Mark Wilson December 25th, 2015
These exquisite little brachiopods are among the most abundant fossils in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area. My Invertebrate Paleontology students collected dozens of them from the Waynesville Formation on our field trip to Caesar Creek Lake last semester. Their ubiquity, though, doesn’t make them any less precious.
This is Zygospira modesta (Say in Hall, 1847). Above is a dorsal valve view of a single specimen. At the apex you can see a tiny round hole from which a fleshy pedicle extended to attach the brachiopod to a hard substrate.
Here is the ventral valve view. Zygospira is an atrypid brachiopod, meaning that its internal support (brachidium) for the filter-feeding lophophore is looped in a characteristic way, shown below.
The diagrams above are from Hall (1867) who named the genus Zygospira and wished to further distinguish it from other atrypid brachiopods.
The taxonomy of Zygospira modesta is a bit messy, as many early 19th Century species descriptions tended to be. It was apparently first named Producta modesta by Thomas Say (see below) but not actually published as such. James Hall described it as Atrypa modesta in 1847. Later in 1862 he named Zygospira as a new genus, making Z. modesta its type species but not indicating a type locality.
We met Thomas Say (1787-1834) earlier in this blog, recognizing him as the scientist who named Exogyra costata in 1820. He is shown above in an 1818 portrait. Say was a brilliant American natural historian. Among his many accomplishments in his short career, he helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812, the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the New World. He is best known for his descriptive entomology in the new United States, becoming one of the country’s best known taxonomists. He was the zoologist on two famous expeditions led by Major Stephen Harriman Long. The first, in 1819-1820, was to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains; the other (in 1823) was to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Along with his passion for insects, Say also studied mollusk shells, both recent and fossil. He was a bit of an ascetic, moving to the utopian socialist New Harmony Settlement in Indiana for the last eight years of his life. It is said his simple habits and refusal to earn money caused problems for his family. Say succumbed to what appeared to by typhoid fever when he was just 47.
Copper, P. 1977. Zygospira and some related Ordovician and Silurian atrypoid brachiopods. Palaeontology 20: 295-335.
Hall, J. 1862. Observations upon a new genus of Brachiopoda. Report New York State Museum, Natural History 15: 154-155.
Hall, J. 1867. Note upon the genus Zygospira and its relations to Atrypa. Report New York State Museum, Natural History 20: 267-268.
Sandy, M.R. 1996. Oldest record of peduncular attachment of brachiopods to crinoid stems, Upper Ordovician, Ohio, USA (Brachiopoda; Atrypida: Echinodermata; Crinoidea). Journal of Paleontology 70: 532-534.