Tuesday, 30 June 2020

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY

The Giant's Causeway is a spectacular expanse of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns formed from volcanic eruptions during the Paleocene some 50-60 million years ago.

These columns tell a story of the cooling and freezing of the lava flows that formed them. As lava at the surface cools and freezes, it also shrinks as its molecules rearrange themselves into a solid structure. This happens much more quickly at the surface where the lava comes in contact with moist, cool air. As the basalt cools and shrinks, pressure increases in intensity and cracks begin to form. A way to dissipate this huge stress is to crack at an angle of 120 degrees, the angle that gives us a hexagon.

We see this beautifully illustrated at the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. Here, highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds which later cooled, contracted and cracked into hexagonal columns, creating a surreal visual against a dark and stormy Irish Sea.

Monday, 29 June 2020

QUENSTEDTOCERAS WITH PATHOLOGY

What you're seeing here is a protuberance extruding from venter of Quenstedtoceras cf. leachi (Sowerby). It's a pathology in the shell from hosting immature bivalves that shared the seas with these Middle Jurassic, Upper Callovian, Lamberti zone fauna from the Volga River basin. The collecting site is the now inactive Dubki commercial clay quarry and brickyard near Saratov, Russia. 

The site has produced thousands of ammonite specimens. A good 1,100 of those ended up at the Black Hills Institue of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota. 

Roughly 1,000 of those are Quenstedtoceras (Lamberticeras) lamberti and the other 100 are a mix of other species found in the same zone. These included Eboraciceras, Peltoceras, Kosmoceras, Grossouvria, Proriceras, Cadoceras and Rursiceras. What is especially interesting is the volume of specimens — 167 Quenstedtoceras (Lamberticeras) lamberti and 89 other species in the Black Hills collection — with healed predation injuries. It seems Quenstedtoceras (Lamberticeras) lamberti are the most common specimens found here and so not surprisingly the most common species found injured. Of the 1,000, 655 of the Quenstedtoceras (Lamberticeras) lamberti displayed some sort of deformation or growth on the shell or had grown in a tilted manner. 

Again, some of the Q. lamberti had small depressions in the centre likely due to a healed bite and hosting infestations of the immature bivalve Placunopsis and some Ostrea

The bivalves thrived on their accommodating hosts and the ammonites carried on, growing their shells right up and over their bivalve guests. This relationship led to some weird and deformities of their shells.  They grow in, around, up and over nearly every surface of the shell and seem to have lived out their lives there. It must have gotten a bit unworkable for the ammonites, their shells becoming warped and unevenly weighted. Over time, both the flourishing bivalves and the ammonite shells growing up and over them produced some of the most interesting pathology specimens I've ever seen.    

In the photo here from Emil Black, you can see some of the distorted shapes of Quenstedtoceras sp. Look closely and you see a trochospiral or flattened appearance on one side while they are rounded on the other. 

All of these beauties hail from the Dubki Quarry near Saratov, Russia. The ammonites were collected in marl or clay used in brick making. The clay particles suggest a calm, deep marine environment. One of the lovely features of the preservation here is the amount of pyrite filling and replacement. It looks like these ammonites were buried in an oxygen-deficient environment. 

The ammonites were likely living higher in the water column, well above the oxygen-poor bottom. An isotopic study would be interesting to prove this hypothesis. There's certainly enough of these ammonites that have been recovered to make that possible. It's estimated that over a thousand specimens have been recovered from the site but that number is likely much higher. But these are not complete specimens. We mostly find the phragmocones and partial body chambers. Given the numbers, this may be a site documenting a mass spawning death over several years or generations.

If you fancy a read on all things cephie, consider picking up a copy of Cephalopods Present and Past: New Insights and Fresh Perspectives edited by Neil Landman and Richard Davis. Figure 16.2 is from page 348 of that publication and shows the hosting predation quite well. 

Photos: Courtesy of the deeply awesome Emil Black. These are in his personal collection that I hope to see in person one day. 

It was his sharing of the top photo and the strange anomaly that had me explore more about the fossils from Dubki and the weird and wonderful hosting relationship between ammonites and bivalves. Thank you, my friend!

Sunday, 28 June 2020

CRASPEDITES OF RUSSIA

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

AMMONITES OF THE VOLGA REGION

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

HETTANGIAN: TETHYAN AFFINITY

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, www.jstor.org/stable/20144175. 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). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01821119

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

EXPLORING THE GSC COLLECTIONS

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

NORTH AMERICAN MIDDLE TRIASSIC AMMONOIDS


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

ABUNDANCE TO EXTINCTION: THE AMMONITES

Early Cretaceous Hoplites sp. Dorset, UK
Ammonites were predatory, squid-like creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells. 

Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beak-like jaws inside a ring of tentacles that extended from their shells to snare prey such as small fish and crustaceans. Some ammonites grew more than three feet (one meter) across — possible snack food for the giant mosasaur Tylosaurus.

These sea creatures were constantly building new shell as they grew. Most ammonites have coiled shells. The chambered part of the shell is called a phragmocone.  It contains a series of progressively layered chambers called camerae, which were divided by thin walls called septae. The last chamber is the body chamber. Most of the shell was unused as they preferred to inhabit only the outer chamber. 

As the ammonite grew, it added new and larger chambers to the opened end of the shell. A thin living tube called a siphuncle passed through the septa, extending from the body to the empty shell chambers.

This allowed the ammonite to empty water out of the shell chambers by hyperosmotic active transport process. This process controlled the buoyancy of the ammonite's shell. They scooted through the warm, shallow seas by squirting jets of water from their bodies. 

A thin, tubelike structure called a siphuncle reached into the interior chambers to pump and siphon air and helped them move through the water.

They first appeared about 240 million years ago, though they descended from straight-shelled cephalopods called bacrites that date all the way back to the Devonian — some 415 million years. 

They were prolific breeders, lived in schools, and are among the most abundant fossils found today. They went extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Scientists use the various shapes and sizes of ammonite shells that appeared and disappeared through the ages to date other fossils.

During their evolution, three catastrophic events occurred. The first during the Permian period (250million years ago), only 10% survived.  They went on to flourish throughout the Triassic period, but at the end of this period (206 million years ago), all but one species died. Then they began to thrive from the Jurassic period until the end of the Cretaceous period when all species of ammonites became extinct.

Ammonites began life very tiny, less than 1mm in diameter, and were vulnerable to attack from predators. They fed on plankton and quickly assumed a strong protective outer shell. They also grew quickly with the females growing up to 400% larger than the males; because they needed the larger shell for egg production. Most ammonites only lived for two years.  Some lived longer becoming very large. The largest ever found was in Germany (6.5 feet in diameter).

Ammonites lived in shallow waters of 100 meters or less. They moved through the water by jet propulsion expelling water through a funnel-like opening to propel themselves in the opposite direction. They were predators (cephalopods) feeding on most living marine life including molluscs, fish even other cephalopods. Ammonites would silently stalk their prey then quickly extend their tentacles to grab it.  When caught the prey would be devoured by the Ammonites' jaws located at the base of the tentacles between the eyes.

Photo One: Hoplites sp. from the Early Cretaceous of Dorset, UK. Natural Selection Fossils

Photo Two: Hoplites dentalus from Albian deposits near Troyes, France. Collection of Stéphane Rolland.

Wright, C. W. (1996). Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part L, Mollusca 4: Cretaceous Ammonoidea (with contributions by JH Calloman (sic) and MK Howarth). Geological Survey of America and University of Kansas, Boulder, Colorado, and Lawrence, Kansas, 362.

Amédro, F., Matrion, B., Magniez-Jannin, F., & Touch, R. (2014). La limite Albien inférieur-Albien moyen dans l’Albien type de l’Aube (France): ammonites, foraminifères, séquences. Revue de Paléobiologie, 33(1), 159-279.

Monday, 22 June 2020

HOPLITES: TIRE-TRACK RIBBING

Hoplites Bennettiana, Troyes, France
An excellent example of the ammonite, Hoplites bennettiana (Sowby, 1826) with a pathology. This beauty is from Albian deposits near Carrière de Courcelles, Villemoyenne, laid down in the Cretaceous near la région de Troyes, Aube,  Champagne in northeastern France.

The Albian is the youngest or uppermost subdivision of the Lower Cretaceous, approximately 113.0 ± 1.0 Ma to 100.5 ± 0.9 Ma (million years ago).

L'Albien or Albian is both an age of the geologic timescale and a stage in the stratigraphic column. It was named after Alba, the Latin name for the River Aube, a tributary of the Seine that flows through the Champagne-Ardenne region of northwestern 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. 

Hoplites are amongst my favourite ammonites. I still have a difficult time telling them apart. To the right, you can see a slightly greyish, Hoplites maritimus, from Sussex England. 

Below him is a brownish Hoplites rudis from outcrops between Courcelles and Troyes, France. There are many Hoplites species. 

Each has the typical raised tire-track ribbing. My preference is for Hoplities bennetianus (or bennettiana). I'm still sorting out the naming of that species. The difference between Hoplites bennettiana and Hoplites dentatus is seen on the centre but I still find the distinctions subtle.

Hoplites shells have compressed, rectangular and trapezoidal whorl sections. They have pronounced umbilical bullae from which their prominent ribs branch out. The ends of the ribs can be both alternate or opposite. Some species have zigzagging ribs and these usually end thickened or raised into ventrolateral tubercles.

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

Photo Two: Hoplites maritimus from Sussex, UK. Bottom: Hoplites rudis from near Troyes, France. Collection of Mark O'Dell

Sunday, 21 June 2020

CADOCHAMOUSSETIA OF RUSSIA

Cadochamoussetia tschernyschewi 
A lovely chunky example of the macroconch, Cadochamoussetia tschernyschewi (Sokolov, 1912) from Jurassic, Lower Callovian, Elatmae Zone, Subpatruus Subzone, Stupachenkoi Horizon, Unzha River, Makarev-Manturovo, Kostroma Region, Russia.

This beautiful — fully Бомба — specimen is courtesy of Emil Black and one of the finest in his collection. It has a chunkiness that reminds me of the Cadoceras we find in the Pacific Northwest, particularly the macroconch Cadoceras comma from the Callovian Mysterious Creek Formation near Harrison Lake in British Columbia.

In the last decade, the Siberian zonal scale of the Callovian has been considerably revised because of new ammonite collections from the Callovian reference sections in Siberia. Species of Cadoceratinae thought of as exclusively European were recorded for the first time in Siberia. 

Both these newly recovered specimens and recent studies have considerably expanded our knowledge on the taxonomic composition of genera and species of Callovian ammonites and revision of the generic classification and stratigraphic position of genera and species of the family Cardioceratidae. The proposed Lower Callovian ammonite scale largely coincides with the East European scale and correlates with the scales of East Greenland, Arctic Canada, and Alaska (Kniazev et al., 2009, 2010, 2011, 2015; Nikitenko et al., 2013).

Cadochamoussetia tschernyschewi 
Jurassic deposits crop out on the right bank of the
Anabar River between the mouths of the Srednyaya
and Sodiemykha rivers, over a length of about 24 km.

During recent fieldwork at the Middle-Upper Jurassic of the Anabar River basin, a lovely representative ammonite collection was assembled, amongst which was the Early Callovian genus Cadochamoussetia (Mitta, 1996). 

Cadochamoussetia is widespread in East European sections but these beauties were the first recorded specimen of this chunky species from the Anabar.

The genus Cadochamoussetia (Mitta, 1996) was established in European Russian (Gerasimov et al., 1996) and later in England (Navarro et al., 2005).

In the lower Callovian of European Russia, beds with Cadochamoussetia were originally considered part of the Cadochamoussetia subpatruus upper subzone of the Cadoceras elatmae Zone (Mitta, 2000). 

In 2005 and 2009, proposals were made to move these beds from subzone to zone (Gulyaev, 2005, 2009). However, the Unified Regional Stratigraphic Scheme of Jurassic Deposits of the East European Platform (2012), suggested it remained a subzone. The Anabar section contains two species of Сadochamoussetia, which were used as the basis of the Сadochamoussetia tschernyschewi Zone.

In previous papers (Kniazev et al., 2010), considered the composition of the genus Cadoceras as it was interpreted in (Treatise, 1957). Several groups of species are now recognized within the genus: Cadoceras elatmae group, including C. frearsi, C. harveyi, C. sublaeve, including species widespread in the Arctic C. tolype, C. emelianzevi, C. septentrionale, C. durum, etc. Kniazev et al. proposed assigning a group of Bathonian species Catacadoceras laptievi, C. barnstoni, C. perrarum, C. subcatastoma, and C. nageli.

Photos: Cadochamoussetia tschernyschewi (12 cm) graciously shared by the deeply awesome of Emil Black. Спасибо, мой друг. Spasibo, moy drug!

References:

The Early Callovian genus Сadochamoussetia (Ammonoidea, Cardioceratidae) in the lower reaches of the Anabar River, Northern Central Siberia; Original Russian Text © V.G. Kniazev, S.V. Meledina, A.S. Alifirov, B.L. Nikitenko, 2017, published in Stratigrafiya, Geologicheskaya Korrelyatsiya, 2017, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 26–41.

Kniazev, V.G., Meledina, S.V., Alifirirov, A.S., and Kutygin, R.V., The Middle Callovian stage of evlution of Siberian cardioceratids, in Sovremennye problemy izucheniya golovonogikh mollyuskov. Morfologiya, sistematika, evolyutsiya, ekologiya i biostratigrafiya. Vyp. 4 (Current Problems in Study of Cephalopods: Morphology, Systematics, Evolution, Ecology, and Biostratigraphy. Iss. 4), Moscow: Paleontol. Inst. Ross. Akad. Nauk, 2015, pp. 40–45.

Meledina, S.V, Correlation of the Bajocian and Bathonian zones in light of new paleontological data, Stratigr. Geol. Correl., 2014, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 594–605.

Kniazev, V.G., Meledina, S.V., Alifirirov, A.S., and Kutygin, R.V., The Middle Callovian stage of evlution of Siberian cardioceratids, in Sovremennye problemy izucheniya golovonogikh mollyuskov. Morfologiya, sistematika, evolyutsiya, ekologiya i biostratigrafiya. Vyp. 

If you do not speak Russian that roughly translates to: Current Problems in Study of Cephalopods: Morphology, Systematics, Evolution, Ecology, and Biostratigraphy. Iss. 4, Moscow: Paleontol. Inst. Ross. Akad. Nauk, 2015, pp. 40–45.

Meledina, S.V, Correlation of the Bajocian and Bathonian zones in light of new paleontological data, Stratigr. Geol. Correl., 2014, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 594–605.

Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Pt. L. Mollusca 4, Cephalopoda, Ammonoidea, N.Y. Lawrence: Geol. Soc. Amer., Univ. Kansas Press, 1957, vol. 4. TSCreatorProvisualization of Enhanced Geologic Time Scale 2004 database (Vers. 6.2, 2014). http://www.tscreator. org, 2014.

Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Pt. L. Mollusca 4, Cephalopoda, Ammonoidea, N.Y. Lawrence: Geol. Soc. Amer., Univ. Kansas Press, 1957, vol. 4. TSCreatorProvisualization of Enhanced Geologic Time Scale 2004 database (Vers. 6.2, 2014). http://www.tscreator. org, 2014.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

KEUPPIA: UNCOVERING OCTOBRACHIA

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. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

CAUGHT AT THE SCENE: KOALA

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. They have pouches on their bellies where their newborns develop. Wee baby Koalas are called joeys. They are born blind and earless but use their strong sense of touch and smell to guide them instinctively up into their mother's pouch when they are born. They live in her pouch for about six months. 

When they are a little stronger and braver, they get curious, foraging about. They also like to ride on their mother's back until they are about a year old, seeing the world from the safety of Mamma. Adult Koalas love eucalyptus trees and spend their leisurely days eating and napping amongst the foliage.

Koalas are herbivorous, and while most of their diet consists of eucalyptus leaves, they can be found in trees of other genera, such as Acacia, Allocasuarina, Callitris, Leptospermum, and Melaleuca. Though the foliage of over 600 species of Eucalyptus is available, the koala shows a strong preference for around 30 of their tastier species. They tend to choose species that have high protein content and low proportions of fibre and lignin. The most favoured species are Eucalyptus microcorys, E. tereticornis, and E. camaldulensis, which, on average, make up more than 20% of their diet. 

Despite their reputation as fussy eaters, koala are much more generalist than some other marsupials and a lot less picky than the Greater gliders. Since eucalyptus leaves have a high water content, the koala does not need to drink often; its daily water turnover rate ranges from 71 to 91 ml/kg of body weight. 

Although females can meet their water requirements from eating leaves, larger males require additional water found on the ground or in tree hollows. When feeding, a koala holds onto a branch with hind paws and one forepaw while the other forepaw grasps foliage. Small koalas can move close to the end of a branch, but larger ones stay near the thicker bases. Koalas consume up to 400 grams (14 oz) of leaves a day, spread over four to six feeding sessions. Despite their adaptations to a low-energy lifestyle, they have meagre fat reserves and need to feed often.

Koalas are enviable lazy. Because they get so little energy from their diet, koalas must limit their energy use and sleep or rest 20 hours a day; They are predominantly active at night and spend most of their waking hours feeding. They typically eat and sleep in the same tree, possibly for as long as a day. On very hot days, a koala may climb down to the coolest part of the tree which is cooler than the surrounding air. The koala hugs the tree to lose heat without panting. 

On warm days, koala may bask in the sun with its back against a branch or lie on its stomach or back with its limbs dangling. If it gets chilly or wet, they may curl up into a tight ball to conserve energy. On windy days, a koala finds a lower, thicker branch on which to rest. While they spend most of the time in trees, koala come down to the ground to move to explore or change to another tree. Koala like to keep themselves tidy. They groom themselves with their hind paws, forepaws and mouth.

Interestingly, koala fingerprints are very similar to our own. Compared side by side, it would take a good detective to sort which species is which. In several adorable who-dun-it cases, their prints have been confused at crime scenes as that of the potential perpetrator. Close replies like gorillas and chimps have prints as well. What is even more amazing about koala prints is that they have evolved independently on the evolutionary stream. Primates and modern koalas' marsupial ancestors branched off way back, some 70 million years ago. It appears that the koala's fingerprints are a relatively recent evolutionary feature. Many of their closest relatives, the lovely wombats and kangaroos, do not have them.

Monday, 15 June 2020

IS THAT YOU, MAMMA?

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

PUFFIN ENJOYING A SNICK

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 to their geographic location and what's 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.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

JURASSIC SEA URCHIN

This lovely little biscuit is a Holectypus sea urchin from 120 million-year-old deposits from the Lagniro Formation of Madagascar.

Holectypus are a genus of extinct echinoids related to modern sea urchins and sand dollars. They were abundant from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous (between 200 million and 65.5 million years ago).

This specimen is typical of Holectypus with his delicate five-star pattern adorning a slightly rounded test and flattened bottom. The specimen has been polished and was harvested not for its scientific value but as a curiosity to be sold to rock shops and on sites such as eBay. The specimens from Madagascar are plentiful and often make their way into collections via this commercial route. Fossil fauna from Madagascar are diverse, plentiful and beautifully preserved.

In echinoids, the skeleton is almost always made up of tightly interlocking plates that form a rigid structure or test — in contrast with the more flexible skeletal arrangements of starfish, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers. Test shapes range from nearly globular, as in some sea urchins, to highly flattened, as in sand dollars. 

Living echinoids are covered with spines, which are movable and anchored in sockets in the test. These spines may be long and prominent, as in typical sea urchins and most have lovely raised patterns on their surface. 

I've popped a photo here to show you some of the detail. In sand dollars and heart urchins, however, the spines are very short and form an almost felt-like covering. The mouth of most echinoids is provided with five hard teeth arranged in a circlet, forming an apparatus known as Aristotle’s lantern.

Echinoids are classified by the symmetry of the test, the number and arrangement of plate rows making up the test, and the number and arrangement of respiratory pore rows called petals. Echinoids are divided into two subgroups: regular echinoids, with nearly perfect pentameral (five-part) symmetry; and irregular echinoids with altered symmetry.

Because most echinoids have rigid tests, their ability to fossilize is greater than that of more delicate echinoderms such as starfish, and they are common fossils in many deposits. The oldest echinoids belong to an extinct regular taxon called the Echinocystitoidea. They first appeared in the fossil record in the Late Ordovician. Cidaroids or pencil urchins appear in the Mississippian (Early Carboniferous) and were the only echinoids to survive the mass extinction at the Permo-Triassic boundary. Echinoids did not become particularly diverse until well after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. True sea urchins first appear in the Late Triassic, cassiduloids in the Jurassic, and spatangoids or heart urchins in the Cretaceous. Sand dollars, a common and diverse group today, do not make an appearance in the fossil record until the Paleocene.

Friday, 12 June 2020

OLENELLUS OF THE EAGER FORMATION

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

PORTUNOID CRAB

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

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

LEMURS OF MADAGASCAR

Lemurs are mammals of the order Primates, divided into 8 families and consisting of 15 genera and around 100 highly diverse species. They are native only to the island of Madagascar.

Most existing lemurs are small, have a pointed snout, large eyes, and a long tail. They are arboreal, living primarily in trees and nocturnal, preferring to be active at night.

Phylogenetic, genetic, and anatomical evidence all suggest that lemurs split from other primates on Africa around 62 million years ago and that the ancestral lemur lineage had dispersed to Madagascar by around 54 million years ago. Once on the island, the lemur lineage diversified. Now there are at least 50 species of lemur, all endemic to Madagascar.

The evolutionary and biogeographic processes experienced by the lemurs are not unusual. Madagascar is home to many groups of endemic organisms with close within-group relationships. The simplest — or most parsimonious — explanation for this pattern is that, like the lemurs, the groups first arrived on the island by dispersal as a single lineage and then rapidly diversified. This diversification was likely spurred on by other geologic and geographic characteristics of Madagascar.

The east coast of the island is lined with a mountain range — and this causes different parts of the island to get drastically different amounts of rain. Hence, the island is made of many different habitat types — from deserts to rainforests — that have shifted and changed over the past 88 million years. This likely provided many opportunities for subpopulations to become isolated and evolve traits for specializing in different niches. And that likely encouraged lineages to diversify.

Today, Madagascar is one of the most diverse places on Earth. Understanding where that diversity comes from requires understanding, not just the living world, but the geologic, geographic, and climactic histories that have shaped the evolution of lineages on the island. Now, human history in the making threatens to undo tens of millions of years of evolution in just a few years of political turmoil — unless safeguards can be put in place to protect Madagascar's unique biota from the instabilities of human institutions.

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: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/091001_madagascar

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.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

THE ELEPHANT BIRDS OF MADAGASCAR

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 - http://digimorph.org/specimens/Aepyornis_maximus/Aepyornis.phtml digimorph.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79655

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: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/091001_madagascar

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

URSUS CURIOUS

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.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

ELEPHANT SHREW

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.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

ANCIENT ARMADILLOS

Glyptodonts are the early ancestors of our modern armadillos that roamed North and South America during the Pleistocene. Armadillos have ranged in size from the size of an armoured car to the size of a small, family dog. It's quite a range and the more you move forward in time, the smaller they've become.

Glyptodonts became extinct at the end of the last ice age. They, along with a large number of other megafaunal species, including pampatheres, the giant ground sloths, and the Macrauchenia, left this Earth but their bones tell a story of brief and awesome supremacy.

Today, Glyptodonts live on through their much smaller, more lightly armoured and flexible armadillo relatives. They defended themselves against Sabre Tooth Cats and other predators but could not withstand the arrival of early humans in the Americas. Archaeological evidence suggests that these humans made use of the animal's armoured shells and enjoyed the meat therein. Glyptodonts possessed a tortoise-like body armour, made of bony deposits in their skin called osteoderms or scutes. Beneath that hard outer coating was a food source that our ancestors sought for their survival.

Each species of glyptodont had a unique osteoderm pattern and shell type. With this protection, they were armoured like turtles; glyptodonts could not withdraw their heads, but their armoured skin formed a bony cap on the top of their skull. Glyptodont tails had a ring of bones for protection. Doedicurus possessed a large mace-like spiked tail that it would have used to defend itself against predators and, possibly, other Doedicurus. Glyptodonts had the advantage of large size.

Many, such as the type genus, Glyptodon, were the size of modern automobiles. The presence of such heavy defences suggests they were the prey of a large, effective predator. At the time that glyptodonts evolved, the apex predators in the island continent of South America were phorusrhacids, a family of giant flightless carnivorous birds.

The ancient Armadillo Glyptodon asper
In physical appearance, glyptodonts superficially resembled the much earlier dinosaurian ankylosaurs and, to a lesser degree, the recently extinct giant meiolaniid turtles of Australia.

These are examples of the convergent evolution of unrelated lineages into similar forms. The largest glyptodonts could weigh up to 2,000 kilograms. Like most of the megafauna in the Americas, they all became extinct at the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. The deeper you get in time, the larger they were. Twenty thousand years ago, they could have ambled up beside you in what would become Argentina and outweighed a small car.

A few years back, some farmers found some interesting remains in a dried-out riverbed near Buenos Aires. The find generated a ton of palaeontological excitement. Fieldwork revealed this site to contain two adults and two younger specimens of an ancient armadillo. These car-size beasties would have been living and defending themselves against predators like Sabre Tooth Cats and other large predators of the time by employing their spiked club-like tails and thick bony armour.

Glyptodonts were unlikely warriors. They were grazing herbivores. Like many other xenarthrans, they had no incisor or canine teeth but had a number of cheek teeth that would have been able to grind up tough vegetation, such as grasses. They also had distinctively deep jaws, with large downward bony projections that would have anchored their powerful chewing muscle.

Image Two: By Arentderivative work: WolfmanSF (talk) -  http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Glyptodon-1.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=665483

Friday, 5 June 2020

STUPENDEMYS GEOGRAPHICUS: A COLOSSAL TURTLE

Freshwater turtles come in all shapes and sizes but one of the most interesting and massive of these is the now-extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus.

These aquatic beasties had shells almost three metres long (up to 9.5 feet) making it about a 100 times larger and sharing mixed traits with some of it's nearest living relatives — the giant South American River Turtle, Podocnemis expansa and Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle, Podocnemis unifilis, the Amazon river turtle, Peltocephalus dumerilianus, and twice that of the largest marine turtle, the leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea.

It was also larger than those huge Archelon turtles that lumbered along during the Late Cretaceous at a whopping 15 feet, just over 4.5 metres. Stupendemys geographicus lived during the Miocene in Venezuela and Columbia. South America is a treasure trove of unique fossil fauna.

Throughout its history, the region has been home to giant rodents and an amazing assortment of crocodylians. It was also home to one of the largest turtles that ever lived. But for many years, the biology and systematics of Stupendemys geographicus remained largely unknown. When we found them in the fossil record it is usually as bits and pieces of shell and bone; exciting finds but not enough for us to see the big picture.

Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez with Stupendemys geographicus
Back in 1994, several new shells and the first lower jaws of Stupendemys were found in the Urumaco region near Falcón State, Venezuela. The area is known to palaeontologists as a hotbed rich in well-preserved fossils. Fossil specimens of Stupendemys geographicus were first found here back in the 1970s by Harvard University researchers.

But for almost four decades, very few complete carapaces or other telltale fossils of Stupendemys were found in the region.

This excited Edwin Cadena, Paleontologist at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and researchers of the University of Zurich (UZH) and fellow researchers from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil. They had very good reason to believe that it was just a matter of time before more complete specimens were to be found. The area is a wonderful place to do fieldwork. It's an arid, desert locality without plant or forest coverage we see at other sites. Fossils weather out but do not wash away like they do at other sites.

Their efforts paid off and the fossils are marvellous. Shown here is Venezuelan Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez with a male carapace (showing the horns) of Stupendemys geographical. This is one of the 8 million-year-old specimens from Venezuela.

Rodolfo Sánchez with Stupendemys geographicus
The team collected the most recent finds from Urumaco and added them fossil specimens from La Tatacoa Desert in Colombia.

Together, they paint a much clearer picture of a large terrestrial turtle that varied its diet and had distinct differences between the males and females in their morphology. Cadena published in February of this year with his colleagues in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers grouped together from multiple sites to help create a better understanding of the biology, lifestyle and phylogenetic position of these gigantic neotropical turtles.

Their paper includes the reporting of the largest carapace ever recovered and argues for a sole giant erymnochelyin taxon, S. geographicus, with extensive geographical distribution in what was the Pebas and Acre systems — pan-Amazonia during the middle Miocene to late Miocene in northern South America).

This turtle was quite the beast with two lance-like horns and battle scars to show it could hold its own with the apex predators of the day.

They also hypothesize that S. geographicus exhibited sexual dimorphism in shell morphology, with horns in males and hornless females. From the carapace length of 2.40 metres, they estimate to total mass of these turtles to be up to 1.145 kg, almost 100 times the size of its closest living relative. The newly found fossil specimens greatly expand the size of these fellows and our understanding of their biology and place in the geologic record.

Their conclusions paint a picture of a single giant turtle species across the northern Neotropics, but with two shell morphotypes, further evidence of sexual dimorphism. These were tuff turtles to prey upon. Bite marks and punctured bones tell us that they faired well from what must have been frequent predatory interactions with large, 30 foot long (over 9 metres) Caimans — big, burly alligatorid crocodilians — that also inhabited the northern Neotropics and shared their roaming grounds. Even with their large size, they were a very tempting snack for these brutes but unrequited as it appears Stupendemys fought, won and lumbered away.

Image Two: Venezuelan Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of Stupendemys geographicus, from Venezuela, found in 8 million years old deposits. Photo credit: Jorge Carrillo

Image Three: Venezuelan Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of Stupendemys geographicus, from Venezuela, found in 8 million years old deposits. Photo credit: Edwin Cadena

Reference: E-A. Cadena, T. M. Scheyer, J. D. Carrillo-Briceño, R. Sánchez, O. A Aguilera-Socorro, A. Vanegas, M. Pardo, D. M. Hansen, M. R. Sánchez-Villagra. The anatomy, paleobiology and evolutionary relationships of the largest side-necked extinct turtle. Science Advances. 12 February 2020. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay4593