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.

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