Archive for February, 2016

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A low-spired, battle-worn trochid gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

February 26th, 2016

1 Gibbula Risso, 1826 apexThis shell looks like a cinnamon roll. It is another product of the 1996 Wooster-Keck expedition to Cyprus with Steve Dornbos (’97) and me. Like the rest of the Cypriot specimens on this blog, it is from the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) exposed on the Mesaoria Plain in the center of the island. This specimen comes from the Coral Reef locality described in Dornbos and Wilson (1999). We are looking at a well-preserved specimen of the herbivorous gastropod Gibbula Risso, 1826. (I can’t fit it into any known species within the genus.)
2 Gibbula Risso, 1826 sideIn this side view the growth lines are evident (they are parallel to the aperture; the thin ribs following the whorls are ornamentation), as are a couple of shallow, circular pits drilled by some unsuccessful predator. That predator could have been another gastropod or even an octopus. The pits are known by the trace fossil name Oichnus.

Those growth lines are interesting in  this genus. Schöne et al. (2007) studied a species of modern Gibbula and determined that they formed “microgrowth lines” in association with tidal cycles, forming “distinct fortnight bundles of microgrowth increments and lines”. We would need to section this shell and examine it microscopically to see such patterns.

3 Gibbula Risso, 1826 baseHere is the basal view of our Gibbula specimen.

4 RissoThe genus Gibbula was named and described by Giuseppe Antonio Risso (1777-1845), called Antoine Risso, was a productive Italian (more or less; he later can be considered French) naturalist. He was born in the city of Nice, then in the Duchy of Savoy. In 1792, soon after the French Army occupied Nice, Risso became a pharmacist’s apprentice, which encouraged his interest in medicinal botany. Risso was also a pioneering mountaineer in the Alps and other European ranges. He published several books on invertebrates, fish and plants. The work most relevant to us is his 1826 tome entitled: Histoire naturelle des principales productions de l’Europe Méridionale et particulièrement de celles des environs de Nice et des Alpes Maritimes. Risso’s Dolphin is named after him.

References:

Donnarumma, L., Bruno, R., Terlizzi, A. and Russo, G.F. 2015. Population ecology of Gibbula umbilicaris and Gibbula ardens (Gastropoda: Trochidae) in a Posidonia oceanica seagrass bed. Italian Journal of Zoology, DOI: 10.1080/11250003.2015.1073377

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Risso, A. 1826. Histoire naturelle des principales productions de l’Europe Méridionale et particulièrement de celles des environs de Nice et des Alpes Maritimes. Paris: F.G. Levrault. Vol. 4: IV, 1-439, 12 pls.

Schöne, B.R., Rodland, D.L., Wehrmann, A., Heidel, B., Oschmann, W., Zhang, Z., Fiebig, J. and Beck, L. 2007. Combined sclerochronologic and oxygen isotope analysis of gastropod shells (Gibbula cineraria, North Sea): life-history traits and utility as a high-resolution environmental archive for kelp forests. Marine Biology 150: 1237-1252.

Williams, E.E. 1964. The growth and distribution of Gibbula umbilicalis (da Costa) on a rocky shore in Wales. The Journal of Animal Ecology 33: 433-442.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A conid gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

February 19th, 2016

Conus pelagicus Epsilos 585Cyprus again for this week’s fossil. This is a nearly complete shell of the predatory snail Conus pelagicus Brocchi 1814 found at the Epsilos exposure of the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) on the Mesaoria Plain of central Cyprus by Steve Dornbos (’97) and me in 1996. In life this species no doubt had an intricate shell color pattern, as their cousins do today.

The taxonomic intricacies of the genus Conus are far beyond the scope of a mere blog entry, so I’ll simply link to a list of associated genera, subgenera and synonymies. Conus as an organism is fantastic. These are venomous predators famous for shooting radular teeth loaded with very effective toxins. Some species can kill a human in less than five minutes. No worries, though — the venom contains analgesic compounds so there is little pain. The best way to demonstrate the extraordinary killing process used by Conus is to look at a video. You’ll never look at snails the same way again.
BrocchiImageConus pelagicus was originally described by Giovanni Battista Brocchi in 1814. We met him in a previous blog entry, so much of this information is repeated. Brocchi (1772-1826) was an Italian natural historian who made significant contributions to botany, paleontology, mineralogy and general geology. He was born in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, and studied law at the University of Padova. He liked mineralogy and plants much better than lawyering, though, and became a professor in Brescia. His work resulted in an appointment as Inspector of Mines in the new kingdom of Italy. He famously said, “The science of fossil shells is the first step towards the study of the earth.”

Brocchi wrote the first thorough geological assessment of the Apennine Mountains, and he included in it a remarkable systematic study of Neogene fossils. He compared these fossils to modern animals in the Mediterranean — a very progressive thing to do at the time.
Brocchi plate 122915Above are drawings made by Brocchi of the conid (and a couple cypraeid) fossils he found in the Apennines during his extensive study published in 1814. Note that in the Continental fashion still followed today, the shells are figured aperture-up. Americans and the rest of the English-speaking world orient them in the proper way. Figures 11a, b and c, though, are oriented in the opposite direction, maybe to fill the space efficiently.

Brocchi was an adventurous traveler, but it eventually did him in. He died in Khartoum in 1826, a “victim of the climate” and a martyr for field science.

References:

Brocchi, G.B. 1814. Conchiologia fossile subapennina con osservazioni geologiche sugli Apennini e sul suolo adiacente. Milano Vol. I: pp. LXXX + 56 + 240; Vol. II, p. 241-712, pl. 1-16.

Cowper Reed, F.R. 1935. Notes on the Neogene faunas of Cyprus, III: the Pliocene faunas. Annual Magazine of Natural History 10 (95): 489-524.

Cowper Reed, F.R. 1940. Some additional Pliocene fossils from Cyprus. Annual Magazine of Natural History 11 (6): 293-297.

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A muricid gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

February 12th, 2016

1 Bolinus brandaris coral reef 585We return to Cyprus for this week’s fossil. This is a broken shell of the predatory muricid Bolinus brandaris (Linnaeus, 1758) found at the Coral Reef exposure of the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) on the Mesaoria Plain of central Cyprus by Steve Dornbos (’97) and myself in 1996. It has had some significant battering, probably by a crab peeling away the shell to get to the goodies. The ribs are prominent on the whorls, representing previous strengthened apertures. The base was a long, narrow siphonal canal now broken off. You can see the complete shell shape in modern examples.
2 Bolinus brandaris opened coral reef 585On the other side of the same specimen we see that the last whorl has been opened, showing the spiral columella at the axis of coiling. The arrow points to a puncture hole in an upper whorl. This appears to be the result of a “ballistic” impact on the shell by some predatory organism. Pether (1995) gave the name Belichnus to this trace fossil, attributing it to stomatopod crustaceans and their wicked-fast and powerful claws. Cadée and de Wolf (2013) expanded the possible tracemakers of Belichnus to seagulls.

Bolinus brandaris is well known today throughout the Mediterranean as the Purple Dye Murex. It has been used since ancient times as the source of a deep, permanent fabric dye called Tyrian Purple. It was highly prized by royalty and the wealthy elite for millennia.

Linnaeus originally placed this species in the genus Murex, but in 1837 Georg Gottlieb Pusch described a new but similar genus Bolinus, to which the species now belongs. Pusch, who also had the Polish name Jerzy Bogumił Koreński, was a very interesting fellow in the early days of paleontology and geology. He was born in Kohren, Saxony, in 1790 (or 1791, depending on which calendar you use). He was very early interested in what would become geology, so in 1806 he enrolled in the Mining Academy in Freiberg. In his first year he was recognized as an outstanding student by the famous Abraham Gottlob Werner. In 1811 he also studied law in Leipzig. After graduating he explored the geology of Saxony, and in 1813 participated in battles against Napoleon. Then in 1816, Pusch moved to Poland, which at that time was partitioned by foreign powers. He became professor of Chemistry and Metallurgy at the Kielce Academy and later head of the Mining and Mineralogy Department in Warsaw. His most important geological work was to explore and describe the geology of the Carpathians. He died in 1846.
3 Gottlieb Pusch on 1944 Nazi stampTo his misfortune, a portrait of Georg Gottlieb Pusch was used on the above 1944 German Occupation of Poland postage stamp, probably for the simple reason that he was a German who had done well in the Polish territories. I like to think Pusch would have been appalled to have been used in this way. He was a hero of geology.

References:

Cadée, G. C. and de Wolf, P. 2013. Belichnus traces produced on shells of the bivalve Lutraria lutraria by gulls. Ichnos 20: 15-18.

Cowper Reed, F.R. 1935. Notes on the Neogene faunas of Cyprus, III: the Pliocene faunas. Annual Magazine of Natural History 10 (95): 489-524.

Cowper Reed, F.R. 1940. Some additional Pliocene fossils from Cyprus. Annual Magazine of Natural History 11 (6): 293-297.

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Pether, J. 1995. Belichnus new ichnogenus, a ballistic trace on mollusc shells from the Holocene of the Benguela region, South Africa. Journal of Paleontology 69: 171-181.

Radwin, G.E. and D’Attilio, A. 1986. Murex shells of the world. An illustrated guide to the Muricidae. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 284 pages.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bitten brachiopod (Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana)

February 5th, 2016

1 Best bitten Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)This brachiopod, identified as Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847), was shared with me by its collector, Diane from New York State. She found it in a muddy horizon of the Bull Fork Formation (Upper Ordovician) in southeastern Indiana. She immediately noted the distorted plicae (radiating ribs) on the left side of this dorsal valve, along with the invagination along the corresponding margin. (Thanks for showing this to me, Diane, and allowing me to include it in this blog.)
2 Best closer Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)Above  is a closer view of the unusual plicae. Note that they radiate from the top center of the brachiopod, extending as the shell grew outward along its margins. Something happened, though, when the brachiopod was growing. The shell was seriously damaged by a puncturing object. The brachiopod repaired the hole by closing it up with additional shell material coming from either side. The inwardly-curved plicae show the pattern of shell regrowth.
3 Reverse of best Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)This is a view of the same brachiopod from the other side, showing that the ventral valve was damaged in the same event, but with slightly less destruction.

So how did such damage occur on that Ordovician seafloor? Some predator likely took a bite out of the brachiopod as it lay in its living position with the valves extended upwards into the seawater. Most brachiopods do not survive such events, but this one did.

Who was the probable predator? For that we turn to the work of the late Richard Alexander (1946-2006). He did the definitive study of pre mortem damage to brachiopods in the Cincinnatian Group in 1986, concluding that the most likely predators on these brachiopods were nautiloid cephalopods. Some of this figures show nearly identical healed scars on similar orthid brachiopods.
4. Richard AlexanderRichard Alexander was an accomplished paleontologist who lost his life in a swimming accident off the coast of St. Lucia just over nine years ago. He was born in Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. As is so common with children in that part of the world, he developed a passion for fossils. He attended the University of Cincinnati, majoring in geology, He then went to Indiana University, completing a PhD dissertation titled: “Autecological Studies of the Brachiopod Rafinesquina (Upper Ordovician), the Bivalve Anadara (Pliocene), and the Echinoid Dendraster (Pliocene).” (We don’t see such diverse projects very much these days.) He taught at Utah State University from 1972 to 1980, and then at Rider University in New Jersey from 1981 until his death. He served as an administrator at several levels at Rider, and was known as an excellent teacher. His research interests changed when he moved to the East Coast, becoming increasingly focused on modern mollusks. No doubt he would still be contributing to paleontology but for the randomness of a freak wave in the Caribbean.

References:

Alexander, R.R. 1981. Predation scars preserved in Chesterian brachiopods: probable culprits and evolutionary consequences for the articulates. Journal of Paleontology 55: 192-203.

Alexander, R.R. 1986. Resistance to and repair of shell breakage induced by durophages in Late Ordovician brachiopods. Journal of Paleontology 60: 273-285.

Dodd, J.R. 2008. Memorial to Richard Alexander (1946-2006). Geological Society of America Memorials 37: 5-7.