Friday, 30 April 2021

ANAHOPLITES PLANUS OF FRANCE

A beautiful specimen of the ammonite, Anahoplites planus (Mantell, 1822) from Albian deposits in Villemoyenne Quarry, Courcelles, Aube, north-central France. Anahoplites (Hyatt, 1900) is a genus of compressed hoplitid ammonites with flat sides, narrow, flat or grooved venters, and flexious ribs or striae arising from weak umbilical tubercles that end in fine dense ventrolateral nodes.

This lovely has attracted some roommates — an oyster, some bryozoans and worm tubes are attached to her shell.

Anahoplites is now included in the subfamily Anahoplitinae and separated from the Hoplitinae where it was placed in the older in the 1957 edition of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part L (Ammonoidea). Genera of the Hoplitinae tend to be more robust, with broader whorls and stronger ribs.

Anahoplites is found in Cretaceous (Middle to the Late Albian) deposits from England, through Europe, all the way to the Transcaspian Oblast region in Russia to the east of the Caspian Sea. The Aube department, named after the local river, is the type locality of the Albian stage (d'ORBIGNY, 1842). 

A. planus from the French Coast
Two formations are recognized in the clay facies (the "Gault" auct.) of the stratotype, the Argiles tégulines de Courcelles (82 m), overlain by the Marnes de Brienne (43 m). The boundary between the two formations is well-defined at the top of an indurated bed and readily identifiable in the field.

This involute (113 mm) specimen shows evidence of cohabitation by some of his marine peers. We see two different bryozoa, an oyster and some serpulids making a living and leaving trace fossils on her flat sides. The top specimen was prepared with potase by José Juárez Ruiz of Spain. 

The lovely Anahoplites planus you see here to the lower right was found by Bertus op den Dries on the French coast in Albian deposits near Wissant, P5 and measures in at 8 cm. This on edge view gives you a very good sense of the keel.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

ANCIENT OCTOPUS: KEUPPIA

An adorable example of Keuppia levante (Fuchs, Bracchi & Weis, 2009), an extinct genus of octopus that swam our ancient seas back in the Cretaceous. The dark black and brown area you see here is his ink sac which has been preserved for a remarkable 95 million years.

This cutie 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 northwestern 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 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 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 into two parts 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 about 5 cm long.

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 one: Fossil Huntress. Figure Two: Topographic map of north‐western Lebanon with the outcrop area in the upper right-hand corner. Fuchs et al, 2009.  

Monday, 26 April 2021

SAURAVUS: SAURAVUS COSTEI

The type species of Sauravus, Sauravus costei, is known from Blanzy, a town in the Saône-et-Loire department of France. 

This town and its adjacent community Montceau-les-Mines possess containing abundant Carboniferous fossils. These fossils are believed to have been from the Stephanian B stage of the Late Carboniferous, approximately 305 to 304 million years ago.

Sauravus cambrayi is known from Les Télots, a mine near Autun, Saône-et-Loire, France. 

Télots is the type locality of the Autunian stage, a period of time which is believed to correspond to part of the early Permian period. The geological formation to which Télots fossils belong is known as the Millery Formation. 

The specific part of the Permian to which this formation belongs to was unclear for many years. In 2014, Schneider et al. suggested that the Millery Formation dated to the middle Artinskian age, about 290 to 286 million years ago.

Sauravus spinosus is a rename of Scincosaurus spinosus, a Montceau-les-Mines scincosaurid described by C. Civet in 1982. Although that author considered the species to belong to Scincosaurus, in 1994 Jean-Michel Dutuit and D. Heyler believed considered it a species of Sauravus.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

CHARIOCRINUS: FRANCE

Chariocrinus andrae, Collection: David Appleton
Crinoids are one of my favourite echinoderms. It is magical when all the elements come together to preserve a particularly lovely specimen in such glorious detail. 

This impressive block, chock full of lovely, well-preserved specimens of the crinoid, Chariocrinus andrae, hails from Bathonian outcrops in Beaune, Saône-et-Loire in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region of central-eastern France. They are intertwined to cover most of the surface area of the citrus coloured matrix. 

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

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

Then there are other varieties that are free-swimming with only vestigial stalks. They make up the majority of this group and are commonly known as feather stars or comatulids. 

Unlike the sea lilies, the feather stars can move about on tiny hook-like structures called cirri. It is these same cirri that allow crinoids to latch to surfaces on the seafloor. Like other echinoderms, crinoids have pentaradial symmetry. The aboral surface of the body is studded with plates of calcium carbonate, forming an endoskeleton similar to that in starfish and sea urchins.

These make the calyx somewhat cup-shaped, and there are few, if any, ossicles in the oral (upper) surface, an area we call the tegmen. It is divided into five ambulacral areas, including a deep groove from which the tube feet project, and five interambulacral areas between them. 

Crinoids are alive and well today. They are also some of the oldest fossils on the planet. We have lovely fossil specimens dating back to the Ordovician — if one ignores the enigmatic Echmatocrinus of the Burgess Shale. And they can be quite plentiful. Crinoid fossils, and in particular disarticulated crinoid columnals, can be so abundant that they at times serve as the primary supporting clasts in sedimentary rocks

This beautiful 7" x 6" piece was photographed in natural sunlight to help show off the amazing detail. Photo and collection of the deeply awesome David Appleton.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

DELGADOCRINUS OPORTOVINUM

This exceptionally well-preserved crinoid, Delgadocrinus oportovinum, was found on October 11, 1905, by Nery Delgado during his work mapping the geology and paleontology of Portugal.

His find resulted in the creation of a new family, Delgadocrinoinidae, a new genus and a new species.

Ausich et al. published on New and Revised Occurrences of Ordovician Crinoids from Southwestern Europe in the Journal of Paleontology, November 2007. In their work, they honour Delgado. His find was the first record of an Ordovician crinoid from Portugal, Delgadocrinus oportovinum, marking it as the oldest known crinoid from the Iberian Peninsula, Arenigian/Oretanian boundary, early Darriwilian.

The team took a comprehensive look at the Ordovician crinoids of southwestern Europe, including taxa based on articulated crowns and stems. This summary incorporates new material, new localities, and a revision of some southwestern Europe occurrences and is well worth a read. The Type Specimen you see here is now housed in the Natural History Museum of Lisbon. Luis Lima shared a photo of his recent visit to their beautiful collections and kindly granted permission to share the photo.

Reference: Ausich, William & Sá, Artur & Gutiérrez-Marco, Juan. (2007). New and revised occurrences of Ordovician crinoids from southwestern Europe. Journal of Paleontology - J PALEONTOL. 81. 1374-1383. 10.1666/05-038.1.

Friday, 23 April 2021

UNRAVELLING THE CARNIAN-NORIAN BOUNDARY

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in central Nevada is an important locality for our understanding of the Carnian-Norian boundary (CNB) in North America.

The area is also known worldwide as one of the most important ichthyosaur Fossil-Lagerstätte because of the sheer volume of remarkably well-preserved, fully articulated specimens of Shonisaurus popularis.

Rich ammonoid faunas outcrop in the Upper Triassic (Early Norian, Kerri zone), Luning Formation, West Union Canyon, Nevada. They were studied by N. J. Silberling (1959) and provide support for the definition of the Schucherti and Macrolobatus zones of the latest Carnian — which are here overlain by well-preserved faunas of the earliest Norian Kerri Zone. 

The genus Gonionotites, very common in the Tethys and British Columbia, is for the moment, unknown in Nevada. The Upper Carnian faunas are dominated by Tropitidae, while Juvavitidae are conspicuously lacking. 

Middle Triassic Ammonoids
Despite its importance, no further investigations had been done at this site for a good 50 years. That changed in 2010 when Jim Haggart, Mike Orchard and Paul Smith — all local Vancouverites — collaborated on a project that took them down to Nevada to look at the conodonts and ammonoids. They did a bed-by-bed sampling of ammonoids and conodonts in West Union Canyon during October of that year.

October is an ideal time to do fieldwork in this area. There are a few good weeks between screaming hot and frigid cold. It is also tarantula breeding season so keep your eyes peeled. Those sweet little burrows you see are not from rodents but rather largish arachnids. 

The eastern side of the canyon provides the best record of the Macrolobatus Zone, which is represented by several beds yielding ammonoids of the Tropites group, together with Anatropites div. sp. 

Conodont faunas from both these and higher beds are dominated by ornate metapolygnthids that would formerly have been collectively referred to Metapolygnathus primitius, a species long known to straddle the CNB. Within this lower part of the section, they resemble forms that have been separated as Metapolygnathus mersinensis. Slightly higher, forms close to Epigondolella' orchardi and a single Orchardella n. sp. occur. This association can be correlated with the latest Carnian in British Columbia.

Higher in the section, the ammonoid fauna shows a sudden change and is dominated by Tropithisbites. Few tens of metres above, but slightly below the first occurrence of Norian ammonoids Guembelites jandianus and Stikinoceras, two new species of conodonts (Gen et sp. nov. A and B) appear that also occur close to the favoured Carnian/Norian boundary at Black Bear Ridge, British Columbia. Stratigraphically higher collections continue to be dominated by forms close to M. mersinensis and E. orchardi after BC's own Mike Orchard.

The best exposure of the Kerri Zone is on the western side of the West Union Canyon. Ammonoids, dominated by Guembelites and Stikinoceras div. sp., have been collected from several fossil-bearing levels. Conodont faunas replicate those of the east section. The collected ammonoids fit perfectly well with the faunas described by Silberling in 1959, but they differ somewhat from coeval faunas of the Tethys and Canada. 

The ammonoid fauna paints a compelling picture of Tethyan influence with a series of smoking guns. We see an abundance of Tropitidae in the Carnian, a lack of Pterosirenites in the Norian, copious Guembelites, the Tethyan species G. philostrati, the stratigraphic position of G. clavatus and the rare occurrence of Gonionotites. Their hallelujah moment was likely finding an undescribed species of the thin-shelled bivalve Halobia similar to Halobia beyrichi — the clincher that perhaps seals this deal on Tethyan influence. 

I'll take a boo to see what Christopher McRoberts published on the find. A jolly good idea to have him on this expedition as it would have been easy to overlook if the focus remained solely on the conodonts and ammonoids. McRoberts has published on the much-studied Pardonet Formation up in the Willison Lake Area of Northeastern, British Columbia. He knows a thing or two about Upper Triassic Bivalvia and the correlation to coeval faunas elsewhere in the North American Cordillera, and to the Boreal, Panthalassan and Tethyan faunal realms. 

If you fancy a read, they published a paper: "Towards the definition of the Carnian/Norian Boundary: New data on Ammonoids and Conodonts from central Nevada," which you can find in the proceedings of the 21st Canadian Paleontology Conference; by Haggart, J W (ed.); Smith, P L (ed.); Canadian Paleontology Conference Proceedings no. 9, 2011 p. 9-10.

Fig. 1. Location map of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Marco Balini, James Jenks, Riccardo Martin, Christopher McRoberts, along with Mike Orchard and Norman Siberling, did a bed by bed sampling in 2013 and published on The Carnian/Norian boundary succession at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (Upper Triassic, central Nevada, USA) and published in January 2014 in Paläontologische Zeitschrift 89:399–433. That work is available for download from ResearchGate. The original is in German, but there is a translation available.

After years of reading about the correlation between British Columbia and Nevada, I had the very great pleasure of walking through these same sections in October 2019 with members of the Vancouver Paleontological Society and Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society. It was with that same crew that I'd originally explored fossil sites in the Canadian Rockies in the early 2000s. Those early trips led to paper after paper and the exciting revelations that inspired our Nevada adventure.

If you plan your own adventure, you'll want to keep an eye out for some of the other modern fauna — mountain lions, snakes, lizards, scorpions, wolves, coyotes, foxes, ground squirrels, rabbits, falcons, hawks, eagles, bobcats, sheep, deer and pronghorns.

Figure One: Location map of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. A detailed road log with access information for this locality is provided in Lucas et al. (2007).

SHORE CRAB: CARCINUS MAENAS

European Green Shore Crab / Carcinus maenas
The adaptable European Green Shore Crab, Carcinus maenas, lives in a wide range of environments from fully marine to brackish estuaries.

They make a living off the seafloor, dining on worms, molluscs, small crustaceans and any number of bits and pieces that fall their way.

Shore Crabs are euryhaline, meaning they can tolerate a wide range of salinities (4 to 52 %), and survive in temperatures of zero to 30 °C (32 to 86 °F).

This adaptability gives them a very wide range and competitive edge. This fellow is from the chilly waters of central Norway. The ability to eat pretty near anything and survive in extremely cold climates means he'll do quite well beneath the ice this winter.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

CEPHALOPODS OF HALLSTATT

This beautiful slab of well-preserved Triassic, Carnian, upper Tuvalian ammonoids hails limestone outcrops near the salt-mining town of Hallstatt, Salzburgerland, Austria.

This area of the world boasts one of the richest deposits of Triassic ammonite units — more than five hundred magnificent ammonite species are found here along with a diversified selection of cephalopod fauna  — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves (including lovely halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals. For microfauna, we see conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and holothurian sclerites —  polyp-like, soft-bodied "wormy" invertebrate echinozoans. On the left, you can see two specimens of Jovites bosniensis MOJS. The ammonoid in the middle of the plate is Juvavites sp. The right side of the block shows two Hypocladiscites subtornatus MOJS.

The larger specimen (15cm) is a phragmocone. Within its badly crushed body chamber (removed during prep) there are two washed in specimens of Disotropites plinii (MOJS.) You can see them visible in the side view on the top right. The Disotropites plinii subzone is the lower ammonoid subzone of the Tuvalian III.

The second picture here shows Hypocladiscites subtornatus from when it was first described as Arcestes subtornatus, in Mojs, 1873.

In the North American literature (after Tim Tozer) the Tuvalian is split into three Zones; starting with the Dilleri Zone, then the Welleri Zone and finally the Macrolobatus Zone on the very top.

The Dilleri zone is characterized by the rise of the genus Tropites sp. together with later members of the genus Neoprotrachyceras sp.

In the Welleri zone, Neoprotrachyceras sp. disappears and Tropites becomes a very common faunal element. The Macrolobatus zone is named after Klamathites macrolobatus, an endemic ammonite of the North American strata. Other genera of this zone are comparable to the time frame of the latest Tuvalian and the earliest Norian of the Alps. In the Hallstatt (Tethys) realm the following Division is made:

Dilleri Zone= Tuvalian I (literature gives little evidence for this zone). Subbullatus Zone = Tuvalian II — corresponding in most parts to the North American Welleri Zone. These are followed by the Anatropites Zone or Tuvalian III — corresponding in part to the North American Macrolobatus Zone.

In the Alps, the strata are divided between Tuvalian II and Tuvalian III. It is up for debate if all three North American zones can be included in these two alpine zones. It has been postulated by Spatzenegger that there is little evidence for a time gap in the lower Tuvalian of the Alpine strata.

Discotropites sandlingense is in the North America zone — a clear Dilleri faunal element. In the Alps, it is ranged into Tuvalian II (Welleri Zone). The same is true for the genus Traskites sp. — corresponding to alpine Sandlingites sp. Some ammonites of the upper part of the Macrolobatus zone are also placed within the alpine Norian stage. The correlation between the North American and Alpine zones is problematic and matching up the Tuvalian fauna is a tricky business.

Sirenites sp., Upper Triassic, Lower Carnian Julian Zone
Tuvalian 1 is recognizable in the Alps by the composition of the faunal spectrum — the quantity of some special genera. We see more of some, less of others, and this gives us a general sense of time.

In some strata, Trachysagenites sp. Sagenites inermis, Sandlingites sp. occur frequently together, with scarce Tropites sp. and Sirenites sp. and (very rarely) Neoprotrachyceras cf. thyrae.

The transition from Tuvalian to the Norian is confirmed only in one location in the Hallstatt limestone. Clustered onto blocks, the ammonoids show us the faunal mix and allow us to place them in time. The bedded profile of Tuvalian fauna (which is overlain by a Norian fauna) hails from the Feuerkogel near Hallstatt. Here we also find the lower transition of Julian to Tuvalian. Not far from this site are limestone outcrops that show the transition between the Carnian and Norian. Here the latest Tuvalian and lowermost Norian are confirmed only by the microfossil fauna.

The Hallstatt Limestone is the world's richest Triassic ammonite unit, yielding specimens of more than 500 ammonite species. Along with diversified cephalopod fauna — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves (esp. halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals.

Along with an amazing assortment of macrofossils, we see microfauna that are incredibly helpful in teasing out the geologic history of the area. Fossil conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and the bizarre holothurian sclerites — polyp-like, soft-bodied invertebrate echinozoans often referred to as sea cucumbers because of their similarities in size, elongate shape, and tough skin over a soft interior — can be found here.

Eduard Suess, Gondwana / Tethys Sea
Franz Ritter von Hauer’s exhaustive 1846 tome describing Hallstatt ammonites inspired renowned Austrian geologist Eduard Suess’s detailed study of the area’s Mesozoic history.

That work was instrumental in Suess being the first person to recognize the supercontinent of Gondwana (proposed in 1861) and the existence of the Tethys Sea, which he named in 1893 after the sister of Oceanus, the Greek god of the ocean.

Suess Land in Greenland, as well as the lunar crater Suess and Suess crater on Mars, are named after him.

The Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean was one such back-arc basin. As it continued to expand and deepen during the Triassic, evaporation ceased and reefs flourished; thick limestone deposits accumulated atop the salt. When the Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean closed in the Late Jurassic, the compression squeezed the low-density salt into a diapir that rose buoyantly, injecting itself into the Triassic limestones above.

This area has a rich and interesting geological and human history. I'm sure more studies will be done on the fossil marine fauna to untangle and standardize the Carnian subdivisions. For now, we'll muddle along with regional stratigraphies employing a two-substage subdivision, the Julian and Tuvalian. Others will continue to employ a three-substage organization of the stage: Cordevolian, Julian and Tuvalian. 

As I've pieced together this interesting Tuvalian tale, I have to thank Andreas Spatzenegger from Salzburg, Austria for his insights, work and amazing photos of the area. Kudos to you, my friends. I'd be mesmerized but still well confused about the Carnian subdivisions if not for you!

The genus Hypocladiscites ranges from the base Carnian to the lower Norian stage of the Upper Triassic. Photos and collection of the deeply awesome Andreas Spatzenegger of Salzburg, Austria.

Superfamilia: Arcestaceae MOJSISOVICS, 1875; Familia: Cladiscitidae ZITTEL, 1884; Subfamilia: Cladiscites GAMSJÄGER, 1982; Genus: Hypocladiscites MOJSISOVICS, 1896

Photo: A spectacular example of Sirenites sp., Upper Triassic, Lower Carnian, Julian Zone of Trachyceras aonoides. From Hallstatt Limestone of Austria. This specimen is about 5cm. Photo and collection of the deeply awesome Andreas Spatzenegger.

Photo: Eduard Suess (1831–1914), lithograph by Josef Kriehuber (1800–1876) c. 1869 by Josef Kriehuber - File:Eduard Sueß.jpg (cropped), Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31526345

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

TRIASSIC EPIGYMNITES OF HALLSTATT

Epigymnites arthaberi (MOJS.) and Epigymnites moelleri (MOJS.) Photo: Andreas
It was the Austrian geologist, Alexander Bittner, a contemporary of Mojsisovics, who introduced the term Ladinian into literature. 

The name Ladinian was chosen by Bittner after the Ladinian folk of the Southern Alps/Dolomites. At the time, this area was part of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy with its capital in Vienna. The “Vienna school” of thinking dominated the palaeontology institutions there at the time.

Bittner's introduction of the name Ladinian arose from his recognition of many of the false assumptions of Mojsisovics — assumptions which led to misguided views regarding the ammonoid zones within the Norian timescale well into the 20th century. It was the lovely Tim Tozer who took the time to correct these long lasting errors through his work teasing out the North American Triassic timescale. Tozer used North American, mainly Canadian Triassic ammonoid locations as the basis for his work. Once complete, a correlation with the European Triassic timescale was finally realized.


 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

HALLSTATT LIMESTONE AND SALT

Hallstatt Salt Mines, Austria / Permian Salt Diapir
The Hallstatt Limestone is the world's richest Triassic ammonite unit, yielding specimens of more than 500 ammonite species.

Along with diversified cephalopod fauna  — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves, especially the late Triassic pteriid bivalve Halobia (the halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals. We also see a lovely selection of microfauna represented. 

For microfauna, we see conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and holothurian sclerites —  polyp-like, soft-bodied invertebrate echinozoans often referred to as sea cucumbers because of their similarities in size, elongate shape, and tough skin over a soft interior. 

Franz von Hauer’s exhaustive 1846 tome describing Hallstatt ammonites inspired renowned Austrian geologist Eduard Suess’s detailed study of the area’s Mesozoic history. That work was instrumental in Suess being the first person to recognize the former existence of the Tethys Sea, which he named in 1893 after the sister of Oceanus, the Greek god of the ocean. As part of the Northern Limestone Alps, the Dachstein rock mass, or Hoher Dachstein, is one of the large karstic mountains of Austria and the second-highest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps. It borders Upper Austria and Styria in central Austria and is the highest point in each of those states.

Parts of the massif also lie in the state of Salzburg, leading to the mountain being referred to as the Drei-Länder-Berg or three-state mountain. Seen from the north, the Dachstein massif is dominated by the glaciers with the rocky summits rising beyond them. By contrast, to the south, the mountain drops almost vertically to the valley floor. The karst limestones and dolomites were deposited in our Mesozoic seas. The geology of the Dachstein massif is dominated by the Dachstein-Kalk Formation — the Dachstein limestone — which dates back to the Triassic.

Hallstatt and the Hallstatt Sea, Austria
There were several phases of mountain building in this part of the world pushing the limestone deposits 3,000 metres above current sea level. The rock strata were originally deposited horizontally, then shifted, broken up and reshaped by the erosive forces of ice ages and erosion.

The Hallstatt mine exploits a Permian salt diapir that makes up some of this area’s oldest rock. 

The salt accumulated by evaporation in the newly opened, and hence shallow, Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean. This was one of several small ocean basins that formed in what is now Europe during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic when the world’s landmasses were welded together to form the supercontinent Pangea. 

Pangea was shaped like a crescent moon that cradled the famous Tethys Sea. Subduction of Tethyian oceanic crust caused several slivers of continental crust to separate from Pangea, forming new “back-arc basins” (small oceans formed by rifting that is associated with nearby subduction) between the supercontinent and the newly rifted ribbon continents.

The Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean was one such back-arc basin. As it continued to expand and deepen during the Triassic, evaporation ceased and reefs flourished; thick limestone deposits accumulated atop the salt. When the Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean closed in the Late Jurassic, the compression squeezed the low-density salt into a diapir that rose buoyantly, injecting itself into the Triassic limestones above.

The Hallstatt salt diapir and its overlying limestone cap came to rest in their present position in the northern Austrian Alps when they were shoved northward as nappes (thrust sheets) during two separate collision events, one in the Cretaceous and one in the Eocene, that created the modern Alps. It is from the Hallstatt salt diapir that Hallstatt, like so many cities and towns, gets its name.

Deposits of rock salt or halite, the mineral name of sodium chloride with the chemical formula of NaCl, are found and mined around the globe. These deposits mark the dried remains of ancient oceans and seas. Names of rivers, towns and cities in Europe — Salzburg, Halle, Hallstatt, Hallein, La Salle, Moselle — all pay homage to their connection to halite and salt production. The Greek word for salt is hals and the Latin is sal. The Turkish name for salt is Tuz, which we see in the naming of Tuzla, a salt-producing region of northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the names of towns that dot the coast of Turkey where it meets the Black Sea. Hallstatt with its salt diapir is no exception.

The salt-named town of Hallstatt sits on the shores of the idyllic Hallstätter Sea at the base of the Dachstein massif. Visiting it today, you experience a quaint traditional fishing village built in the typical upper Austrian style. Tourism drives the economy as much as salt as this area of the world is picture-perfect from every angle.

Space is at a minimum in the town. For centuries, every ten years the local cemetery exhumes the bones of those buried there and moves them to an ossuary to make room for new burials. The Hallstatt Ossuary is called Karner, Charnel House, or simply Beinhaus (Bone House). Karners are places of secondary burials. They were once common in the Eastern Alps, but that custom has largely disappeared.

Hallstatt Beinhaus Ossuary, Hallstatt, Austria
A collection of over 700 elaborately decorated skulls rest inside the ossuary. They are lined up on rows of wooden shelves that grace the walls of the chapel. Another 500 undecorated skulls, bare and without any kind of adornment, are stacked in the corners.

Each is inscribed and attached to a record with the deceased's name, profession and date of death. The Bone House is located in a chapel in the basement of the Church of Saint Michael. The church dates from the 12th century CE. 

Decorating the skulls was traditionally the job of the local gravedigger and an honour granted to very few. At the family's request, garlands of flowers were painted on the skulls of deceased as decorative crowns if they were female. The skulls of men and boys were painted wreaths of oak or ivy.

Every building in Hallstatt looks out over the Hallstätter Sea. This beautiful mountain lake considered one of the finest of Austria's Salzkammergut region. It lies at the northern foot of the Dachstein mountain range, sitting eight-and-a-half kilometres long and two kilometres wide. The shoreline is dotted by the villages of  Obertraun, Steeg, and Hallstatt.

The region is habitat to a variety of diverse flora and fauna, including many rare species such as native orchids, in the wetlands and moors in the south and north.

Linked by road to the cities of Salzburg and Graz, Hallstatt and its lake were declared one of the World Heritage sites in Austria in 1997 and included in the Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut Alpine UNESCO World Heritage Site. The little market village of Hallstatt takes its name from the local salt mine.

Hallstatt, Salzkammergut region, Austria
The town is a popular tourist destination with its quaint shops and terraced cafes. In the centre of town, the 19th-century Evangelical Church of Hallstatt with its tall, slender spire is a lakeside landmark. You can see it here in the photo on the left.

Above the town are the Hallstatt Salt mines located within the 1,030-meter-tall Salzburg Salt Mountain. They are accessible by cable car or a three-minute journey aboard the funicular railway. There is also a wonderful Subterranean Salt Lake.

In 1734, there was a corpse found here preserved in salt. The fellow became known as the Man in Salt. Though no archaeological analysis was performed at the time — the mummy was respectfully reburied in the Hallstatt cemetery — based on descriptions in the mine records, archaeologists suspect the miner lived during the Iron Age. This Old Father, Senos ph₂tḗr, 'ɸatīr 'father' may have been a local farmer, metal-worker, or both and chatted with his friends and family in Celtic or Proto-Celtic.

Salt mining in the area dates back to the Neolithic period, from the 8th to 5th Centuries BC. This is around the time that Roman legions were withdrawing from Britain and the Goths sacked Rome. In Austria, agricultural settlements were dotting the landscape and the alpine regions were being explored and settled for their easy access to valuable salt, chert and other raw materials.

The salt-rich mountains of Salzkammergut and the upland valley above Hallstatt were attractive for this reason. The area was once home to the Hallstatt culture, an archaeological group linked to Proto-Celtic and early Celtic people of the Early Iron Age in Europe, c.800–450 BC.
Bronze Age vessel with cow and calf

In the 19th century, a burial site was discovered with 2,000 individuals, many of them buried with Bronze Age artefacts of amber and ivory.

It was this find that helped lend the name Hallstatt to this epoch of human history. The Late Iron Age, between around 800 and 400 BC, became known as the Hallstatt Period.

For its rich history, natural beauty and breathtaking mountainous geology, Hallstatt is a truly irresistible corner of the world.

Salzbergstraße 1, 4830 Hallstatt.  https://www.salzwelten.at/en/home/

Photo: Bronze vessel with cow and calf, Hallstatt by Alice Schumacher - Naturhistorisches Museum Wien - A. Kern – K. Kowarik – A. W. Rausch – H. Reschreiter, Salz-Reich. 7000 Jahre Hallstatt, VPA 2 (Wien, 2008) Seite 133 Abbildung 6. Hallstatt Village & Ossuary Photos: P. McClure Photography ca. 2015.

Bernoulli D, Jenkyns HC (1974) Alpine, Mediterranean, and Central Atlantic Mesozoic facies in relation to the early evolution of the Tethys. Soc Econ Paleont Mineral Spec Publ 19:129–160

Bernoulli D, Jenkyns H (2009) Ancient oceans and continental margins of the Alpine-Mediterranean Tethys: deciphering clues from Mesozoic pelagic sediments and ophiolites. Sedimentology 56:149–190

Monday, 19 April 2021

Sunday, 18 April 2021

INDOSPHINCTES OF RUSSIA

Stunning preservation on this lovely microconch of the ammonite, Indosphinctes (Elatmites) aff. submutatus (Nikitin, 1881), from Jurassic, Middle Callovian outcrops of the Kosmoceras jason zone near the Oka River. The exposures are near the city of Elatma in the Ryazan Region of central Russia. 

This specimen is 70 mm at the widest part of the ammonite and is the smaller male form of this species. 

Ryazan Oblast borders Vladimir Oblast (N), Nizhny Novgorod Oblast (NE), the Republic of Mordovia (E), Penza Oblast (SE), Tambov Oblast (S), Lipetsk Oblast (SW), Tula Oblast (W), and Moscow Oblast (NW).

Ryazan Oblast lies in the central part of the Russian Plain between the Central Russian and Volga uplands. The terrain is flat — with the highest point being no more than 300 m above sea level. The soils here are podzolic and boggy on the banks of the Oka. further to the south, they become more fertile with podzolic and leached black earth. This specimen is in the collection of the deeply awesome Emil Black. 

Saturday, 17 April 2021

DORSOPLANITES: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Golden light shines on the ammonite, Dorsoplanites dorsoplanus (Vischniakoff, 1882), Upper Jurassic, Volgian Stage, Panderi Zone. If you wanted to visit this beauty today, she is in the collections of the deeply awesome Emil Black. 

If you wanted to travel to the outcrop where she was found, you would want to head to eastern Europe then search through the rock dumps along the new subway in the city of Moscow along the Moskva River in Central Russia.

Eight biohorizons, four of which were previously distinguished in Central Poland and four new ones have been identified as — contradictionis, pommerania, kuteki, and pilicensis, — were identified in the Dorsoplanites panderi zone of the Upper Jurassic Middle Volgian Substage of the European part of Russia on the basis of the succession of ammonites of the Zaraiskites genus. If that sounds like Greek to you, no worries. Just know that they are actively being studied and those geeking out on the finds are happy as clams.

The peculiarities of variations of the ammonite complexes in space and time testify to the stepwise warming during the Panderi Chron and the occurrence of the significant latitudinal temperature gradient in the Middle Russian Sea. Collection & photo of the awesome Emil Black. 

Thursday, 15 April 2021

DECAPODA: CHITIN

Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the Phylum Arthropoda. They inhabit all the world's oceans, sandy beaches, many of our freshwater lakes and streams, and a few prefer to live in forests.

Crabs build their shells from highly mineralized chitin — and chitin gets around. It is the main structural component of the exoskeletons of many of our crustacean and insect friends. Shrimp, crab, and lobster all use it to build their exoskeletons.

Chitin is a polysaccharide — a large molecule made of many smaller monosaccharides or simple sugars, like glucose. It's handy stuff, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers. Chitin is actually the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose. It is interesting as we usually think of these molecules in the context of their sugary context but they build many other very useful things in nature — not the least of these are the hard shells or exoskeletons of our crustacean friends.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

OH PFEILSCHWANZKREBS!

I was thinking this week about horseshoe crabs. David Appleton shared a lovely trackway earlier this week that may very well record the ancient route of one of these classic living fossils. 

Horseshoe crabs are marine and brackish water arthropods of the order Xiphosura — a slowly evolving, conservative taxa.

Much like (slow) Water Striders (Aquarius remigis), (relatively sluggish) Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) and (the current winner on really slow evolution) Elephant Sharks (Callorhinchus milii), these fellows have a long history in the fossil record with very few anatomical changes. But slow change provides loads of great information. It makes our new friend, Yunnanolimulus luoingensis, an especially interesting and excellent reference point for how this group evolved. We can examine their genome today and make comparisons all the way back to the Middle Triassic (with this new find) and other specimens from further back in the Ordovician.

The evolution of their exoskeleton is well-documented by fossils, but appendage and soft-tissue preservation are extremely rare. A new study analyzes details of the appendage and soft-tissue preservation in Yunnanolimulus luoingensis, a Middle Triassic (ca. 244 million years old) horseshoe crab from Yunnan Province, SW China. The remarkable anatomical preservation includes the chelicerae, five pairs of walking appendages, opisthosomal appendages with book gills, muscles, and fine setae permits comparison with extant horseshoe crabs.

The close anatomical similarity between the Middle Triassic horseshoe crabs and their recent analogues documents anatomical conservatism for over 240 million years, suggesting persistence of lifestyle.

The occurrence of Carcinoscorpius-type claspers on the first and second walking legs in male individuals of Y. luoingensis indicates that simple chelate claspers in males are plesiomorphic for horseshoe crabs, and the bulbous claspers in Tachypleus and Limulus are derived.

As an aside, if you hadn't seen an elephant shark before and were shown a photo, you'd likely say, "that's no freaking shark." You would be wrong, of course, but it would be a very clever observation. Callorhinchus milii look nothing like our Great White friends and they are not true sharks at all. Rather, they are ghost sharks that belong to the subclass Holocephali (chimaera), a group lovingly known as ratfish. They diverged from the shark lineage about 400 million years ago.

If you have a moment, do a search for Callorhinchus milii. The odd-looking fellow with the ironic name, kallos, which means beautiful in Greek, sports black blotches on a pale silver elongate body. And their special feature? It is the fishy equivalent of business in the front, party in the back, with a dangling trunk-like projection at the tip of their snout and well-developed rectal glands near the tail.

As another small point of interest with regards to horseshoe crabs, John McAllister collected several of these while working on his MSc to see if they had microstructures similar to trilobites (they do) and whether their cuticles were likewise calcified. He found no real calcification in their cuticles, in fact, he had a rather frustrating time getting anything measurable to dissolve in acid in his hunt for trace elements. 

Likewise, when looking at oxygen isotopes (16/18) to get a handle on water salinity and temperature, his contacts at the University of Waterloo had tons of fun getting anything at all to analyze. It made for some interesting findings. Sadly, for a number of reasons, he abandoned the work, but you can read his very interesting thesis here: https://dr.library.brocku.ca/handle/10464/1959

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=719594

Ref: Hu, Shixue & Zhang, Qiyue & Feldmann, Rodney & Benton, Michael & Schweitzer, Carrie & Huang, Jinyuan & Wen, Wen & Zhou, Changyong & Xie, Tao & Lü, Tao & Hong, Shuigen. (2017). Exceptional appendage and soft-tissue preservation in a Middle Triassic horseshoe crab from SW China. Scientific Reports. 7. 10.1038/s41598-017-13319-x.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

PTEROCEPHALIA FROM THE MCKAY GROUP

A lovely Pterocephalia trilobite from Upper Cambrian, Furongian strata of the McKay Group, Kootenay Rockies. 

The McKay Group has been explored extensively these past few years by Chris New and Chris Jenkins of Cranbrook, British Columbia. 

Together, these two avid trilobite enthusiasts have opened up considerable knowledge on the exposures, collaborating with researchers such as Brian Chatterton and Rudy Lerosey-Aubril. They have unearthed many new specimens and several new species. 

Pterocephalia from this region are relatively common. It was the keen eyes of Chris Jenkins that spotted the unusual preservation of the gut tract that led to the publication by Chatterton et al. in 1994. Rudy Lerosey-Aubril published a paper in 2017 on phosphatized gut remains — relatively common in this taxon at this site. Lerosey-Aubril’s paper was on an aglaspidid, a combjelly, and the gut of another trilobite. 

Skeletal remains of trilobites are abundant in Palaeozoic rock but soft parts are rarely preserved. There have been a few papers on trilobite gut remains from Canada and on abundant trilobite faunas of the Kaili Formation of Guizhou, China. The Kaili contains one of the earliest middle Cambrian Burgess Shale-type deposits, sharing many faunal elements (see http://hdl.handle.net/1811/24227) with the older Chengjiang Biota (Chen 2004; Hou et al. 2004) and the younger Burgess Shale Biota (Briggs et al. 1994). The biota, facies description, and regional stratigraphy of the Kaili Biota were discussed and reviewed in Zhao et al. (2002, 2005) and Lin et al. (2005). Chinese colleagues (Zhao et al. 1994b, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002) have illustrated many Kaili arthropods with soft-part preservation, but most of their systematic descriptions are yet to be completed.

References: Chatterton BD, Johanson Z, Sutherland G. 1994. Journal of Paleontology 68:294-305. 

Lin, Jih-Pai. (2007). Preservation of the gastrointestinal system in Olenoides (Trilobita) from the Kaili Biota (Cambrian) of Guizhou, China. Memoirs of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists. 33. 179-189. 

Photo: This specimen was collected by Dan Bowden and photographed by the Huntress. It has been checked for the dark telltale signs of phosphatized gut remains, but sadly no luck!

Monday, 12 April 2021

WEE BABY EURYPTERID

This adorable wee baby with his teeny aquatic mittens on is a eurypterid from exposures in New York, USA. 

This cutie is one of my favourites. I imagine him wearing mittens but that, of course, is not the case at all.  

This fellow is just under a centimetre in length but his cousins grew larger than a human. Eurypterids were the largest known arthropods to ever live. 

The largest, Jaekelopterus, reached 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) in length — significantly larger than some of his very tiny cousins — most growing to less than 20 centimetres (8 inches) in length. 

More commonly known as sea scorpions, the now-extinct eurypterids were arthropods that lived during the Paleozoic Era. We saw the first of their brethren during the Ordovician and the last of them during the End-Permian Mass Extinction Event. In between, they thrived and irradiated out to every niche within our ancient seas and many later forms survived and thrived in brackish and freshwater. 

The group Arthropoda includes invertebrate animals with exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and paired joint appendages. Eurypterids had six sets of appendages. You can clearly see the segmented body on this cutie, which is one of the defining characteristics of arthropods. The first set was modified into pinchers which are used for feeding. The largest appendage visible in this fossil is a broad paddle that E. tetragonophthalmus used to swim.

This first eurypterid, Eurypterus remipes, was discovered in New York in 1818. It is an iconic fossil for this region and was chosen as the state's official fossil in 1984. An excellent choice as most of the productive eurypterid-bearing outcrops are within the state's boundaries. Most of the fossils we find from them, whether body fossils or trace fossils are from fossil sites in North America and Europe This is because the group lived primarily in the waters around and within the ancient supercontinent of Euramerica. 

Only a handful of eurypterid groups spread beyond the confines of Euramerica and a few genera, such as Adelophthalmus — the longest lived of all known eurypterid genera — and the giant predatory Pterygotus, achieved a cosmopolitan distribution so we find their fossil remains worldwide today. 

Interestingly, the type species, Pterygotus anglicus, was first through to be the remains of a massive fish by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz who described it in 1839 — hence the poorly chosen name Pterygotus, which translates to "winged fish. He did catch that embarrassing error five years later, but the name remains and will for all time.


Sunday, 11 April 2021

SEA SCORPIONS: PREDATORS OF ANCIENT SEAS

About two dozen families of eurypterids “sea scorpions” are known from the fossil record.

Although these ancient predators have a superficial similarity, including a defensive needle-like spike or telson at their tail end, they are not true scorpions. They are an extinct group of arthropods related to spiders, ticks, mites and other extant creepy crawlies.

Eurypterids hunted fish in the muddy bottoms of warm shallow seas some 460 to 248 million years ago before moving on to hunting grounds in fresh and brackish water during the latter part of their reign. Their numbers diminished greatly during the Permian-Triassic extinction, becoming extinct by 248 million years ago.

Eurypterids are found in Canada, most notably at the Ridgemount Quarry near Niagara Falls. This near-perfect specimen of Eurypterus remipes — held by my cousin Sivert, hand-model extraordinaire — was named the official state fossil of New York in 1984.

CRUZIANA TRILOBITE AND ANCIENT FOSSIL TRACKWAYS

Trilobite and Sea Scorpion Fossil Trackways
This is a very interesting block with wee trace fossil trackways from our Mississippian seas some 359.2 million to 318.1 million years ago. 

It shows a nice combination of Cruziana fossil trilobite trackway and eurypterid (sea scorpion) or horseshoe crab trackway on the same matrix. 

When we use the term Cruziana, we are not referring to the trilobite species, but to the particular shape and form of the trackway. 

In this case, elongate, bilaterally symmetrical burrows preserved along the bedding plane with repeated striations that are mostly oblique to the long dimension. I like to picture a teeny, tiny painter or sculpture with a small putty knife making angled cuts along a line or a wave motion to create a small curved line. Very showy skate skiing is another good visual. Sadly, neither is the case. While a Cruziana trace fossil is most often associated with trilobites, it can be made by other arthropods. 

When we see trace fossils — preserved tracks or other signs of behaviour from our marine friends living on the seafloor — they are generally from their furrowing, resting, emerging, walking or striding. They provide a glimpse of how these ancient sea creatures moved about to make a living. 

Trilobite and Sea Scorpion Fossil Trackways
This busy 4 1/2" x 3 1/2" x 1 1/4" block hails from the Tar Springs Formation in Perry County, Indiana, USA, and is in the collections of the deeply awesome David Appleton.

The Tar Springs Formation is recognized on the surface from southwestern Orange County to the Ohio River and is known in the subsurface from central Martin County southwestward (Gray, 1970, 1986).

In Indiana, the Tar Springs Formation is primarily shale, but it also contains scattered thin beds of limestone and massive local lenses of sandstone that on outcrop are differentiated as the Tick Ridge Sandstone Member (Gray, 1986). The formation ranges in thickness from about 70 ft (21 m) to more than 150 ft (46 m) in central Posey County and in southwestern Gibson County (Droste and Keller, 1995). Commonly sandstone predominates in those areas where the Tar Springs is as much as 150 ft (46 m) thick (Droste and Keller, 1995).

Saturday, 10 April 2021

EURYPTERUS SEA SCORPIONS

The impressive homeotype specimen of Eurypterus lacustris from Late Silurian deposits in New York. UCMP Berkeley's palaeontological collections.

Eurypterus is by far the most well-studied and well-known eurypterid and its fossil specimens probably represent more than 90% of all known eurypterid specimens.

About two dozen families of eurypterids “sea scorpions” are known from the fossil record. Although these ancient predators have a superficial similarity, including a defensive needle-like spike or telson at their tail end, they are not true scorpions. They are an extinct group of arthropods related to spiders, ticks, mites and other extant creepy crawlies.

The first fossil of Eurypterus was found in 1818 by S. L. Mitchill, a fossil collector. It was recovered from the Bertie Formation of New York, near Westmoreland, Oneida County. Mitchill interpreted the appendages on the carapace as barbels arising from the mouth. He consequently identified the fossil as a catfish of the genus Silurus. In 1825, American zoologist James Ellsworth De Kay identified the fossil correctly as an arthropod. He named it Eurypterus remipes and established the genus Eurypterus in the process. The name means "wide wing" or "broad paddle", referring to the swimming legs, from Greek εὐρύς (eurús, wide) and πτερόν (pteron, wing).

However, De Kay thought Eurypterus belonged to branchiopods, a group of crustaceans that includes water fleas. Soon after, Eurypterus lacustris was also discovered in New York in 1835 by the palaeontologist Richard Harlan. Another species was discovered in Estonia in 1858 by Jan Nieszkowski. He considered it to be of the same species as the first discovery (E. remipes); though it has since been renamed Eurypterus tetragonophthalmus.

Jan Nieszkowski's 1858 dissertation
These specimens from Estonia are often of extraordinary quality, retaining the actual cuticle of their exoskeletons. In 1898, the Swedish palaeontologist Gerhard Holm separated these fossils from the bedrock with acids. Holm was then able to examine the almost perfectly preserved fragments under a microscope. His remarkable study led to the modern breakthrough in eurypterid morphology.

More fossils were recovered in great abundance in New York in the 19th century, and elsewhere in eastern Eurasia and North America. Today, Eurypterus remains one of the most commonly found and best-known eurypterid genera, comprising more than 95% of all known eurypterid fossils.

Eurypterids hunted fish in the muddy bottoms of warm shallow seas some 460 to 248 million years ago before moving on to hunting grounds in fresh and brackish water during the latter part of their reign. Their numbers diminished greatly during the Permian-Triassic extinction, becoming extinct by 248 million years ago.

Image: Dorsal and ventral aspects of Eurypterus tetragonophthalmus, from Jan Nieszkowski's 1858 dissertation; By Jan Nieszkowski (1833-1866) - Nieszkowski J. De euryptero remipede: dissertatio inauguralis. Dorpat: H. Laakmann, 1858, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11225856

Friday, 9 April 2021

COURTENAY HADROSAUROID FROM THE TRENT RIVER

This dapper fellow is a pine needle and horsetail connoisseur. He's a hadrosaurus — also known as "duck-billed" dinosaurs. They were a very successful group of plant-eaters that thrived throughout western Canada during the late Cretaceous, some 70 to 84 million years ago.

Hadrosaurs lived as part of a herd, dining on pine needles, horsetails, twigs and flowering plants.

Hadrosaurs are ornithischians — an extinct clade of mainly herbivorous dinosaurs characterized by a pelvic structure superficially similar to that of birds. They are close relatives and possibly descendants of the earlier iguanodontid dinosaurs. They had slightly webbed, camel-like feet with pads on the bottom for cushioning and perhaps a bit of extra propulsion in water. They were primarily terrestrial but did enjoy feeding on plants near and in shallow water. There had a sturdy build with a stiff tail and robust bone structure. 

At their emergence in the fossil record, they were quite small, roughly three meters long. That's slightly smaller than an American bison. They evolved during the Cretaceous with some of their lineage reaching up to 20 meters or 65 feet.

Hadrosaurs are very rare in British Columbia but a common fossil in our provincial neighbour, Alberta, to the east. Here, along with the rest of the world, they were more abundant than sauropods and a relatively common fossil find. They were common in the Upper Cretaceous of Europe, Asia, and North America.

There are two main groups of Hadrosaurs, crested and non-crested. The bony crest on the top of the head of the hadrosaurs was hollow and attached to the nasal passages. It is thought that the hollow crest was used to make different sounds. These sounds may have signalled distress or been the hadrosaur equivalent of a wolf whistle used to attract mates. Given their size it would have made for quite the trumpeting sound.

This beautiful specimen graces the back galleries of the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I was very fortunate to have a tour this past summer with the deeply awesome Mike Trask joined by the lovely Lori Vesper. The museum houses an extensive collection of palaeontological and archaeological material found on Vancouver Island, many of which have been donated by the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society.

Dan Bowen, Chair of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, shared the photo you see here of the first partly articulated dinosaur from Vancouver Island ever found. The vertebrate photo and illustration are from a presentation by Dr. David Evans at the 2018 Paleontological Symposium in Courtenay.  The research efforts of the VIPS run deep in British Columbia and this new very significant find is no exception. A Hadrosauroid dinosaur is a rare occurrence and further evidence of the terrestrial influence in the Upper Cretaceous, Nanaimo Group, Vancouver Island — outcrops that we traditionally thought of as marine from years of collecting well-preserved marine fossil fauna.

CDM 002 / Hadrosauroid Caudal Vertebrae
The fossil bone material was found years ago by Mike Trask of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society. You may recall that he was the same fellow who found the Courtenay Elasmosaur on the Puntledge River.

Mike was leading a fossil expedition on the Trent River. While searching through the Upper Cretaceous shales, the group found an articulated mass of bones that looked quite promising.

Given the history of the finds in the area, the bones were thought to be from a marine reptile.

Since that time, we've found a wonderful terrestrial helochelydrid turtle, Naomichelys speciosa, but up to this point, the Trent had been known for its fossil marine fauna, not terrestrial. Efforts were made to excavate more of the specimen, and in all more than 25 associated vertebrae were collected with the help of some 40+ volunteers. Identifying fossil bone is a tricky business. Encased in rock, the caudal vertebrae were thought to be marine reptile in origin. Some of these were put on display in the Courtenay Museum and mislabeled for years as an unidentified plesiosaur.

In 2016, after years collecting dust and praise in equal measure, the bones were reexamined. They didn't quite match what we'd expect from a marine reptile. Shino Sugimoto, Fossil Preparator, Vertebrate Palaeontology Technician at the Royal Ontario Museum was called in to work her magic — painstakingly prepping out each caudal vertebrae from the block.

Once fully prepped, seemingly unlikely, they turned out to be from a terrestrial hadrosauroid. This is the second confirmed dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Nanaimo Group. The first being a theropod from Sucia Island. The partial left thigh bones the first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington state.

Dr. David Evans, Temerty Chair in Vertebrate Palaeontology, Department of Natural History, Palaeobiology from the Royal Ontario Museum, confirmed the ID and began working on the partial duck-billed dinosaur skeleton to publish on the find.

Drawing of Trent River Hadrosauroid Caudal Vertebrae
Now fully prepped, the details of this articulated Hadrosauriod caudal vertebrae come to light. We can see the prominent chevron facets indicative of caudal vertebrae with it's a nice hexagonal centrum shape on anterior view.

There are well-defined long, raked neural spines that expand distally — up and away from the acoelous centrum. 

Between the successive vertebrae, there would likely have been a fibrocartilaginous intervertebral body with a gel-like core —  the nucleus pulposus — which is derived from the embryonic notochord. This is a handy feature in a vertebrate built as sturdily as a hadrosaur. Acoelous vertebrae have evolved to be especially well-suited to receive and distribute compressive forces within the vertebral column.

This fellow has kissing cousins over in the state of New Jersey where this species is the official state fossil. The first of his kind was found by John Estaugh Hopkins in New Jersey back in 1838. Since that time, we've found many hadrosaurs in Alberta, particularly the Edmontosuaurs, another member of the subfamily Hadrosaurine.

In 1978, Princeton University found fifteen juvenile hadrosaurs, Maiasaura ("good mother lizard") on a paleontological expedition to the Upper Cretaceous, Two Medicine Formation of Teton County in western Montana. 

Their initial finds of several small skeletons had them on the hunt for potential nests — and they found them complete with wee baby hatchlings!

Photo One: Fossil Huntress / Heidi Henderson, VIPS

Photo Two / Sketch Three: Danielle Dufault, Palaeo-Scientific Ilustrator, Research Assistant at the Royal Ontario Museum, Host of Animalogic. 

The vertebrate photo and illustration were included in a presentation by Dr. David Evans at the 2018 BCPA Paleontological Symposium in Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada.

Photo Four: Illustration by the talented Greer Stothers, Illustrator & Natural Science-Enthusiast.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

HADROSAUR TOOTH FROM ALBERTA

A rare and very beautifully preserved Cretaceous Hadrosaur Tooth. This lovely specimen is from one of our beloved herbivorous "Duck-Billed" dinosaurs from 68 million-year-old outcrops near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, and is likely from an Edmontosaurus.

When you scour the badlands of southern Alberta, most of the dinosaur material you'll find are from hadrosaurs. These lovely tree-less valleys make for excellent-searching grounds and have led us to know more about hadrosaur anatomy, evolution, and paleobiology than for most other dinosaurs.

We have oodles of very tasty specimens and data to work with. We've got great skin impressions and scale patterns from at least ten species and interesting pathological specimens that provide valuable insights into hadrosaur behaviour. Locally, we have an excellent specimen you can visit in the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, Canada. The first hadrosaur bones were found on Vancouver Island a few years back by Mike Trask, VIPS, on the Trent River near Courtenay.

The Courtenay hadrosaur is a first in British Columbia, but our sister province of Alberta has them en masse. Given the ideal collecting grounds, many of the papers on hadrosaurs focus on our Canadian finds. These herbivorous beauties are also found in Europe, South America, Mexico, Mongolia, China, and Russia. Hadrosaurs had teeth arranged in stacks designed for grinding and crushing, similar to how you might picture a cow munching away on the grass in a field. These complex rows of "dental batteries" contained up to 300 individual teeth in each jaw ramus. But even with this great number, we rarely see them as individual specimens.

They didn't appear to shed them all that often. Older teeth that are normally shed in our general understanding of vertebrate dentition, were resorped, meaning that their wee osteoclasts broke down the tooth tissue and reabsorbed the yummy minerals and calcium.

As the deeply awesome Mike Boyd notes, "this is an especially lucky find as hadrosaurs did not normally shed so much as a tooth, except as the result of an accident when feeding or after death. Typically, these fascinating dinosaurs ground away their teeth... almost to nothing."

In hadrosaurs, the root of the tooth formed part of the grinding surface as opposed to a crown covering over the core of the tooth. And curiously, they developed this dental arrangement from their embryonic state, through to hatchling then full adult.

There's some great research being done by Aaron LeBlanc, Robert R. Reisz, David C. Evans and Alida M. Bailleul. They published in BMC Evolutionary Biology on work that looks at the histology of hadrosaurid teeth analyzing them through cross-sections. Jon Tennant did a nice summary of their research. I've included both a link to the original journal article and Jon Tennant's blog below.

LeBlanc et al. are one of the first teams to look at the development of the tissues making up hadrosaur teeth, analyzing the tissue and growth series (like rings of a tree) to see just how these complex tooth batteries formed.

They undertook the first comprehensive, tissue-level study of dental ontogeny in hadrosaurids using several intact maxillary and dentary batteries and compared them to sections of other archosaurs and mammals. They used these comparisons to pinpoint shifts in the ancestral reptilian pattern of tooth ontogeny that allowed hadrosaurids to form complex dental batteries.

References:

LeBlanc et al. (2016) Ontogeny reveals function and evolution of the hadrosaurid dinosaur dental battery, BMC Evolutionary Biology. 16:152, DOI 10.1186/s12862-016-0721-1 (OA link)

To read more from Jon Tennant, visit: https://blogs.plos.org/paleocomm/2016/09/14/all-the-better-to-chew-you-with-my-dear/

Photo credit: Derrick Kersey. For more awesome fossil photos like this from Derrick, visit his page: https://www.facebook.com/prehistoricexpedition/

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

CASTLE PEAK: JET RANGER

If you look closely, you can see a wee jet ranger helicopter hovering over a very chilly Castle Peak in the southern Chilcotin Range, British Columbia, Canada. 

Castle Peak was our glorious landmark and loadstone of basalt that marked the spot on our Jurassic/Triassic palaeo adventures collecting about 7000 ft. The peak itself reaches higher still to around 8,176 ft.

The late Hettangian ammonite fauna from Taseko Lakes is diverse and relatively well‐preserved. Over three field seasons from 2001-2003, thirty-five taxa from the Mineralense and Rursicostatum zones were studied and three new species discovered and named: Fergusonites hendersonae, Eolytoceras constrictum and Pseudaetomoceras victoriense. This material is very important as it greatly expands our understanding of the fauna and ranges of ammonites currently included in the North American regional ammonite zonation. 

I had the very great honour of having the newly named, Fergusonites hendersonae, a new species of nektonic carnivorous ammonite, named after me by palaeontologist Louse Longridge from the University of British Columbia. 

I had met Louise as an undergrad and was pleased as punch to hear that she would be continuing the research by Dr. Howard Tipper, the authority on this area of the Chilcotins and on the Queen Charlotte Islands or Haida Gwaii — which he dearly loved. 

"Tip" was a renowned Jurassic ammonite palaeontologist and an excellent regional mapper who mapped large areas of the Cordillera. He made significant contributions to Jurassic paleobiogeography and taxonomy in collaboration with Dr. Paul Smith, Head of Earth and Ocean Science at the University of British Columbia. 

Tip’s regional mapping within BC has withstood the test of time and for many areas became the regions' base maps for future studies. The scope of Tip’s understanding of Cordilleran geology and Jurassic palaeontology will likely never be matched. He passed away on April 21, 2005. His humour, knowledge and leadership will be sorely missed. 

Before he left us, he shared that knowledge with many of whom would help to secure his legacy for future generations. We did several trips over the years up to the Taseko Lake area of the Rockies joined by many wonderful researchers from Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society and Vancouver Paleontological Society, as well as the University of British Columbia. Both Dan Bowen and John Fam were instrumental in planning those expeditions and each of them benefited greatly from the knowledge of Dr. Howard Tipper. 

If not for Tipper's early work in the region, our shared understanding and much of what was accomplished in his last years and after his passing would not have been possible. 

Over the course of three field seasons, we endured elevation sickness, rain, snow, grizzly bears and very chilly nights  — we were sleeping right next to a glacier at one point — but were rewarded by the enthusiastic crew, helicopter rides — which really cut down the hiking time — excellent specimens including three new species of ammonites, along with a high-spired gastropod and lobster claw that have yet to be written up. This area of the world is wonderful to hike and explore — a stunningly beautiful country. We were also blessed with access as the area is closed to all fossil collecting except with a permit.