Mark Wilson October 21st, 2012
During my work at the National Museum of Natural History last week, I had my research desk amongst the many cabinets housing the famous Permian brachiopod collection made by the eminent paleontologist Richard E. Grant (1927–1995). Most of these specimens are from the Middle Permian of southwestern Texas, and they are preserved in a fantastic way. I peaked into some of these drawers and was just amazed at the beauty and delicacy of these fossils.
Many years ago I received a block of limestone from the Road Canyon Formation (Middle Permian, Roadian, about 270 million years old) found in the Glass Mountains of southwestern Texas. This rock was from an ancient reef system and so nearly completely filled with fossils. The fossils are replaced with very fine-grained quartz (“silicified”), yet the rock matrix around them is limestone (composed of calcium carbonate). The trick, then, is to dissolve away the limestone in hydrochloric acid and watch the delicate replaced fossils emerge. I did this with the Road Canyon Formation rock and recovered hundreds of extraordinary specimens. One set is shown above. Previous Fossils of the Week have included an aberrant brachiopod and a set of reef-forming brachiopods.
While at the Smithsonian, Kathy Hollis showed me a polished block of original Road Canyon Formation limestone (above) and then next to it the results after dissolving a similar block in acid (below). The complex mass of bryozoans, corals and brachiopods is preserved in exquisite detail.
Now, back to the Wooster specimens at the very top of this entry and just above. The platform is the wavy outer layer of a bivalve shell. Attached to it are encrusting organisms (sclerobionts). The long, gorgeous tube is a rugose coral. At its base is a ribbed athyrid brachiopod. Also in this vignette are bryozoans, additional corals and some really tiny productid brachiopods. Beautiful.
Cooper, G.A., and Grant, R.E., 1964, New Permian stratigraphic units in Glass Mountains, West Texas: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin 48: 1581-1588.
Cooper, G.A., and Grant, R.E. 1966. Permian rock units in the Glass Mountains, West Texas, In: Contributions to stratigraphy, 1966: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1244-E: E1-E9.
Olszewski, T.D. and Erwin, D.H. 2009. Change and stability in Permian brachiopod communities from western Texas. Palaios 24: 27-40.