Sunday, 28 June 2020


This stunning block with the black matrix holds two lovely ammonoids found near the town of Rybinsk in the Yaroslavl region of Russia just northeast of Moscow. Interestingly, both Miss Russia 1998 and the first women in space hail from here, Anna Malova and Valentina Tereshkova respectively. Beyond bright, beautiful women, the area is home to some of the most interesting fossil specimens on the globe. 

You can see two of them here. The lovely larger ammonoid with the oil-in-water colouring is Craspedites okensis (d'Orbigny, 1945). Craspedites is an ammonoid cephalopod included in the Perisphinctaceae that lived during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, found in Canada, Greenland, Poland and Russia.

The genus Craspedites was first described by Aleksei Petrovich Pavlow in 1892. It is characterized by a small — up to about 5 cm in diameter — smooth, involute shell with simple ammonitic sutures. The whorl section is rounded with a smooth centre and small umbilicus exposing the dorsal portion of the inner whorls. Craspedites was thought to be restricted to the Upper Jurassic Tithonian until the discovery of a new species, C. sachsi, from the Berriasian of Russia (A. E. Igolnikov, 2012) named in honour of palaeontologist V.N. Sachs.

The smaller ammonite you see on the bottom of this block is Craspedites sp. from Jurassic deposits of the Volgian Stage, the zone subditus — 150 - 140.2 million years old. The photo credit belongs to the deeply awesome Emil Black. This block is in his personal collection. If you're interested in learning more about the ammonites from Russia, there is a publication from Ernst Gerold Westermann you may want to read, The Jurassic Ammonite Zones of the Soviet Union, Issue 223.

A. E. Igolnikov (2012). Craspedites (Vitaliites?) sachsi, a New Boreal Berriasian ammonite species of the North of Eastern Siberia (Nordvik Peninsula) Paleontological Journal. 46 (1): 12–15. Here's the link if you'd like to read it: 

Saturday, 27 June 2020


The Heteromorph, Jaubertites (Audouliceras) renauxianum
A stunningly beautiful example of the heteromorph ammonite Jaubertites (Audouliceras) renauxianum (d'Orbigny, 1842) from the Volga region in Russia. The Volga region encompasses the drainage basin of the Volga River, the longest river in Europe, in central and southern European Russia. The area is well-known for the beautiful fossil assemblages found here.

These magnificent Jaubertites (Audouliceras) renauxianum heteromorph ammonites are often composites — built with exceptional artful skill from various partial specimens.

We sometimes see them cut in two symmetrical parts and glued into a matrix then doctored up a bit for sale. The practice is frowned upon both scientifically and commercially but continues as does the demand for these exceptional specimens. This beauty is in the collection of José Juárez Ruiz and is complete with some minor restorations. I love these chunky Jaubertites and particularly appreciate the beautiful oil in water colouring in the nacre.

The second photo here shows a lovely busy block of ammonites with Deshayesites volgensis (Sasonova, 1958), and Aconeceras (Sinzovia) trautscholdi (Sinzow. 1870) from Lower Cretaceous, Aptian, (120 - 112 MYA), deposits in the v. Shilovka, Ulyanovsk Region of Russia. This beauty is in the collections of Emil Black. While Emil has counselled me that there are some fundamental challenges with the interpretation of these faunal groups, I will share what is available from the current literature.

Aptian deposits near the Volga River between Ul'yanovsk and Saratov have been studied for more than a century. The area produces some of the most beautiful and sought after ammonite specimens in the world. I've never had the pleasure of collecting in this region but follow the literature and local collectors with enthusiastic interest. Looking at the specimens from here, I'm sure you can appreciate why.

Deshayesites volgensis & Aconeceras trautscholdi
The age of lower Aptian deposits was traditionally established based on changing ammonite assemblages of the family Deshayesitidae. The beauty you see to the right with the lovely ribbing and coloured from cream through to pink and blue is the hallmark species of this area.

But Deshayesitidae are not the only specimens found here. The vast array of heteromorphic ammonites  —  the Ancyloceratidae, inhabitants of relatively deep basins, has made it possible to propose a new scheme of ammonoid zonation in the lower Aptian epipelagic deposits of the Russian plate.

Many of the identified ancyloceratids were established here for the first time. The analysis of coexisting deshayesitids and heteromorphs enables a correlation of stratigraphic schemes for the monomorphic Deshayesitidae and heteromorphic Ancyloceratidae.

The described generic taxa and species are Volgoceratoides I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, gen. nov., V. schilovkensis I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, sp. nov., Koeneniceras I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, gen. nov., K. tenuiplicatum (von Koenen, 1902), K. rareplicatum I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, sp. nov.

In some sections of the Saratov Volga area, specifically in the central part of the Russian Platform, we find both offshore and nearshore lithofacies of the epicontinental Middle Russian Sea. Here we see simultaneous changes in ammonite and belemnite successions that speak to an environmental shift. The significant influence of anoxic events on faunal turnovers in marine communities is well-established. However, many studies are focused on the impact of anoxic conditions on benthic organisms, not on the hunter-gatherers living higher up in the sea column and food chain. For this reason, coeval changes in pelagic cephalopod assemblages remain relatively poorly studied and marginally understood.

Belemnites, represented by the late members of the family Oxyteuthididae, are common in the interval directly preceding the anoxic event, but totally disappear with the onset of the black shale deposition. We see a reduction in the shell size of the Deshayesites ammonites across the mudstone – black shale boundary (maximum shell diameter of adults reduces from ∼20 cm to 7–8 cm).

Some other ammonites become numerous (Sinzovia) within the black shale interval or show the first occurrence in it (Koeneniceras and Volgoceratoides). The diminishing of Deshayesites shell size during the early Aptian OAE may have been caused by palaeoenvironmental factors such as progressive warming and regional input of brackish water.

The significant influence of anoxic events on faunal turnovers in marine communities is well-established. However, many studies are focused on the impact of anoxic conditions on benthic organisms, not on the hunter-gatherers living higher up in the sea column. This means that coeval changes in pelagic cephalopod assemblages remain relatively poorly understood.

Photo: Jaubertites (Audoulicerasrenauxianum (d'Orbigny, 1842) collection of José Juárez Ruiz.
Photo: Deshayesites volgensis (Sasonova, 1958), and Aconeceras (Sinzovia) trautscholdi (Sinzow. 1870) collections of Emil Black. The diameter on the Deshayesites shown here is 70 mm.

Rogov, Mikhail & Shchepetova, Elena & Ippolitov, Alexei & Seltser, Vladimir & Mironenko, Aleksandr & Pokrovsky, Boris & Desai, Bhawanisingh. (2019). Response of cephalopod communities on abrupt environmental changes during the early Aptian OAE1a in the Middle Russian Sea. Cretaceous Research. 10.1016/j.cretres.2019.01.007.

E. Yu. Baraboshkin and I. A. Mikhailova. New Stratigraphic Scheme of the Lower Aptian in the Volga River Middle Courses. Stratigraphy arid Geological Correlation, Vol 10, No 6, 2002, pp 603-626 Translated from Stratigrafiy a Geologicheskaya Korrelyatsiya, Vol 10, No 6, 2002, pp 82-105

Friday, 26 June 2020


This Hettangian ammonite, Alsatites proaries, is a lovely example of the cephalopods cruising our ancient oceans at that time. Alsatites is an extinct genus of cephalopod belonging to the Ammonite subclass. They lived during the Early Jurassic, Hettangian till the Sinemurian and are generally extremely evolute, many whorled with a broad keel. Or, as described by one of my very young friends, he looks like a coiled snake you make in pottery class.

It is during the Hettangian that the smooth shelled ammonite genus Psiloceras first appears. They span the time between 201.3 ± 0.2 Ma and 199.3 ± 0.3 Ma (million years ago). For my European friends, the Hettangian is the time span in which the marine limestone, shales and clay Lias of western Europe were deposited.

The Hettangian is an interesting little period of our history. It spans the time between 201.3 ± 0.2 Ma and 199.3 ± 0.3 Ma (million years ago). For my European friends, the Hettangian is the time in which the marine limestone, shales and clay Lias of western Europe were deposited. In British Columbia, Canada, we see the most diverse middle and late Hettangian (Early Jurassic) ammonite assemblages in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), an archipelago about 50 km off British Columbia's northern Pacific coast. In total, 53 ammonite taxa are described of which Paradasyceras carteri, Franziceras kennecottense, Pleuroacanthites charlottensis, Ectocentrites pacificus and Curviceras haidae are new.

In general, North American Early Jurassic ammonites are of Tethyan affinity or endemic to the eastern Pacific. For this reason, a separate zonation for the Hettangian and Sinemurian of the Western Cordillera of North America was established. Taylor et al. (2001), wrote up and published on much of this early research though, at the time, very little Canadian information was included.

Longridge, L. M., et al. “Three New Species of the Hettangian (Early Jurassic) Ammonite Sunrisites from British Columbia, Canada.” Journal of Paleontology, vol. 82, no. 1, 2008, pp. 128–139. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Jan. 2020.

Tozer, ET (Tim): Marine Triassic faunas of North America: Their significance for assessing plate and terrane movements. Geol Rundsch 71, 1077-1104 (1982).

Danner, W. (Ted): Limestone resources of southwestern British Columbia. Montana Bur. Mines & Geol., Special publ. 74: 171-185, 1976.

Davis, G., Monger, JWH & Burchfiel, BC: Mesozoic construction of the Cordilleran “collage”, central British Columbia to central California. Pacific Coast Paleography symposium 2, Soc. Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Los Angeles: 1-32, 1978.

Gibson, DW: Triassic rocks of the Rocky Mountain foothills and front ranges of northeastern British Columbia and west-central Alberta. Geol. Surv. Canada Bull. 247, 1975.

Photo: Alsatites proaries, Coll. Reiter, Neoammoniten, 30 July 2011, 19:26:10

Thursday, 25 June 2020


From years of field collecting, the drawers of the Geological Survey in Canada are filled to the brim. John Fam, Vice-Chair of the Vancouver Paleontological Society kindly lent me his photo from a recent field trip to the GSC.

Marine Triassic occurs on the North American Plate over a latitudinal spread of 46 degrees, from California to Ellesmere Island. At some intervals of time faunas on the Plate permit the discrimination of two or three provinces with distinctively different coeval faunas. The faunal differences are evidently related to paleolatitude and the provinces are designated LPL, MPL, HPL (low, mid, high paleolatitude). Nevada provides the diagnostic characters of the LPL province; northeastern British Columbia the MPL; the Sverdrup Basin the HPL. In the Lower Triassic and early Middle Triassic (Anisian), the distinction between the MPL and HPL provinces cannot be made. All three provinces are recognized in the Ladinian, Carnian and Norian deposits.

In the western tracts of the Cordillera, the part formed of suspect terranes, apparently allochthonous with respect to the North American Plate, marine faunas are known all the way from southern Alaska and Yukon to Mexico. Lower and Upper Triassic faunas from these terranes, including some which today are at 63 degrees north, have the characters of the LPL province.

Middle Triassic faunas from the terranes, as presently known, do not contribute significant data. In the terranes of the Western Cordillera, LPL faunas were now up to 3,000 km north of their counterparts on the American Plate. Through the fossil fauna assemblages, we can see this level of tectonic displacement.

Taking into account the faunas and the nature of the rocks, the Triassic palaeogeography is interpreted as a tectonically quiet west shore for the North American Plate, bordered by an open sea or ocean; then, well off-shore, a series of volcanic archipelagos shedding sediment into adjacent basins. Some were fringed or intermittently covered by coralline shoals and carbonate banks. Deeper basins were in between. The islands probably were within 30 degrees of the Triassic equator and extended offshore for about 5000 km, to the spreading ridge directly ancestral to the East Pacific Rise. The geography west of the spreading ridge was probably comparable.

Jurassic and later generation of crust at the ridge had driven some of the islands into the North American Plate; some probably to South America; others have gone west to Asia. Evidence is given that northern New Guinea, New Caledonia and New Zealand may have been at a north latitude of 30 degrees or more in the Triassic. The terranes now forming the Western Cordillera had probably amalgamated, and reached the North American Plate, before the end of the Jurassic.

At the end of the Rhaetian – part of the Triassic — most of the ammonites had died out. The Hettangian, a rather poorly understood 3 million year time interval followed the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event. During the Hettangian, the new or  Neoammonites developed quite quickly. Within a million years, a fairly large, diverse selection of genera and species had risen to fill the void. The gap created by the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event was re-filled and our ability to "read the rocks' to understand their continued movement through tectonic plate shifting recommenced.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020


Grambergia sp. Early Anisian (Middle Triassic) Ammonoid
In the early 1980s, Tim Tozer, Geological Survey of Canada was looking at the spread of marine invertebrate fauna in the Triassic of North America. In the western terranes of the Cordillera, marine faunas from southern Alaska and Yukon to Mexico are known from the parts that are obviously allochthonous with regard to the North American plates.

Lower and upper Triadic faunas of these areas, as well as some that are today up to 63 ° North, have the characteristics of the lower paleo latitudes. As far as is known, Middle Triadic faunas in these zones do not provide any significant data.

In the western Cordillera, these faunas of the lower paleo latitudes can be found up to 3,000 km north of their counterparts on the American plate. This indicates a tectonic shift of significant magnitude. There are marine triads on the North American plate over 46 latitudes from California to Ellesmere Island. For some periods, two to three different faunal provinces can be distinguished. The differences infaunal species are linked, not surprisingly, to their paleolatitude. They are called LPL, MPL, HPL (lower, middle, higher paleolatitude).

I had the opportunity to head to Nevada last year to look at the Triassic ammonoids and ichthyosaur remains in the West Humboldt Mountains. Nevada provides the diagnostic features of the lower (LPL); northeastern British Columbia that of the middle (MPL) and Sverdrup Basin, the large igneous province on Axel Heiberg Island and Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada near the rifted margin of the Arctic Ocean, that of the higher paleolatitude (HPL).

A distinction between the provinces of the middle and the higher paleo-situations can not be made for the lower Triassic and lower Middle Triassic (anise). However, all three provinces can be seen in the deposits of Ladin, Kam and Nor.

In the early 2000s, as part of a series of joint UBC, VIPS and VanPS fossil field trips (and then Chair of the VanPS), I explored much of the lower faunal outcrops of northeastern British Columbia. It was my first time seeing many of British Columbia's Triassic outcrops. The Nevada faunal assemblages are a lovely match. The quality of preservation at localities like Fossil Hill in the Humboldt Mountains of Nevada, perhaps the most famous and important locality for the Middle Triassic (Anisian/Ladinian) of North America, is truly outstanding. Aside from sheer beauty and spectacular preservation, the ammonoids and belemnites are cosied up to some spectacular well-preserved ichthyosaur remains.

Tozer's interest in our marine invert friends was their distribution. How and when did certain species migrate, cluster, evolve — and for those that were prolific, how could their occurrence — and therefore significance — aide in an assessment of plate and terrane movements that would help us to determine paleolatitudinal significance. I share a similar interest but not exclusive to our cephalopod fauna. The faunal collection of all of the invertebrates holds appeal.

This broader group held an interest for J.P. Smith who published on the marine fauna in the early 1900s based on his collecting in scree and outcrops of the West Humboldt Mountains, Nevada. He published his first monograph on North American Middle Triassic marine invertebrate fauna in 1914.

N. J. Siberling from the US Geological Survey published on these same Nevada outcrops in 1962. His work included nearly a dozen successive ammonite faunas, many of which were variants on previously described species. Both their works would inform what would become a lifelong piecing together of the Triassic puzzle for Tozer.

If one looks at the fauna and the type of sediment, the palaeogeography of the Triassic can be interpreted as follows: a tectonically calm west coast of the North American plate that bordered on an open sea; in the area far from the coast, a series of volcanic archipelagos delivered sediment to the adjacent basins. Some were lined or temporarily covered with coral wadding and carbonate banks. Deeper pools were in between. The islands were probably within 30 degrees of the triadic equator. They moved away from the coast up to about 5000 km from the forerunner of the East Pacific Ridge. The geographical situation west of the back was probably similar.

Jurassic and later generations of the crust from near the back have brought some of the islands to the North American plate; some likely to South America; others have drifted west, to Asia. There are indications that New Guinea, New Caledonia and New Zealand were at a northern latitude of 30 ° or more during the Triassic period.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020


Koala, Phasscolarctos cinereus, are truly adorable marsupials native to Australia. These cuddly "teddy bears" are not bears at all.

Koalas belong to a group of mammals known as marsupials. 

Fossil remains of Koala-like animals have been found dating back 25 million years. Some of the relatives of modern koalas were much larger, including the Giant Koala, Phascolarctos stirtoni

It should likely have been named the Robust Koala, instead of Giant, but this big boy was larger than modern koalas by about a third. Phascolarctos yorkensis, from the Miocene, was twice the size of the modern koalas we know today. Both our modern koalas and their larger relatives co-existed during the Pleistocene, sharing trees and enjoying the tasty vegetation surrounding them.

Monday, 22 June 2020


This pokey fellow is a Short-beaked Echidna, Tachyclossus aculeatus, which grows to about the size of an overweight cat. They are native to Australia and New Guinea. 

Echidnas are sometimes called spiny anteaters and belong in the family Tachyglossidae (Gill, 1872). They are monotremes, an order of egg-laying mammals. 

There are four species of echidnas living today. They, along with the platypus, are the only living mammals who lay eggs and the only surviving members of the order Monotremata. 

Superficially, they resemble the anteaters of South America and other spiny mammals like porcupines and adorable hedgehogs. They are usually a mix of brown, black and cream in colour. While rare, there have been several reported cases of albino echidnas, their eyes pink and their spines white. Echidnas have long, slender snouts that act as both nose and mouth for these cuties. The Giant Echidna we see in the fossil record had beaks more than double this size.  

Like the platypus, they are equipped with electro sensors, but while the platypus has 40,000 electroreceptors on its bill, the long-beaked echidna has only 2,000. The short-beaked echidna, which lives in a drier environment, has no more than 400 at the tip of its snout.

Echidnas evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme. Their ancestors were aquatic, but echidnas have adapted to life on land. Today, they weigh in at about 7 kg today but back in the Pleistocene, they were much larger. The Giant Echnida, Megalibwilia ramsayi was about 10% larger at 10 kg and Zaglossus hacketti was a whopping 30 kg. 

Fossil remains are relatively rare and sadly, incomplete, but they tell us potentially two other species of Echidna thriving in the Pleistocene. We also find Robust Echidna, Zaglossus robustus, in slightly older Miocene aged outcrops in a goldmine in Australia. The Giant Echnida's we find in the fossil record are relatives of the Long-Beaked Echidnas who live in New Guinea today.      

Sunday, 21 June 2020


An inuksuk or inukshuk, pronounced ih-nook-suuk — the human-shaped stone cairns built by the Inuit, Iñupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic regions of northern Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. 

These rocky sentinels stand as helpful reference markers for navigation. 

Translated from Inuktitut, the word inuksuk means that which acts in the capacity of a human, combining inuk or person and suk, to substitute.

Saturday, 20 June 2020


A wonderful example of Keuppia levante (Fuchs, Bracchi & Weis, 2009), an extinct genus of octopus that swam our ancient seas 95 million years ago.

Keuppia is in the family Palaeoctopodidae, and one of the earliest representatives of the order Octopoda. These ancient marine beauties are in the class Cephalopoda making them relatives of our modern octopus, squid and cuttlefish.

There are two species of Keuppia, Keuppia hyperbolaris and Keuppia levante, both of which we find as fossils. We find their remains, along with those of the genus Styletoctopus, in Cretaceous-age Hâqel and Hjoula localities in Lebanon. 

For many years, Palaeoctopus newboldi (Woodward, 1896) from the Santonian limestones at Sâhel Aalma, Lebanon, was the only known pre‐Cenozoic coleoid cephalopod believed to have an unambiguous stem‐lineage representative of Octobrachia Fioroni

With the unearthing of some extraordinary specimens with exquisite soft‐part preservation in the Lebanon limestones, our understanding of ancient octopus morphology has blossomed. The specimens are from the sub‐lithographical limestones of Hâqel and Hâdjoula, in north‐west Lebanon. These localities are about 15 km apart, 45 km away from Beirut and 15 km away from the coastal city of Jbail. Fuchs et al. put a nice little map in their 2009 paper that I've included and referenced here.

Palaeoctopus newboldi had a spherical mantle sac, a head‐mantle fusion, eight equal arms armed with suckers, an ink sac, a medially isolated shell vestige, and a pair of (sub‐) terminal fins. The bipartite shell vestige suggests that Palaeoctopus belongs to the octopod stem‐lineage, as the sister taxon of the Octopoda, the Cirroctopoda, is characterized by an unpaired clasp‐like shell vestige (Engeser 1988; Haas 2002; Bizikov 2004).

It is from the comparisons of Canadian fauna combined with those from Lebanon and Japan that things really started to get interesting with fossil Octobrachia. Working with fossil specimens from the Campanian of Canada, Fuchs et al. (2007a ) published on the first record of an unpaired, saddle‐shaped shell vestige that might have belonged to a cirroctopod. 

Again from the Santonian–Campanian of Canada and Japan, Tanabe et al. (2008) reported on at least four different jaw morphotypes. Two of them (Paleocirroteuthis haggarti  Tanabe et al. , 2008 and Paleocirroteuthis pacifica  Tanabe et al ., 2008) have been interpreted as being of cirroctopod type, one of octopod type, and one of uncertain octobrachiate type. 

Interestingly Fuchs et al. have gone on to describe the second species of Palaeoctopus, the Turonian Palaeoctopus pelagicus from limestones at Vallecillo, Mexico. While more of this fauna will likely be recovered in time, their work is based solely on a medially isolated shell vestige.

Five new specimens have been found in the well-known Upper Cenomanian limestones at Hâqel and Hâdjoula in Lebanon that can be reliably placed within the Octopoda. Fuchs et al. described these exceptionally well‐preserved specimens and to discuss their morphology in the context of phylogeny and evolution in their 2008 paper (2009 publishing) in the Palaeontology Association Journal, Volume 51, Issue 1.

The presence of a gladius vestige in this genus shows a transition from squid to octopus in which the inner shell has divided in two in early forms to eventually be reduced to lateralized stylets, as can be seen in Styletoctopus.

The adorable fellow you see here with his remarkable soft-bodied preservation and inks sack and beak clearly visible is Keuppia levante. He hails from Late Cretaceous (Upper Cenomanian) limestone deposits near Hâdjoula, northwestern Lebanon. The vampyropod coleoid, Glyphiteuthis abisaadiorum n. sp., is also found at this locality. This specimen is in the collection of the deeply awesome David Appleton. 

Fuchs, D.; Bracchi, G.; Weis, R. (2009). "New octopods (Cephalopoda: Coleoidea) from the Late Cretaceous (Upper Cenomanian) of Hâkel and Hâdjoula, Lebanon". Palaeontology. 52: 65–81. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2008.00828.x.

Photo credit: David Appleton. Figure Two: Topographic map of north‐western Lebanon with the outcrop area in the upper right-hand corner. Fuchs et al, 2009. 

Thursday, 18 June 2020


William Hunt's Birth Certificate (1866-1952)
This is the birth certificate of William Hunt, the second son of Robert Hunt and Mary Ebbets born January 17, 1866 in Fort Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. 

Robert Hunt was the HBC Factor originally from Southampton on England's southern coast and Mary was originally from Tongass Village, southeastern Alaska.

William's mother Mary held many names — Ansaq, Anisalaga, Anis'laga, Anisalaga, A'naeesla'ga. William's sister Elizabeth (Hunt) Wilson called her Anain. 

Anisalaga's father was Adáa, Chief Nenkoot aka Chief Ebbets, Teikweidi, Valley House (1780-1880). 

In a letter to his daughter, Mrs. Hunt (Mary Ebbets, 1876, he tells her of her brother's death. Interestingly, Chief Ebbets spelled his name Abbits.

Aanseet of Drifted Ashore House was Anisalaga's mother. Aanseet, Chief-of-All-Women, was born in Lingit Anni into the Tlingit First Nation Raven moiety, Stikine based in Wrangell. Aanseet drowned on the Nass in 1870 (1800-1870). 

Two memorial poles were erected in her honour, one Princess-shining-copper in Alaska (taken to Seattle in 1899) and one in Tsaxis/T'sakis, that Anisalaga erected to honour her.

Ansnaq and Robert Hunt had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons — George, William, Emily, Eli Fredrick, Sarah, Mary (who died young), Mary (second child of the same name), Elizabeth, Robert James Jr. Jane Charity and Annie. Their descendants are the Hunts, Lyons and Cadwalladers you meet on the west coast of British Columbia.

Their eldest son George (1854-1933), was an ethnologist, linguist and artist best known for his collaboration with Franz Boas. Their son (and George's younger brother) William (1866-1952), married Annie Wilson and together they had (Robert) Vivian Hunt (1895-1985), my great grandfather. 

Willian Hunt was the lighthouse keeper at Scarlett Point on Balaklava Island from 1908-1939, replacing James William Davies, the first Keeper. 

William had been recommended for the role by Agent Gaudin as William Hunt had served briefly as an assistant at Pine Island Lighthouse. William got the job and moved his family to Scarlett Point. 

"(William) Hunt moved his Indian wife and two sons to Scarlett Point in 1908, and over the coming years, the family would grow to include a total of ten boys and a girl." 

(Robert) Vivian "Smiley" Hunt (1895-1985)
Vivian, one of the middle sons, was paid ten dollars a month to haul mail and supplies between Port Hardy, Scarlett Point, and Pine Island. 

Here Vivian shares what it was like to row the 16.7 km across the bay into town as a young boy.

I used to wait for what looked like a good spell of weather,” Vivian recalled, “but my father smoked plug tobacco in a pipe. That caused me some trouble. When he ran out of tobacco, I went to Port Hardy no matter what the weather was like. 

In good weather, with a good tide, I could make the trip in four hours. But sometimes, when it was bad, I’d be eight hours getting across.

On February 22, 1930, Vivian’s brother Tommy (Thomas Edwin) Hunt (1892-1930) set out in a rowboat to deliver supplies to nearby settlers. 

As far as I can make out, a comber must have struck the boat and turned her right over,” Vivian Hunt reported to the marine agent. “He had his rubber hip boots on when he left here, he had them both off when we found his body the next day.” 

Annie Wilson (Kwakiutl), William's wife, grieved his passing. A few months later, she felt particularly ill and went back to bed. Vivian was sent to retrieve a doctor, but she passed away while he was still within sight of the station. 

James Lyon, William Hunt, Vivian Hunt & Irene, his wife
In 1920, Vivian met and married the lovely Irene Isabelle Jennings at Scarlett Point and together they had six children — one of whom was my grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Alberta Hunt (1923-2010). 

It was on Balaklava Island that my grandmother Betty met and married my grandfather, Percy Henderson of Finland. 

While he had lived in Finland, it was the portion on the border of Sweden. He spoke Swedish at home and had a love/hate relationship with his Finnish roots. 

Together they had six children — including my father Gordon Fredrick Henderson (1942-2015). 

My father was born on Balaklava Island and it was his grandfather, Vivian who served as the midwife — for him and all his siblings — as he had done for his own children. 

Vivian used to row twenty-one kilometres into town to visit us every month, bringing his smile, sea urchin shells and stories. Ansnaq brought Tlingit songs, stories and the Chilkat weaving tradition from the north to the coast into traditional Kwakiutl culture. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2020


One of my favourite pairs of earrings are a simple set of pearls. I have worn them pretty much every day since 2016 when I received them as a gift. What is it about pearls that makes them so appealing? I am certainly not alone in this. 

A simple search will show you a vast array of pearls being used for their ornamental value in cultures from all over the world. I suppose the best answer to why they are appealing is just that they are

If you make your way to Paris, France and happen to visit the Louvre's Persian Gallery, do take a boo at one of the oldest pearl necklaces in existence — the Susa necklace. It hails from a 2,400-year-old tomb of long lost Syrian Queen. It is a showy piece with three rows of 72 pearls per strand strung upon a bronze wire. 

A queen who truly knew how to accessorize

I imagine her putting the final touches of her outfit together, donning the pearls and making an entrance to wow the elite of ancient Damascus. The workmanship is superb, intermixing pure gold to offset the lustre of the pearls. It is precious and ancient, crafted one to two hundred years before Christ. Perhaps a gift from an Egyptian Pharaoh or from one of the Sumerians, Eblaites, Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites, Hurrians, Mitanni, Amorites or Babylonian dignitaries who sued for peace but brought war instead. 

Questions, good questions, but questions without answers. So, what can we say of pearls? We do know what they are and it is not glamorous. Pearls form in shelled molluscs when a wee bit of sand or some other irritant gets trapped inside the shell, injuring the flesh. As a defensive and self-healing tactic, the mollusc wraps it in layer upon layer of mother-of-pearl — that glorious shiny nacre that forms pearls. 

They come in all shapes and sizes from minute to a massive 32 kilograms or 70 pounds. While a wide variety of our mollusc friends respond to injury or irritation by coating the offending intruder with nacre, there are only a few who make the truly gem-y pearls. These are the marine pearl oysters, Pteriidae and a few freshwater mussels. Aside from Pteriidae and freshwater mussels, we sometimes find less gem-y pearls inside conchs, scallops, clams, abalone, giant clams and large marine gastropods.

Pearls are made up mostly of the carbonate mineral aragonite, a polymorphous mineral — same chemical formula but different crystal structure — to calcite and vaterite, sometimes called mu-calcium carbonate. These polymorphous carbonates are a bit like Mexican food where it is the same ingredients mixed in different ways. Visually, they are easy to tell apart — vaterite has a hexagonal crystal system, calcite is trigonal and aragonite is orthorhombic.

As pearls fossilize, the aragonite usually gets replaced by calcite, though sometimes by vaterite or another mineral. When we are very lucky, that aragonite is preserved with its nacreous lustre — that shimmery mother-of-pearl we know and love.  

Molluscs have likely been making pearls since they first evolved 530 million years ago. The oldest known fossil pearls found to date, however, are 230-210 million years old. 

This was the time when our world's landmass was concentrated into the C-shaped supercontinent of Pangaea and the first dinosaurs were calling it home. In the giant ancient ocean of Panthalassa, ecosystems were recovering from the high carbon dioxide levels that fueled the Permian extinction. Death begets life. With 95% of marine life wiped out, new species evolved to fill each niche.  

While this is where we found the oldest pearl on record, I suspect we will one day find one much older and hopefully with its lovely great-great grandmother-of-pearl intact. 

Monday, 15 June 2020


This little cutie is an Antarctic fur seal pup with his Mamma. They belong to the species Arctocephalus gazella and are pinnipeds that live in dense colonies alongside King Penguins. These two call the South Georgia islands home, as do 95% of the world's population.  

Though a wee pup, he can already recognize her voice from all the other lovely Mammas in his busy, noisy colony. Little ones left on the rocky shores while their mother is out hunting will raise their heads and listen out to identity their mother's voice and vocal pitch over the loud calls of all the other busy Mammas and penguins from the colony. If you look closely, you can see his wee little ears. Antarctic fur seals, unlike some other seal species, have visible ears.  

Seal pups stay with their mother, relying on her lactation milk to help them fatten up and grow healthy and strong. For the first four months of their lives, their mother will feed them on her rich milk, then head out to sea to forage for food. Once she's back, she'll call out to him and then give him a good sniff upon their reunion, the final confirmation for both parties that the right match has been made. The interaction between mother and pup is tender and heartbreakingly sweet to watch. She'll only give birth to one pup (two is rare) each October to December. Pups are born with a sheen of fur and grow their waterproof fur during their first months of life. 

When this little fellow grows up, he'll dine on fish, birds (including his penguin pals), squid and krill. Krill are small crustaceans of the order Euphausiacea that look like tiny shrimp. They look similar and are both crustaceans but shrimp hail from the suborder Natantia, order Decapoda and their hearts are located in their heads. I know, right? 

Krill live in all the world's oceans and sadly for them, they make a handy and tasty snack. They form an important part of the oceanic food chain. The krill feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton and then larger animals feed on the krill. 

"Krill" is Norwegian for "small fry of fish." They are small, indeed. But tasty, nutritious and easy to catch. Once this little pinniped pup is out hunting on his own, krill will make up the majority of his adult diet. He'll need our help to make sure he gets a steady supply. Krill are one of the casualties of ocean acidification from climate change. Hopefully, we'll do better so that he can, too!

Sunday, 14 June 2020


This lovely fellow about to enjoy a tasty snack is a Puffin. 

Puffins hunt and munch on small fish, eels, herring, hake and capelin. Their diet varies according to their geographic location and what is in season. 

Puffins are any of three small species of alcids or auks in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured orange beak during the breeding season. 

Their sexy orange beaks 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 fledgeling 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.

These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean. 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're after.

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.

The oldest alcid fossil is Hydrotherikornis from Oregon dating to the Late Eocene while fossils of Aethia and Uria go back to the Late Miocene. Molecular clocks have been used to suggest an origin in the Pacific in the Paleocene. Fossils from North Carolina were originally thought to have been of two Fratercula species but were later reassigned to one Fratercula, the tufted puffin, and a Cerorhinca species. Another extinct species, Dow's puffin, Fratercula dowi,  was found on the Channel Islands of California until the Late Pleistocene or early Holocene.

The Fraterculini are thought to have originated in the Pacific primarily because of their greater diversity there; there is only one extant species in the Atlantic, compared to two in the Pacific. The Fraterculini fossil record in the Pacific extends at least as far back as the middle Miocene, with three fossil species of Cerorhinca, and material tentatively referred to that genus, in the middle Miocene to late Pliocene of southern California and northern Mexico.

Although there no records from the Miocene in the Atlantic, a re-examination of the North Carolina material indicated that the diversity of puffins in the early Pliocene was as great in the Atlantic as it is in the Pacific today. This diversity was achieved through influxes of puffins from the Pacific; the later loss of species was due to major oceanographic changes in the late Pliocene due to closure of the Panamanian Seaway and the onset of severe glacial cycles in the North Atlantic.

Friday, 12 June 2020


Olenellus is an extinct genus of redlichiid trilobites, with species of average size (about 5 centimetres or 2.0 inches long). It lived during the Botomian and Toyonian stages, Olenellus-zone, 522 to 510 million years ago, in what is currently North-America, part of the paleocontinent Laurentia.

Olenellus are a genus of trilobites — extinct arthropods  — common in but restricted to Early Cambrian rocks some 542 million to 521 million years old and thus a useful guide fossil for the Early Cambrian. Olenellus had a well-developed head, large and crescentic eyes, and a poorly developed, small tail. The fellow you see had a bit of his tail crushed as he turned to stone.

This specimen of Olenellus is from the Lower Cambrian Eager Formation of British Columbia and is typical of the group. He's from the Rifle Range outcrop near Cranbrook. 

The site — which is literally on a Rifle Range where folks go to shoot at things — is just a shade older than the Burgess Shale. Burgess is Middle Cambrian and the deposits there have similar species to the ones found here are the Eager fauna is much less varied. Trilobites were amongst the earliest fossils with hard skeletons. While they are extinct today, they were the dominant life form at the beginning of the Cambrian and it is what we find as the primary fossil fauna in the Eager Formation. The Eager Formation has produced many beautifully preserved Wanneria, abundant Olellenus and a handful of rare and treasured Tuzoia. The shale matrix lends itself to amazing preservation. The specimens of Wanneria from here are large. Some are up to thirteen centimetres long and ten centimetres wide. You find a mixture of complete specimens and head impressions from years of perfectly preserved moults.

Thursday, 11 June 2020


Ventral view of the carnivorous portunoid crab Ophthalmoplax brasiliana (Maury, 1930) from the latest Maastrichtian (~66.2 Ma.) deposits near Coahuila, northern Mexico.

This marine species was originally thought to have been found only in the upper Member, Owl Creek Formation,  Late/Upper Maastrichtian deposits of Tippah County in Mississippi, USA. 

Sohl and Koch published on the Mississippian find in the USGS in 1983. Francisco J. Vega and Torry Nyborg, along with George Phillips and Jose F. Ventura published on the Morphology and size variation of a portunoid crab from the Maastrichtian of the Americas in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences in November 2013. Fedorov and Nyborg published on this same species again in 2017. Paleocoordinates: (34.8° N, 88.9° W: 38.3° N, 66.2° W)

Vega, Francisco & Phillips, George & Nyborg, Torrey & Ventura, José F. & Clements, Don & Espinosa, Belinda & Solís-Pichardo, Gabriela. (2013). Morphology and size variation of a portunoid crab from the Maastrichtian of the Americas. Journal of South American Earth Sciences. 47. 116–135. 10.1016/j.jsames.2013.07.005. Photo: Ophthalmoplax brasiliana by the deeply awesome José F. Ventura‎

Tuesday, 9 June 2020


Aepyornis skeleton, Monnier, 1913
One hundred and seventy million years ago, Madagascar was landlocked in the middle of the supercontinent Gondwana, sandwiched between land that would eventually become South America and Africa and land that would eventually become India, Australia, and Antarctica.

Riding the movements of the Earth's crust, Madagascar, along with India, first split from Africa and South America and then from Australia and Antarctica, and started heading north. India eventually smashed into Asia — forming the Himalayas in the process — but Madagascar broke away from India and was marooned in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar has been on its own for the past 88 million years.

Elephant birds are members of the extinct ratite family Aepyornithidae, made up of large to enormous flightless birds that once lived on the island of Madagascar. A ratite is any of a diverse group of flightless and mostly large and long-legged birds of the infraclass Palaeognathae.

Elephant birds became extinct, around 1000–1200 CE, as a result of human hunting. Elephant birds comprised the genera Mullerornis, Vorombe and Aepyornis. While they were in close geographical proximity to the ostrich, their closest living relatives are the much smaller nocturnal Kiwi — found only in New Zealand — suggesting that ratites did not diversify by vicariance during the breakup of Gondwana but instead evolved from ancestors that dispersed more recently by flying.

Elephant birds were endemic to Madagascar. Phylogenetic, genetic, and fossil evidence all suggest that the elephant bird, along with the ostrich, arrived in Madagascar and India when these landmasses were still connected to Australia and Antarctica via a land bridge.

When India and Madagascar split, the elephant bird wound up surviving on Madagascar, while the ostrich was carried north with India and was eventually introduced to Eurasia when India collided with the continent. The presence of the elephant bird on Madagascar can be chalked up to vicariance; it was living on Madagascar land already when Madagascar broke off from India. Most of the species on Madagascar today seem to be descended from individuals that dispersed from Africa long after Madagascar was established as a separate island.

Photo: Aepyornis skeleton. Quaternary of Madagascar by Monnier, 1913 by Monnier -, Public Domain,

Image: Size of Aepyornis maximus (centre, in purple) compared to a human, an ostrich (second from right, in maroon), and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs. Grid spacings are 1.0 m by Matt Martyniuk.

Cooper, A., Lalueza-Fox, C., Anderson, S., Rambaut, A., Austin, J., and Ward, R. (2001). Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of two extinct moas clarify ratite evolution. Nature 409:704-707.

Goodman, S. M., and Benstead, J. P. (2005). Updated estimates of biotic diversity and endemism for Madagascar. Oryx 39(1):73-77.

Evolution Berkeley:

Vences, M., Wollenberg, K. C., Vieites, D. R., and Lees, D. C. (2009). Madagascar as a model region of species diversification. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24(8):456-465.

Monday, 8 June 2020


A young Black Bear cub, Ursus americanus, checks out a frisky, startled Striped Skunk, Mephitis mephitis, both native species in southern British Columbia. 

While related to polecats and other members of the weasel family, skunks have as their closest Old World relatives the stink badgers.

The animals are known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, unpleasant smell. Generally, the aroma from a skunk is enough of a deterrent to keep curiosity at bay. Not in this case.

Bear cubs are known for being playful and altogether too curious. Born in January, they usually stick pretty close to Mamma for the first two years of their lives but sometimes an intriguing opportunity for discovery will cross their path and entice them to slip away just for a few minutes to check it out. Yearlings are usually quite skittish, spending their time hidden up in trees. By the end of the summer, they grow into confident little bears. The karma gods were good to this wee one. Nobody was skunked in this quest for exploration, though not for lack of trying.

We are blessed to have them living amongst us today on the rugged west coast of British Columbia. In the Kwak'wala language of the Kwakiutl First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, this little cutie is t̕ła'yi — a lovely, playful black bear.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


This adorable little fellow is a Short-eared elephant shrew, Macroscelides proboscideus, one of 15 species of this order. They range in size from 9.5-12.5 cm.

These small, quadrupedal, insectivorous mammals strongly resemble rodents or opossums with their scaly tails, elongated snouts, and rather longish legs.

They live in the desert and temperate grasslands of southern Africa. The Elephant shrew is considered "Living Fossils" as their distinctive morphology has not changed all that much in the past 30 million years. They ought to have been named Elephant Bunny shrew. They move through the world like wee baby elephant-bunnies, snuffling on all fours and hopping about looking for tasty snacks. They have a preference for seeds, fruit, termites and berries. They know how to live well, taking a siesta each afternoon when the sun gets high in the sky.

Thursday, 4 June 2020


A beautifully articulated Basilemys turtle forelimb with osteoderms on the palmar surface. This specimen is from outcrops in the Kaiparowits Formation of Utah, USA.

Basilemys is an extinct genus of early terrestrial or land turtles belonging to the family Nanhsiungchelyideae. They had a carapace similar in shape to aquatic turtles but limps and beak closer to terrestrial herbivores.

Today, these lovelies live in the Hell Creek floodplains munching on bits of grass and swamp plants. They are ectotherms, cold-blooded, reptiles and amniotes — they breathed air and did not lay eggs underwater but came to shore similar to modern turtles. They are known from Cretaceous deposits in North America and Asia. We've got some lovely examples from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation in Alberta and the Sustut Basin in northern British Columbia. Fossil remains of Basilemys have also been found in Saskatchewan, China, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia, the United States in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Uzbekistan from 144 collections and 152 occurrences. Photo credit: Joe Sertich

Wednesday, 3 June 2020


In April of 2018, Jordan Mallon and Donald Brinkman described a new species of nanhsiungchelyid turtle, Basilemys morrinensis, from a nearly complete shell from the Horsethief Member, lower Maastrichtian, Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Alberta.

You'll recall we've found Basilemys in the Sustut Basin of northern British Columbia. These two finds allow us to make some correlations on what was happening during the Upper Cretaceous in BC and Alberta.

The species Mallon and Brinkman wrote up is intermediate in age between the Campanian forms B. variolosa and B. gaffneyi and the upper Maastrichtian forms B. sinuosa and B. praeclara. It is also intermediate in its morphology, possessing a unique suite of both plesiomorphic — divided extragulars — and derived, square epiplastral beak, pygal wider than long, traits.

The Horseshoe Canyon specimen also boasts an autapomorphic square cervical scale. Phylogenetic analysis assuming parsimony recovers B. morrinensis in a polytomy with B. variolosa and B. gaffneyi, outside the clade formed by the upper Maastrichtian forms B. sinuosa and B. praeclara. The holotype of Basilemys morrinensis provides the first evidence that this genus reached a fairly large size, sometimes over a meter in length in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation, so not as small as previously thought based on less complete shell material.

Although Basilemys is usually regarded as terrestrial based on its skull and limb morphology, this specimen has a shell with a low profile — a derived hydrodynamic feature usually indicative of an aquatic mode of life.

The Horseshoe Canyon specimen was found with well-preserved fossils of Equisetum or horsetail. The Basilemys from Sustut was also found in association with plant fossils. So, aquatic, yes. But swampy freshwater aquatic. Or perhaps wet woods and the peripheries of water bodies — lakes, rivers, ponds. We know horsetails prefer a moist location and it appears our dear Basilymys did also. 

Image One: Basilemys morrinensis, CMN 57059, shell, in A, dorsal, B, ventral, C, right lateral, and D, anterior views. Photo: Donald B. Brinkman

Image Two: Depositional context of CMN 57059. Segmented stalks of Equisetum cf. E. perlaevigatum (marked by arrowheads) found associated with shell. B, CMN 57059 as it was originally uncovered in the field (CMN negative #61554). Scale bar equals 8 cm (A).  Photo: Donald B. Brinkman

Mallon, J. C., and D. B. Brinkman. 2018. Basilemys morrinensis, a new species of nanhsiungchelyid turtle from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (Upper Cretaceous) of Alberta, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2018.1431922.