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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.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Upper Carboniferous seed casts from northeastern Ohio

October 31st, 2014

Trigonocarpus trilocularis Hildreth 1838We haven’t had a paleobotanical fossil of the week for awhile, so here are a couple of nice seed casts from the Upper Carboniferous Massillon Sandstone exposed near Youngstown, Ohio. They fall within the “form genus” Trigonocarpus Brongniart 1828. A form taxon is one that may not have any systematic or evolutionary validity, but it is a convenient resting place for taxa that share a particular morphological pattern but can’t be easily classified elsewhere. Trigonocarpus consists of seed casts that are “radially symmetrical, decorticated, and have their surface marked by three prominent ridges” (Gastaldo and Matten, 1978, p. 884). These particular seeds appear to be Trigonocarpus trilocularis (Hildreth, 1837). The taxa here are problematic, of course, because these seeds belong to larger plants that have their own names.
Trigonocarpus trilocularis Hildreth 1838_585These seeds appear to be from medullosalean trees, which were small relatives of today’s cycads. They were common in wetlands throughout North America and Europe during the Carboniferous, especially the Late Carboniferous. The seeds we have were likely attached to small stalks. You can see what appears to be a circular attachment scar above.
Samuel Prescott Hildreth (1783–1863)
Dr. Samuel Prescott Hildreth (1783-1863) was a physician and historian with a keen eye for natural history, especially including fossils and rocks. He was born in Massachusetts of strong Patriot stock and moved to the dangerous territory of Ohio in 1806, settling in Marietta in 1808. Dr. Hildreth is often cited as one of the first scientists in the country west of the Alleghany Mountains. His prolific writing is fast-moving, diverse and interesting, so he must have been a great traveling companion. Dr. Hildreth served in the Ohio Legislature and was on the first Ohio Geological Survey.
HildrethNutThe above is a figure from Hildreth (1837, p. 29) showing the fossil seed he named Carpolithus trilocularis. He wrote that “[t]his nut is probably the fruit of some antediluvian palm”, which is not far from what we think now (apart from the Flood reference!).


Gastaldo, R.A. and Matten, L.C. 1978. Trigonocarpus leeanus, a new species from the Middle Pennsylvanian of southern Illinois. American Journal of Botany 65: 882-890.

Hildreth, S.P. 1837. Miscellaneous observations made during a tour in May, 1835, to the Falls of the Cuyahoga, near Lake Erie: extracted from the diary of a naturalist. American Journal of Science and Arts 31:1-84

Zodrow, E.L. 2004. Note on different kinds of attachments in trigonocarpalean (Medullosales) ovules from the Pennsylvanian Sydney Coalfield, Canada. Atlantic Geology 40: 197-206.

An Epic Geologic Competition in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

October 26th, 2014

VIRGINIA KENDALL, CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK (CVNP) — What an absolutely awesome day for geology in the field!!  One of my geologic mentors once told me that “every day in the field is a day of vacation”, and today proved to be just that day.  Late October…temperatures above 60 degrees…with the fall colors everywhere!!  I could not have asked for a better day to take my Structural Geology class to “The Ledges”, part of Virginia Kendall, which is only about an hour north of campus.  Essentially, we have a National Park right in northeast Ohio, and fall is the best time to visit the area.

However, we were not just going there for a day hike.  We were on a mission.  I set up a scenario for my class:  CVNP exposes strata that in the subsurface is rich in oil and gas.  The goal for the students was to undertake a complete geologic study (including the stratigraphy, sedimentology, structure, and geomorphology) of the exposed rock in the area as an analog in order to better assess oil and gas fluid migration in the subsurface.  The class was split into two teams — seniors vs juniors.  Each team is not permitted to talk to one another about data collection, analysis, or synthesis.  Eventually, these Research and Development (R&D) Teams will share their findings with Wooster’s Production Experts (Drs. Pollock, Wiles, and Wilson) via a poster presentation later in the semester.

So, while there were literally hundreds of people out for a day hike near The Ledges, Wooster’s geologists were busy at work.  The Ledges is located just south of Happy Days Visitor Center and southeast of Peninsula, OH.

lock-29-location-map_585blogThe area between State Route 303 and Kendall Ledges Road (where there are all the green hiking trails) was our field area for the day.


The R&D Teams quickly noticed the amazing joint sets that are exposed all along The Ledges.  Essentially, we have ledges in this area due to the large fracture system (i.e., joints) affecting the rocks.  These joint sets are very easy to measure and to access due to a wonderful trail system next to the exposures in Virginia Kendall.  Notice above that these joints can be at various orientations and that those in the photo above appear to be nearly perpendicular to one another.

DSC01271_585blogLet me introduce the R&D Team of Woo seniors (’15), from left to right: Coleman Fitch, Zach Downes, Willy Nelson, and Leo Jones.  It appears that they are discussing their team’s strategy early in the day.  Michael Williams (’16), of the opposing team, is in the background.  Is Michael trying to eavesdrop on the opposing team?

DSC01269_585blogTwo members of our R&D team of Woo juniors (’16) are taking notes on this rock exposure.  Eric Parker (left) and Kaitlin Starr (right, white hat) appear to be focused on the gorgeous geology.

DSC01276_585blogThe other two members of the R&D team of Woo juniors (’16) were found hiding in a dark “slot canyon” among the joints.  Michael Williams is in the front, while Adam Silverstein is in the orange hoodie, peeking out from deep inside the “canyon”.  It appears that the juniors are separated from one another!!  It is OK; everyone had maps and GPS units, so perhaps their strategy for the day was to divide and conquer?

DSC01274_585blogWow!!  Check out this entrance to Ice Box Cave, which was formed by the intersection of several joint sets.  Unfortunately, we were not able to go any closer to the cave entrance than this, because…

DSC01273_585blog…the National Park Service is trying to save the bats, which are susceptible to White-Nose Syndrome.

DSC01278_585blogNow, I could not just end the blog without showing you such a wonderful photo.  Check out the amazing set of cross-beds that you can see exposed in the upper half of the photo.  These rocks, which are some of the youngest rocks exposed in CVNP, have been interpreted to be deposited by ancient stream deposits.  Superimposed on the cross-bedding is the characteristic honeycomb weathering that affects many of the sandstone exposures along The Ledges.  And, notice that some of the rocks appear to be more brown or rust colored; some scientists have identified limonite and pyrite (two iron-rich minerals) in the unit.

What an awesome day to be a geologist!!  Who else gets to spend a great fall day with friends, enjoy the weather, learn a little more about rocks, and measure joints along the way?  Geology rocks.



Wooster Geologists return to the Cedar Creek Bog and Excavation Site

October 25th, 2014

DigOverview102514WOOSTER, OHIO–Greg Wiles and I got to experience a bit of field archaeology today at the Cedar Creek Mastodon excavation site. Greg’s Climate change class has visited the site and its associated bog twice this semester: once to do some soil probing and exploration, and then again to extract a core from the bog. This time Greg and I went to consult with the chief archaeologist of the site, Nigel Brush of Ashland University. Nigel wanted our opinions on the stratigraphy of the dig, especially those parts associated with mastodon remains and flint artifacts. The hypothesis the archaeologists are testing is that the mastodon bones and flint blades are part of an ancient butchery site.  It was a joy to join our friends on this fantastic Fall day.

BonesFlagged102514Who doesn’t love an archaeology site? All that enthusiastic hard work with brushes, spades and trowels revealing hidden treasures. Those little orange flags above are tagging bits of mastodon bone that the volunteer excavators have uncovered for mapping and collection. Several schools are represented at this site, and at least a couple dozen citizen scientists.

HannahJim102514Wooster is represented at the dig by archaeology professor Nick Kardulias, along with two of his students shown above. Hannah Matulek is on the left; Jim Torpy on the right.

BoneFragment102514Here is some mastodon bone embedded in one of the excavation walls. The bones are scattered, with some large pieces and many small fragments.

Sieving102514This is the line of sieves for sorting through the excavated sediment. Pleasant enough work today, but I can imagine it’s not so fun in the rain and sleet.

GregSoilProbing102514And now for our bit of work. Greg went off into the bog with a soil probe to plan out a new trench to be dug by the landowner. This trench will help correlate the strata in the excavation with what Greg and his students have cored from the bog.

StratView102514I spent most of my time in the excavations examining the simple layering of the sediments. At the bottom we have a coarse conglomerate with cobble-sized rounded grains. The bones and artifacts lie on top of and among these clasts. Above that unit is a matrix-supported conglomeratic mud with broken rock fragments. At the top is a loam representing the disturbed (plowed) part of the section.

MudWithClasts102514This is a closer view of that middle unit with the “floating” angular rock fragments. My quick assessment (just a suggestion!) is that the coarse gravels beneath are part of a deltaic complex feeding into the bog, which was at the time a marl lake. The mud-with-clasts above it is a debris flow from the surrounding elevations that cascaded down the creek channel and its banks, entombing the bones and artifacts under a slurry of muddy debris. There is scattered charcoal throughout this unit and the top of the cobbles below. Maybe a forest fire denuded the upstream slopes and led to a rain-soaked mudslide? Then again, the charcoal could have come from an ancient barbecue of the mastodon meat.

In any case, Greg and I had a great time visiting our archaeological colleagues on such a fine day.


Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A pair of molded nautiloids from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky

October 24th, 2014

1 Nautiloid pair 091314Two nautiloids are preserved in the above image of a slab from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky. (I wish I knew which specific locality. This is why paleontologists are such fanatics about labeling specimens.) The top internal mold (meaning it is sediment that infilled a shell now dissolved away) has been covered in a previous blog entry. This week I want to concentrate on the nautiloid at the bottom.

These nautiloids belong to the Family Orthoceratidae McCoy, 1844, which existed from the Early Ordovician (490 million years ago) through the Triassic (230 million years ago). They had conical, aragonitic shells with walls inside separating chambers (camerae) and a central tube (the siphuncle) connecting them. They were swimming (nektic) predators that could control their buoyancy through a mix of gases and liquids in the camerae mediated by the siphuncle.

What is most interesting here is the preservation of these nautiloids. The aragonitic shells were dissolved away at about the same time the internal sediment was cemented, forming the internal molds. These molds were exposed on the seafloor, attracting encrusting organisms. This means the dissolution and cementation took place quickly and in the marine environment, not after burial. This rapid dissolving of aragonite and cementation by calcite is typical of Calcite Sea geochemistry, something we don’t see in today’s Aragonite Seas.
2 Nautiloid siphuncle 091314Above is a close view of the cemented siphuncle of the lower nautiloid, heavily encrusted by a trepostome bryozoan.
3 Bryozoan undersideEven more cool, the outside of the lower nautiloid was encrusted by several trepostome bryozoan colonies. When the shell dissolved it left the undersides of these bryozoans exposed, as seen above. These undersides often contain the remains of shelly organisms the bryozoans encrusted (see the Independent Study project by Kit Price ’13) and even soft-bodied animals (epibiont bioimmuration; see Wilson et al., 1994).

A neat package here resulting from biological, sedimentological and geochemical factors.


Palmer, T.J., Hudson, J.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Palaeoecological evidence for early aragonite dissolution in ancient calcite seas. Nature 335 (6193): 809–810.

Sweet, W.C. 1964. Nautiloidea — Orthocerida, in Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Part K. Mollusca 3, Geological Society of America, and University of Kansas Press, New York, New York and Lawrence, Kansas.

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.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel

October 17th, 2014

Fig. 2 Aspidiscus1bw_scale 585The stark black-and-white of these images are a clue that the fossil this week has been described in a paper. Above is the scleractinian coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) from the En Yorqe’am Formation (Cenomanian, Upper Cretaceous) of southern Israel. The holes are developed by and around tiny bivalves and given the trace fossil name Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. This specimen was collected during my April trip to Israel, a day recorded in this blog. I crowd-sourced the identification of these corals, and they were highlighted as earlier Fossils of the Week. Now I’d like to describe them again with new information, and celebrate the publication of a paper about them.

En Yorqe'am040914aThis is the exposure of the En Yorqe’am Formation where Yoav Avni and I collected the coral specimens approximately 20 meters from its base in Nahal Neqarot, southern Israel (30.65788°, E 35.08764°). It is an amazingly fossiliferous unit here with brachiopods, stromatoporoid sponges, zillions of oysters, gastropods, ammonites and the corals.

The abstract of the Wilson et al. (2014) paper tells the story: “Specimens of the small compound coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) containing evidence of symbiosis with bivalves have been found in the En Yorqe’am Formation (Upper Cretaceous, early Cenomanian) of southern Israel. The corals have paired holes on their upper surfaces leading to a common chamber below, forming the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. Apparently gastrochaenid bivalve larvae settled on living coral surfaces and began to bore into the underlying aragonitic skeletons. The corals added new skeleton around the paired siphonal tubes of the invading bivalves, eventually producing crypts that were borings at their bases and bioclaustrations at their openings. When a boring bivalve died its crypt was closed by the growing coral, entombing the bivalve shell in place. This is early evidence of a symbiotic relationship between scleractinian corals and boring bivalves (parasitism in this case), and the earliest record of bivalve infestation of a member of the Suborder Microsolenina. It is also the earliest occurrence of G. ampullatus.”

Fig. 3 BoringPair2bw_scale 585 Paired apertures of Gastrochaenolites ampullatus in the coral Aspidiscus cristatus.

Fig. 4 EmbeddedBivalve1bw_scale_rev 585Polished cross-section through a specimen of Gastrochaenolites ampullatus in an Aspidiscus cristatus coral. In the lower left of the chamber are layered carbonates (A) representing boring linings produced by the bivalve. An articulated bivalve shell (B) is preserved in the chamber. The chamber has been roofed over by coral growth (C).

Thank you very much to Tim Palmer and Olev Vinn for their critical roles in this paper, and, of course, thanks to Yoav Avni, the best field geologist I know.


Avnimelech, M. 1947. A new species of Aspidiscus from the Middle Cretaceous of Sinai and remarks on this genus in general. Eclogae geologicae Helvetiae 40: 294-298.

Gill, G.A. and Lafuste, J.G. 1987. Structure, repartition et signification paleogeographique d’Aspidiscus, hexacoralliaire cenomanien de la Tethys. Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 3: 921-934.

Kleemann, K., 1994. Associations of corals and boring bivalves since the Late Cretaceous. Facies 31, 131-140.

Morton, B. 1990. Corals and their bivalve borers: the evolution of a symbiosis. In: Morton, B. (Ed.), The Bivalvia: Proceedings of a Memorial Symposium in Honour of Sir Charles Maurice Yonge (1899-1986) at the 9th International Malacological Congress, 1986, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, pp. 11-46

Pandey, D.K., Fürsich, F.T., Gameil, M. and Ayoub-Hannaa, W.S. 2011. Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck) from the Cenomanian sediments of Wadi Quseib, east Sinai, Egypt. Journal of the Paleontological Society of India 56: 29-37.

Wilson, M.A., Vinn, O. and Palmer, T.J. 2014. Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 414: 243-245.


The geological setting of Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania

October 11th, 2014

Great Meadows 101114On July 3, 1754, colonial lieutenant Colonel George Washington fought and lost a small battle on this site in southwestern Pennsylvania. He and his 400 men had built this makeshift fort about a month before in anticipation of an attack by several hundred French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French were incensed at Washington and his troops after they killed or captured most of a French party at the Battle of Jumonville Glen two months before. (Accounts vary as to who was at fault for that deadly encounter as France and Britain were not at war.) The Battle of Fort Necessity was just one day long, and the British under Washington had the worst of it. Washington accepted French surrender terms and he and his men were allowed to march home. This pair of skirmishes between the French and British started the French and Indian War,  known outside of the USA as the Seven Years’ War. It quickly became a global fight between empires; in many ways it was the first modern world war. And it all started in this lonely part of the Pennsylvania country.

Washington chose to place his ill-fated fort, a reconstruction of which is shown above, in a high grassy spot known as the Great Meadows. It is situated near two passes in the Allegheny Mountains, and thus sits strategically beside major trails. Washington liked the area because there was plenty of feed for his pack animals and horses, lots of available water (too much, it turned out), and it was not in the midst of the endless woods of the region.
Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 5.19.55 PMThis geological map of the area (from the National Park Service) shows that the fort was situated on the Upper Carboniferous Glenshaw Formation. This unit has much clay, trapping water in the thin soil above (“Philo Loam“). Further, the area is a floodplain, thus making the area a kind of wetland with grasses and sedges. Great for horse grazing, not so good for walls, buildings or trenches.
Entrenchments 101114Here we see the shallow entrenchments made by Washington and his men as they awaited attack. The clayey soil and pouring rain made a mess of these boggy trenches.

Fort inside 101114Inside the fort was a simple square building used mainly to keep supplies and wounded men dry, During the battle it was partially flooded with rainwater.

British view 101114This is the British view from the fort of the surrounding woods. Washington miscalculated his placing of the fort because the French and Indians could easily hit it with musket shots while hiding among the trees.

French Indian view 101114The French and Indian view of the hapless fort. It was easy to rain bullets on the British from the woods with little fear of the return fire.

Braddock road trace 101114Nearby is a trace of the military road Washington’s unit had blazed through the Pennsylvania woods on their way to the French Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh. The British General Edward Braddock enlarged this road the next year in his famous march to a spectacular defeat nearby (the “Battle of Monongahela“).

We can’t fault Washington too much for his choice of a fort location. He did not have the resources to clear a large patch of forest, so the meadow would have to do. He expected to be reinforced soon, so he saw the fort as a temporary measure of protection. The rain was beyond his control that July day, and the clay-rich meadow floor ensured wet misery and ruined supplies. The French surprisingly gave good terms for surrender because they were wet, too, in those woods, and they also expected more British and colonial troops would arrive soon. They feared being surrounded, and so thought their message to Washington and his countrymen had been sufficiently made. How different our world would be if the French were not so generous here in southwestern Pennsylvania!

Additional Reference:

Thornberry-Ehrlich, T. 2009. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Geologic Resources Inventory Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR—2009/082. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An early bryozoan on a Middle Ordovician hardground from Utah

October 10th, 2014

ORBIPORA UTAHENSIS (Hinds, 1970) 072014Last week I presented eocrinoid holdfasts on carbonate hardgrounds from the Kanosh Formation (Middle Ordovician) in west-central Utah. This week we have a thick and strangely featureless bryozoan from the same hardgrounds. It is very common on these surfaces, forming gray, perforate masses that look stuck on like silly putty. Above you see one on the left end of this hardground fragment. (The circular object to the right is another eocrinoid holdfast.)
Kanosh bryo eo 072014Here is a closer view of the bryozoan, again with one of those ubiquitous eocrinoids encrusting it. The holes are the zooecial apertures. Each zooecium is the skeletal component of a living bryozoan individual (zooid). Note that the walls are thick and granular between the zooecia. All the zooecia look pretty much the same, and there are no other structures like spines, pillars or maculae. This is about as simple as a bryozoan gets.

It is impossible to be certain without a thin-section or acetate peel showing the interior, but I’m pretty sure this Kanosh bryozoan is Orbipora utahensis (Hinds, 1970). It matches fairly well the description in Hinds (1970), who named it Dianulites utahensis, and it fits within the redescription by Ernst et al. (2007).

Several years ago we would have called this a trepostome bryozoan and left it at that. These are, after all, the “stony bryozoans” with thick calcite skeletons and long zooecia. However, the group to which Orbipora belongs is unusual because they have no polymorphs (small zooecia different from the primary zooecia) and have granular skeletal textures rather than laminated. We think the granular walls may be because the original skeletons were made of high-magnesium calcite that later altered to low-magnesium calcite and dolomite, losing details of the microstructure. Orbipora is thus in an as yet undescribed new order of bryozoans. [Update: See comment below from Paul Taylor.]

The Kanosh hardgrounds and their attaching faunas are important in geological and biological history because they are telling us something about the geochemical conditions of the seawater when they formed. We think this was a peak time of Calcite Seas, when low-magnesium calcite was a primary marine precipitate and carbon dioxide levels were high in the atmosphere and seawater. Hardgrounds would have formed rapidly because of early cementation, and aragonite and high-magnesium skeletons would have altered soon after death. The abundant Kanosh communities and substrates are critical evidence for these conditions that were superimposed on the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE). We thus have a delightful combination of seawater geochemistry (and, ultimately, the tectonics that controls it) and evolution intertwined in the history of these rocks and fossils.


Ernst, A., Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 2007. Ordovician bryozoans from the Kanosh Formation (Whiterockian) of Utah, USA. Journal of Paleontology 81: 998-1008.

Hinds, R.W. 1970. Ordovician Bryozoa from the Pogonip Group of Millard County, western Utah. Brigham Young University Research Studies, Geology Series 17: 19–40.

Marenco, P.J., Marenco, K.N., Lubitz, R.L. and Niu, D. 2013. Contrasting long-term global and short-term local redox proxies during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event: A case study from Fossil Mountain, Utah, USA. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 377: 45-51.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J., Guensburg, T.E., Finton, C.D. and Kaufman, L.E. 1992. The development of an Early Ordovician hardground community in response to rapid sea-floor calcite precipitation. Lethaia 25: 19-34.

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