Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Fish-bitten echinoid spines from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel

December 5th, 2014

BittenSpine585110214This week we revisit a group of fossils covered in an earlier blog post. It is now the subject of a paper that has just appeared in the journal Lethaia entitled, “Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids“. My co-authors are my good Polish colleagues Tomasz Borszcz and Michał Zatoń. Above is one of these bitten echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, the Negev, southern Israel. Many Independent Study students who worked in Israel over the past several years helped me collect hundreds like it. Now we have at last sorted through them systematically, collected the data, and published our analysis as a Lethaia Focus paper.
Figure 1 110214This is Figure 1 from the paper, with the caption: Selected examples of bitten rhabdocidaroid echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel. All scale bars are 5 mm. All specimens are from locality C/W-370 (N 30.94952°, E 34.98725°). A-I, various flabellate spines showing bite marks. J, spine with a double tooth impression. K-L, closer views of bite marks on flabellate spines. M, closer view of spine illustrated as A showing multiple tooth marks caused by a series of teeth. (Tomasz Borszcz constructed this great composite image.)
SpineCollectionMatmor585We have here the earliest direct evidence of fish predation on echinoids (“sea urchins” in this case) through these numerous bite marks. The echinoid was a species of Rhabdocidaris, which was very spiny. As you can see in the above image, the spines are diverse in shape and size. The large, flat ones easily preserve encrusters and bite marks. We collected and assessed 1266 spines; 57 of them (4.5%) are bitten.
RhabdocidaridTestPlateA test fragment from Rhabdocidaris found with the spines. Bits of the test (the main skeleton surrounding the body) are not nearly as common as the spines. The central elevation (the boss) is where a single spine was attached.

Camelbed 110214My Israeli geologist friend Yoav Avni is here collecting echinoderm fragments from one of my favorite (if least photogenic sites). It is an area used by camels for sleeping and mucking about in the soft sediments. Their activity brings fossil fragments to the surface in a most efficient way. (Finally something positive to say about the camels in Hamakhtesh Hagadol.)

Echinoderm bits 110214Here is a collection of fossil echinoderm fragments from this site. Most are from crinoids, but I’m sure you’ve noted the two echinoid spines there.

The variability of bite marks on the spines suggests that the predator manipulated the echinoids for some period, as shown by the sheephead fish (Semicossyphus pulcher) that feeds on sea urchins today. This YouTube video (expertly filmed by Joseph See and used with permission) shows a sheephead biting and tossing about an echinoid before forcing it open. Imagine what the spines would look like that are scattered about on the seafloor. This is the scenario we imagine for our Jurassic echinoids.

Predation is an important selective force in the evolution of communities, so this first evidence of direct predation on echinoids is an important data point in the explanation of how Mesozoic invertebrate marine communities changed in structure and composition after the Permian mass extinctions. Geerat Vermeij began the modern discussion of predation’s role in evolution with his 1977 paper on the Mesozoic Marine Revolution. We’re proud to have our work in this tradition.

If you want a pdf of our new Lethaia paper, please contact me.


Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2013. The oldest record of predation on echinoids: evidence from the Middle Jurassic of Poland. Lethaia 46, 141–145.

Vermeij, G.J. 1977. The Mesozoic marine revolution; evidence from snails, predators and grazers. Paleobiology 3, 245–258.

Wilson, M.A., Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2014. Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids. Lethaia (DOI: 10.1111/let.12110).

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R., Bowen, J.C. and Avni, Y.  2008. A new equatorial, very shallow marine sclerozoan fauna from the Middle Jurassic (late Callovian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 263, 24–29.

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.

Zatoń, M., Villier, L. and Salamon, M.A. 2007. Signs of predation in the Middle Jurassic of south-central Poland: evidence from echinoderm taphonomy. Lethaia 40, 139–151.

One Response to “Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Fish-bitten echinoid spines from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel”

  1. Tomaszon 04 Dec 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks Mark for interesting post and fantastic collaboration !!! Looking forward to see more “spines with stories” 🙂 I can not wait to study these more systematically, including geometric morphometrics with focus on the shape of tooth marks. I believe such approach could “transfer” bite marks we reported to trace fossils with proper names and valuable use in (paleo)biology.

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