene Okanagan (Okanogan) Highlands floras of British Columbia, Canada, and Washington, USA.

Sauquet H, von Balthazar M, Magallón S, et al. The ancestral flower of angiosperms and its early diversification. Nat Commun. 2017;8:16047. Published 2017 Aug 1. doi:10.1038/ncomms16047

Marine Veits  Itzhak Khait  Uri Obolski, et al. Flowers respond to pollinator sound within minutes by increasing nectar sugar concentration. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13331

Photo: Pictured above is a beautiful example of Florissantia sp., an extinct species of angiosperm from Eocene outcrops near Princeton, British Columbia. It is one of the best-preserved specimens I've seen from the Allenby. Florissantia can be found in western North America outcrops dating from the Eocene to the Oligocene, 56 to 23 million years ago.

Friday, 17 April 2020

CETACEANS OF WASHINGTON STATE

Oligocene Fossil Whale Vertebrae, Olympic Peninsula
These lovely water-worn specimens are difficult to ID to species with certainty but they likely hail from an early baleen whale.

Found amongst the beach pebbles on the Olympic Peninsula, they are definitely cetacean and very likely baleen as this area is home to some of the earliest baleen whales in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1993, a twenty-seven million-year-old specimen was discovered in deposits nearby that represents a new species of early baleen whale. It is especially interesting as it is from a stage in the group’s evolutionary history when baleen whales transitioned from having teeth to filtering food with baleen bristles. Visiting researcher Carlos Mauricio Peredo studied the fossil whale remains, publishing his research to solidify Sitsqwayk cornishorum (pronounced sits-quake) in the annals of history.

Baby Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, showing his baleen
The earliest baleen whales clearly had teeth, and clearly still used them. Modern baleen whales have no teeth and have instead evolved baleen plates for filter feeding. I've included a rather good close-up of a baby Gray Whale here that shows the baleen to good effect.

The baleen is the comb-like strainer that sits on the upper jaw of baleen whales and is used to filter food.

We have to ponder when this evolutionary change —moving from teeth to baleen — occurred and what factors might have caused it. Traditionally, we have sought answers about the evolution of baleen whales by turning to two extinct groups: the aetiocetids and the eomysticetids.

The aetiocetids are small baleen whales that still have teeth, but they are very small, and it remains uncertain whether or not they used their teeth. In contrast, the eomysticetids are about the size of an adult Minke Whale and seem to have been much more akin to modern baleen whales; though it’s not certain if they had baleen. Baleen typically does not preserve in the fossil record being soft tissue; generally, only hard tissue, bones & teeth, are fossilized.

Photo: Oligocene Fossil Whale vertebrae from Majestic Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

WASHINGTON STATE PALEONTOLOGY

North Cascades National Park, Washington State, USA
Over vast expanses of time, powerful tectonic forces have massaged the western edge of the continent, smashing together a seemingly endless number of islands to produce what we now know as North America and the Pacific Northwest.

Washington is home to a wide variety of fossils—from new species of fossil crabs to marine mollusks and the fossil palm fronds that symbolize the Chuckanut formation.

We also find fossil whales, bird trackways, fossil sockeye salmon, mammal footprints, mammoth bones & the trace fossil remains of ancient rhino. In the time expanse in which we live our very short human lives, the Earth's crust appears permanent.

A fixed outer shell – terra firma. Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in 1980, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day. As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighbouring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.

Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of the continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home. Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continue to move our mountain ranges skyward, the path of least resistance.

Fossil Palm Front, Washington State
This dynamic movement has created the landscape we see today and helped form the fossil record that tells much of Washington’s relatively recent history – the past 50 million years. Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington.

The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of this formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs, and plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle, and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America.

Shore Bird Trackway, Washington State
While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation.

Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and riverways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.

Fossil mammals from Washington do get most of the press. The movement of these celebrity vertebrates captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the depositional environments favourable for track preservation.

The bone record is actually far less abundant than the plant record, except near shell middens, given the preserving qualities of calcium and an alkaline environment. While calcium-rich bones and teeth fossilize well, they often do not get laid down in a situation that makes this possible. Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut is primarily made up of plant material.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

CLALLAM BAY MARINE FAUNA

Panopea abrupt (Conrad, 1894)
This lovely large fossil bivalve is Panopea abrupta (Conrad, 1849) an extinct species of marine mollusc in the family Hiatellidae, subclass Heterodonta.

This fossil specimen was collected from lower Miocene deposits in the Clallam Formation on the foreshore bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington. The oldest recorded specimen of one of their modern relatives lived not too far from here in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That lovely was an impressive 168 years old.

A geoduck sucks water containing plankton down through its long siphon, filters this for food and ejects its refuse out through a separate hole in the siphon. Adult geoducks have few natural predators, which may also contribute to their longevity.

In Alaska, sea otters and dogfish have proved capable of dislodging geoducks; starfish also attack and feed on the exposed geoduck siphon.

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

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

Near this site, there are many additional fossil localities to explore. In Sequim Bay, you can find Pleistocene vertebrates as well as Miocene cetacean bones near Slip Point. Near the Twin Post Office, you can find Oligocene nautiloids and bivalves (2.5km west in the bluff); You can find crabs including, Branchioplax in the Eocene limestone concretions from Neah Bay.

References: Addicott, Warren. Molluscan paleontology of the lower Miocene Clallam Formation, northwestern Washington, Geological Survey Paper 976.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

FOSSIL FAUNAS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1898), Clallam Formation, WA
Some water-worn samples of the fossil bivalve Vertipecten fucanus from Lower Miocene deposits in the Clallam Formation.

These lovelies were collected on the foreshore near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington on a lovely fossil field trip I did with my mother years ago.

Range zones of pectinid bivalves provide a principal means of age determination and correlation of shallow-water, inshore facies from California, through to Washington state and up to the head of the Gulf of Alaska.

Until Addicott's study from 1976, the area was considered middle Miocene. The new Lower Miocene designation can be credited in large part to the restricted stratigraphic range of Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1898) and the restricted and overlapping ranges of several other fossil mollusks collected from Alaska to California.

Neogene marine sediments of the West Coast of North America were deposited in a series of widely spaced basins that extended geographically from the western and northern Gulf of Alaska (60°N) to southern California (33°N). Rich molluscan faunas occur extensively throughout these deposits and form the basis for biostratigraphic schemes that are useful for correlating within and between individual basins.

Arturia angustata nautiloid, Clallam Formation, WA
Early biostratigraphic work was concerned with faunas from particular horizons and with the stratigraphic range of diverse taxa, such as Pecten and Turritella, without reference to other fossil groups.

Succeeding work increasingly dealt with the relationships of molluscan zones to benthic and, later, planktonic foraminiferal stages. In recent years the age limits of Neogene molluscan stages have become better documented by reference to planktonic microfossils from dated DSDP cores and onshore faunas. As our tools get better, our insight into these faunal groups and their correlation with their cousins to the south and over in the Pacific become clearer.

Neogene molluscan faunas from California, the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon and Washington), and southern Alaska have been treated separately due to differences in faunal composition and geographic isolation. As a result, a different biostratigraphic sequence has been described for each region.

Pacific Northwest stages have been formally named and defined. This naming structure is also used informally for Alaskan faunas. California Neogene stages were proposed early in this century, are in need of redescription, and their usage is informal. Precise correlations between the three regional sequences have not yet been achieved, due to the low number of co-occurring species and the general lack of planktonic microfossils in these largely shallow-water faunas. The objectives of ongoing research include the documentation of the faunas of California and Pacific Northwest stages; formal description of California stages; an improved correlation between regional stage sequences; refinement of age estimates for stage boundaries; and, the establishment of Neogene stages for Alaskan faunas.

Monday, 13 April 2020

QUALICUM BEACH

Qualicum Beach, a quaint community just 47 km or 30 minutes north of Nanaimo. Offering everything the year-round traveller could want.

Whether its the beach that draws you or the leisurely stroll through town, you have many options for your oceanside visit. Visit the local galleries, boutiques and cafes that make Qualicum feel like a European village or check out their famous garage sales for their many bargains.

The outdoor enthusiast will appreciate the long stretches of sandy beach, old-growth forests, nearby mountains with winter skiing and mild climate for year-round golf. A trip to Qualicum Beach is a bit like visiting a garden county in England, all hanging baskets and clipped lawns. There are many hidden treasures in the area.

You could take in the fresh air and hike the alpine trail leading to Mount Arrowsmith Lookout or follow gentle paths amongst the 850-year-old Douglas Firs at MacMillan Park’s Cathedral Grove.
There are fossils to be found... though not extracted from the park at Englishman River Falls or you could explore the Crystalline interior of the Horne Lake underground caves - an intriguing side trip just west of the town of Qualicum. Those in the know travel to these moist refuges to take in the quiet and walk in wonder and shadow with the help of one of the local guides.

No trip to Qualicum Beach is complete without a trip to the Qualicum Museum. Here you’ll see the life-time collection of Graham Beard, co-author of West Coast Fossils and Chair of the Vancouver Island Paleontological Museum Society. With his wife, Tina, a talented artist and fossil collector in her own right, he has been actively collecting fossils on Vancouver Island for over 30 years.

Getting there:

From the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo, stay to your right and head up the hill and head north on the Island Hwy north. Take the Qualicum turn-off. The road heads straight through this picturesque little town, past quaint little coffee shops and continues to the seashore. To visit the Qualicum Museum, turn left onto Sunningdale just as you cross the railroad tracks. The museum is at the end of the street. They have a sweet interglacial walrus found in Qualicum and a nice selection of other local fossils.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

MOAI OF EASTER ISLAND

Carved Volcanic Moai Statues of Easter Island
Rapa Nui or Easter Island is a volcanic island and special territory of Chile in the southeastern Pacific. The island sits atop the Rano Kau Ridge and is built from the remains of three extinct volcanoes. Most of the rock here is hawaiite, an olivine basalt intermixed with iron-rich basalts, mafic extrusive igneous rocks formed from the rapid cooling of iron-rich lava near the islands core.

It is one of the most isolated inhabited islands now famous for its rows of carved moai statues. These quiet sentinels were carved by the islands' first inhabitants.

Sometime around 1200 AD, people from Polynesia began to settle on the island. It looked much different back then. There were lovely forests on the island and those first settlers build a thriving community and culture. A series of unfortunate events devastated the island and the population. Rats, deforestation, the slave trade and finally disease took their toll. But those early settlers are not forgotten. For one of the world's most isolated islands, it is still visited today to visit their greatest legacies — 887 towering carved figures, moai, made from the islands' volcanic rock. They quarried and carved the rock then moved their sculptures to a platform on the water's edge where they are visited and revered to this day.