Archive for November, 2014

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Large Miocene barnacles with bioimmurations from Maryland

November 28th, 2014

Barnacle side viewThese two beautiful barnacles are from the Calvert Formation (Middle Miocene) exposed near Parker Creek in Maryland. They are likely of the genus Chesaconcavus. Barnacles are most unlikely crustacean arthropods, cousins of shrimp, crabs and lobsters. Most, like these above, cement themselves head-downwards on a hard substrate like a rock or shell (or boat hull), build a carapace around themselves of calcitic plates, and then filter-feed by kicking their filamentous legs in the water above to catch suspended food. They are entirely marine and usually live in shallow water.
Chesaconcavus top view 585This is a top view of the barnacle pair. We can look straight into the carapace because the opercular plates, which form a kind of door system, have been removed. For barnacles, these are a healthy large size.
Barnacle baseNow we’ve turned the barnacles upside-down to see their attachment surface. The substrate to which they were glued is gone, so we can see the details of the basal plates. The barnacles may have just sloughed off a shell or rock, or maybe they were attached to an aragonitic shell that dissolved away. What is cool here is that we can see other organisms that were on the substrate the barnacles encrusted, including two smaller barnacles completely absorbed within the larger skeletons. This is again an example of bioimmuration. The smaller barnacles look like upside-down cones in this perspective. Note that in the apex of each you can see preserved opercular plates — the insides of the “doors” that are opened for feeding. In the fine-grained skeleton of the larger attachment surface you can see growth lines made by the large barnacles as they occupied the substrate. There are even some small serpentine impressions that may represent soft-bodied organisms that were bioimmured.
Chesaconcavus base detail 585Here’s a closer view of the above basal features. I love the frilly edge of the bioimmured barnacle in the top left.


Kidwell, S.M. 1989. Stratigraphic condensation of marine transgressive records: Origin of major shell deposits in the Miocene of Maryland. Journal of Geology 97: 1-24.

Zullo, V.A. 1992. Revision of the balanid barnacle genus Concavus Newman, 1982, with the description of a new subfamily, two new genera, and eight new species. Paleontological Society Memoir 27: 1-46.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A trace fossil from the Ordovician of Estonia

November 21st, 2014

Hyoliths03_585The fossils above have been in a previous post as examples of hyolith internal molds from the Middle Ordovician of northern Estonia. I collected them on my first visit to the Baltic countries in 2006. This week I want to recognize them again, but this time for the squiggly trace fossils you can just make out on their outer surfaces. These are the ichnospecies Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling, 1992. They are the subject of a paper that has just appeared in Palaeontologia Electronica entitled, simply enough, “The trace fossil Arachnostega in the Ordovician of Estonia (Baltica)“. The senior author is my Estonian buddy Olev Vinn. My Polish friend Michał Zatoń, my new Estonian colleague Ursula Toom, and I are co-authors.
399-861 copyAbove is an unpublished image of a gastropod internal mold from the Estonian Ordovician taken by Olev. It shows very well the variable branching nature Arachnostega. This trace was formed by a deposit-feeding organism mining organic material in a sediment-filled shell. It worked along the sediment-shell interface, probably because there was more nutrient value at that margin. The internal mold was formed when sediment filling the shell was cemented and the shell dissolved away, leaving the hard mold behind.
Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 4.05.40 PMThis is Figure 3.1 in the new paper. Note the variation in the traces as well as the shells it inhabited. The caption as published: Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling in a gastropod from Haljala Regional Stage (Sandbian), Aluvere Quarry, northern Estonia. GIT 399-948-1. 2. Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling in a gastropod from the Kunda Regional Stage (Darriwilian), Kunda Ojaküla, northern Estonia. GIT 404-355-1. 3. Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling in a bivalve from the Haljala Regional Stage (Sandbian), Aluvere Quarry, northern Estonia. GIT 399-1590-1. 4. Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling in a bivalve from the Haljala Regional Stage (Sandbian), Aluvere Quarry, northern Estonia. GIT 399-1601-1. 5. Arachnostega gastrochaenae Bertling in a cephalopod from the Uhaku Regional Stage (Darriwilian), Püssi, northern Estonia. GIT 695-12-1.

Our paper analyzes the distribution of Arachnostega through the Ordovician of Baltica, a paleocontinent with a long history, including a collision with Avalonia (western Europe today, more or less) in the Late Ordovician. By plotting the occurrences of Arachnostega over time, we conclude that the makers of Arachnostega likely preferred cool climates and bivalve shells over gastropods. The tracemakers may have also been negatively influenced by the many biotic changes associated with the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.

Please check out the article itself. As with all papers in Palaeontologia Electronica, it is open access.


Bertling, M. 1992. Arachnostega n. ichnog. – burrowing traces in internal moulds of boring bivalves (late Jurassic, northern Germany). Paläontologische Zeitschrift 66: 177-185.

Vinn, O., Wilson, M.A., Zatoń, M. and Toom, U. 2014. The trace fossil Arachnostega in the Ordovician of Estonia (Baltica). Palaeontologia Electronica 17, Issue 3; 41A; 9 p.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A new crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel (with a bonus parasitic infection)

November 14th, 2014

1 PitBelowCalyxThese fossils are a joy to present this week. Lizzie Reinthal (’14), Bill Ausich (Ohio State University) and I have a new paper out in the latest issue of the Journal of Paleontology. It is titled: “Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel”. Allow me to introduce Apiocrinites feldmani, a new articulate crinoid species. In the image above we have fused columnals (the “buttons” that make up a crinoid stem) upwards through two radial plates (from the calyx) with two pits and associated swollen columnals (due to a nasty little parasite; see below). A gnarly beast it is, and that’s what makes this creature interesting. I posted another even more twisted specimen earlier.

This new species is named after my friend Howard Feldman of Touro College and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was a pathfinder with the Matmor Formation and its fossils in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Negev, southern Israel.
2 Extracted holdfast 2Apiocrinites feldmani is a small crinoid that lived in a brachiopod-coral-sponge community with a larger cousin named Apiocrinites negevensis (named earlier by Bill Ausich and me). Above we see a pluricolumnal (range of articulated columnals) with the holdfast of another A. feldmani wrapped around them. (I’m also showing off my mad skills at extracting an image from its background.)
3 Gnarly pluricolumnalThis pluricolumnal shows how bad the parasitic infection could get for many A. feldmani specimens. These gall-like growths are responses to some soft-bodied parasite that became embedded within the crinoid skeleton. The crinoid stems were deformed and likely lost considerable flexibility because of these parasites.
4 PitThis is a cross-section through one of the pits in an A. feldmani stem. Note that the narrow end of the pit begins at the articulation between two columnals. The parasite apparently wedged into that space, forcing the crinoid to grow around it as it grew itself. The result was a conical pit with swollen columnals surrounding it.
5 PitPluricolumnalHere we’re looking straight into one of the conical pits with a magnificent swelling around it. You can barely make out the articulation lines of the swollen columnals. Sometimes these cone-shaped pits were closed off by crinoid skeletal growth, presumably because the parasite inside died or otherwise left the premises. We don’t know the identity of this parasite, but we can surmise that it was a soft-bodied filter-feeder that probably gained an advantage from living high above the seafloor on these crinoid stems. Oddly, the larger A. negevensis crinoids in the same community did not have these parasites.

Living crinoids are afflicted by a variety of parasites. There are none today that have this sort of effect on the stems, but there are reports of fossil crinoids with similar pathologies all the way back to the Silurian (Brett, 1978).
6 BivalveBoringCrinoidEven after death these Jurassic crinoid stems provided homes for other organisms. Above is another cross-section through a stem of A. feldmani. “A” is one of the columnals, “B” is a section through an articulated bivalve filled with a relatively coarse sediment, and “C” is a fine sediment that filled in around the bivalve. The bivalve bored into the crinoid stem after death to make a crypt from which it could conduct its filter-feeding with some safety and seclusion.
7 Apiocrinites feldmani specimens 585Finally, here are the type specimens of Apiocrinites feldmani all packed up to be delivered to the Orton Geological Museum at Ohio State University. This museum has a large collection of echinoderms from around the world and so is an appropriate place for our treasures to reside awaiting further study.

This was a fun study that was part of Lizzie Reinthal’s 2013-2014 Independent Study project at Wooster. She concentrated on the taphonomy and sclerobiont successions as we both worked up the parasite and systematic story with our echinoderm expert friend Bill Ausich. There aren’t that many accounts of parasite-host relationships in the fossil record, so we’re proud to add one.

So many beautiful fossils in the Jurassic of southern Israel. More papers to come!


Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea, Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051–1055.

Brett, C.E. 1978. Host-specific pit-forming epizoans on Silurian crinoids. Lethaia 11: 217–232.

Feldman, H.R. and Brett, C.E. 1998. Epi- and endobiontic organisms on Late Jurassic crinoid columns from the Negev Desert, Israel: Implications for co-evolution. Lethaia 31: 57–71.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289: 93–101.

Wilson, M.A., Reinthal, E.A. and Ausich, W.I. 2014. Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel. Journal of Paleontology 88: 1212-1221.

Last Fieldtrip for Climate Change

November 13th, 2014


As the weather cools – the Wooster Geology Climate Change class ventured out in the field one more time. For the remainder of the semester we will try to get some work done. Two sites were visited – the Cedar Creek Mastodon Site and the OARDC.

excavationTwo weeks ago a pit was dug from our coring sites to the Mastodon excavation site. The mission was to link the cores to the archaeological site.


The general stratigraphy of the mastodon site. The muds have a high calcium carbonate content that helped preserve the bones and tusk. Note the plow horizon about 25 cm down – the trip also focused on the agricultural history of Ohio and the role it plays in climate change.

anomalyJeff Dilyard, who hosted us at the site, explains to the class that a GPR (ground penetrating radar) survey identified an anomaly at this location. Isabel probed the area (see below) and “clunked” on a tile.

probingIsabel above used a tile probe to investigate the subsurface (note the chin method she is employing).

tileWhat is a “tile”? above is an old drainage tile from the site. This one is plugged with mud and the plugging was the reason the mastodon was discovered. New tiles were installed last year and the digging brought up the original tooth of the mastodon. Tile and draining of the Midwest allowed for our great agricultural history. In addition, the tile and draining allowed widespread plowing that released the carbon in naturally sequestered organic rich wetland soils to the atmosphere.

in_pitThe crucial end of the backhoe pit where probing and sampling links the bog cores to the mastodon site.


A quick stop ate the Triplett-Van Doren Experimental Plot. For over 50 years a variety of experiments have been underway here. We discussed the side-by-side no-till and mold board plowed sites and their ability to sequester carbon. Not plowing (no-till) sequesters carbon and mitigates erosion. Less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and less sediment flux on the landscape.


A darker colored soil in the core barrel above shows more carbon in the soil relative to the one below.


A quick stop at Secrest Arboretum to view the famous Dawn Redwoods. Under the proper conditions these trees can grow a meter each year. Our tree-ring data from this stand helps define the optimum conditions for their growth. Planting trees sequesters carbon and helps out in lots of other ways as well.


In addition to the no-till fields and trees at Secrest – there is a meteorological record that spans more than 120 years (note how Tom – far left, seems to be the only student listening to the instructor). These instruments have been keeping track of climate and we will use it to compare with our tree ring study. Our tree ring project asks the question: during the time of European Settlement in Ohio what were the climate conditions like? (precipitation and temperature) and could the widespread deforestation and tile and draining of the region have perturbed the climate (see this video for more on this subject). This question is relevant to the ever-present striving of climate scientists to investigate the relative roles of natural climate variability and anthropogenic change.





Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Upper Ordovician bivalve bioimmured by a bryozoan

November 7th, 2014

DSC_4503This week’s fossil is a simple and common form in the Cincinnatian Series (Upper Ordovician) of the Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky tri-state area. We are looking above at the base of a trepostome bryozoan that encrusted the outside of an aragonite bivalve shell. The bivalve shell (probably a species of Ambonychia) dissolved away, leaving its impression in the base of the calcitic bryozoan. This fossil is from the Upper Whitewater Formation (Richmondian) in eastern Indiana near Richmond itself.
DSC_4516In this closer view you can see the plications (“ribs”) of the bivalve preserved in negative relief on the attachment surface of the bryozoan. Close examination shows the individual zooecia of the bryozoan exquisitely molding the bivalve topography.

This is a kind of substrate bioimmuration, a preservational mode in which a skeletal organism (the bryozoan here) overgrows another organism (with a soft body or hard skeleton), making an impression of it in its base. The overgrown organisms is rots or dissolves away, leaving the exposed mold. You can also think of it as a kind of external mold produced by a living organism (the encruster). Such “vital immuration” was first described by Vialov (1961), and it is thoroughly covered by Paul Taylor in his 1990 paper cited below.

Again, these fossils are common in the Cincinnatian, and this one is far from being the fanciest. It is the Fossil of the Week because of its very ordinary nature, yet it provides extraordinary information. The aragonitic shell the bryozoan encrusted would have been lost forever after it dissolved if this bryozoan hadn’t occupied it and built a calcitic memorial. I’ve collected now hundreds of these substrate bioimmurations, and they have been critical in many studies, from the preservation of soft-bodied sclerobionts (see Wilson et al., 1994) to the revelation of boring interiors (and thus the behavior of the borers) and skeletal sclerobiont paleoecology. I’m also convinced there are many aragonitic mollusk taxa in the Cincinnatian that are known only through this bioimmuration process. These are fascinating fossils my students and I will continue to collect and study.


Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration—a review. Palaeontology 33: 1-17.

Vialov, O.S. 1961. Phenomena of vital immuration in nature. Dopovidi Akademi Nauk Ukrayin’ skoi RSR 11: 1510-1512.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269-270.