Mark Wilson December 22nd, 2013
College of Wooster student Willy Nelson spotted and collected up this beautiful Liberty Formation slab on our 2013 Invertebrate Paleontology course field trip to the Upper Ordovician of the Caesar Creek area in southern Ohio. There are many exquisite fossils on this apparent carbonate hardground (a cemented seafloor), the most prominent of which are the four linked circular corallites in the top center. They are of the species Streptelasma divaricans (Nicholson, 1875), shown in more detail below.
Streptelasma divaricans is a rugose coral, a prominent order that dominated the Paleozoic coral world from the Ordovician into the Permian. Unlike most rugose corals, it usually is found attached to some hard surface like a shell, rock or hardground. S. divaricans is relatively rare in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area compared to its free-living cousin Grewingkia canadensis. In its adult form (as seen here) it can have about 60 septa (vertical partitions radiating from the center), alternating from small to large and often with a twist at the center. In life there would have been a tentacle-bearing polyp sitting in each of these septate cups (corallites) catching tiny prey as it passed by in the water currents. We presume that they lived much like modern corals today. S. divaricans was, by the way, an invading species in this Late Ordovician shallow sea community.
Streptelasma divaricans was named as Palaeophyllum divaricans in 1875 by Henry Alleyne Nicholson (1844-1899). We met Dr. Nicholson in an earlier blogpost. Astonishingly, one of our geology majors in the paleontology course this semester is Brittany Nicholson, a direct descendant. Way cool.
Another nice fossil on Willy’s slab (in the upper right) is the rhynchonellid brachiopod Lepidocyclus perlamellosus, shown closer above.
The curved, indented line in the middle of the slab (shown above) appears to be the outline of a bivalve shell. The original shell was made of aragonite and thus dissolved away very early (possibly even on the seafloor before burial). There is not enough shape remaining to identify it. The twig-like fossil with tiny holes above the scale is, of course, a trepostome bryozoan. You didn’t need me to tell you that!
Elias, R.J. 1983. Middle and Upper Ordovician solitary rugose corals of the Cincinnati Arch region. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 1066-N: 1-13.
Elias, R.J. 1989. Extinctions and origins of solitary rugose corals, latest Ordovician to earliest Silurian in North America. Fossil Cnidaria 5: 319-326.
Nicholson, H.A. 1875. Description of the corals of the Silurian and Devonian systems. Ohio Geological Survey Report, v. 2, part 2, p. 181-242.
Patzkowsky, M.E. and Holland, S.M. 2007. Diversity partitioning of a Late Ordovician marine biotic invasion: controls on diversity in regional ecosystems. Paleobiology 33: 295-309.