Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A thoroughly encrusted rugose coral from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana

April 22nd, 2016

1 Rugosan Exterior 123015It doesn’t look like much, this long lump of gray stone. With a close view you might pick up a hint of a bryozoan or two, but mostly we see rather shabby shades of grey. One of the coolest perks of being a geologist, though, is that you get to use a saw to cut rocks in half to see what’s inside. So that’s what I did with this specimen from the Whitewater Formation (Upper Ordovician) of southeastern Indiana at a site we’ve visited often.

2 Rugosan interior 123015In this cross-section we see first a long, cone-shaped fossil made of white calcite. It is the rugose coral Grewingkia canadensis, one of the most common fossils in the upper part of the Upper Ordovician. This coral in life would have stood upright like an ice cream cone, spreading the tentacles of its polyp to catch very small swimming prey (and maybe to do a bit of symbiotic photosynthesis). The polyp sat in the cup-like cavity on the expanded end of the cone. The coral evidently died on the Ordovician seafloor and toppled over to be encrusted on one side, presumably the one that faced upwards.

3 Coral Bryo Sed BryoThis is a closer view of the cross-section showing the encrustations on the rugose coral skeleton. The image is annotated below.

4 Coral Bryo Sed Bryo annotatedThe coral skeleton in the lower right was first encrusted by a trepostome bryozoan, which you can recognize by the tubes (zooecia) extending perpendicular from the substrate. This bryozoan is thickest on the upwards-facing surface of the coral, and it thins as it wraps around and then colonizes the cryptic space beneath (but not too far). This bryozoan is covered with a layer of sediment which appears to have rapidly cemented in place (a function of Calcite Sea geochemistry). The sediment then is encrusted by a another trepostome bryozoan with long zooecia and several layers.

5 Bryo Sed 123015In this closer view of the second bryozoan you can see that its base is irregular as it grew across the rough cemented sediment surface. In the middle of this view some of the bryozoan zooecia are occupied by dark spots known as brown bodies. These are likely the remains of bryozoan polypides (main parts of the individual zooids) that were sealed into their zooecia by some disturbance. In this case the whitish bit of sediment above the cluster may represent something that settled on the colony, stopping the growth of the zooecia below, and forcing those nearby to grow around it.

6 Borings 123015Moving down the coral skeleton away from its opening we come across borings drilled down through the coral skeleton (the white mass at the bottom of the image). The conical, large boring is filled with golden crystals of the mineral dolomite, which were formed long after burial. The shape of this boring is unusual. Typical borings in these corals have straight parallel sides, but this boring is cone-shaped. We’ll see if we can find more like it to get a better idea of its shape and distribution.

This week’s fossil, then, is a demonstration of the hidden wonders sometimes found in even the dullest of grey rocks!

 

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An atrypid brachiopod from the Devonian of Spain

April 15th, 2016

1 Atrypid dorsal Lr Couvinian M Dev El Pical Leon SpainOur featured fossil this week is another gift from brachiopod enthusiast Clive Champion of England. This fine specimen of Atrypa sp. was collected from the Middle Devonian (Lower Couvinian) exposed at El Pical, Leon, Spain. Atrypa is the emblematic genus of the atrypid brachiopods, which were common in the Devonian around the world. They were also prominent in the Late Ordovician of the Cincinnati region, as seen here and here. We are looking at the dorsal valve in the above view.

2 Atrypid spiraliaThis particular specimen is not notable for its special beauty (it is, after all, exfoliated and a bit misshapen), but for the view it provides of an internal feature: the spiral brachidium, sometimes called the spiralia. This was a ribbon of calcite that supported the lophophore, a tentacular apparatus used in filter-feeding. We see it here because the dorsal valve eroded away, exposing the inside of the shell. Our friends at The Falls of the Ohio have another specimen showing the spiral lophophore of an atrypid.

3 Atrypid ventralThis is a view of the flat ventral valve of our atrypid brachiopod. Inside during life the spiral lophophore would have looked like two springs perpendicular to the floor of this valve.

Thank you again, Clive, for the beautiful and inspiring brachiopods!

References:

Bose, R. 2013. A geometric morphometric approach in assessing paleontological problems in atrypid taxonomy, phylogeny, evolution and ecology, p. 1-9. In: Biodiversity and Evolutionary Ecology of Extinct Organisms. Springer, Berlin and Heidelberg.
Rudwick, M.J.S. 1960. The feeding mechanisms of spire-bearing fossil brachiopods. Geological Magazine 97: 369-383.

 

Dr. Patrick O’Connor gives the 35th annual Richard G. Osgood, Jr., Memorial lecture at Wooster

April 14th, 2016

1 Patrick GeoClub 041416WOOSTER, OHIO–It was our pleasure to host Dr. Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University, who presented the 35th Annual Richard G. Osgood, Jr., Memorial Lecture. The Osgood Lectureship was endowed in 1981 by the three sons of Dr. Osgood in memory of their father, who was an internationally known paleontologist at Wooster from 1967 to 1981. We have had outstanding speakers through this lectureship, and Dr. O’Connor was one of the best. He gave his public lecture last evening (“Cretaceous Terrestrial Vertebrates from Gondwana: Insights from Eastern Africa and Madagascar”) and then a more detailed presentation to our Geology Club this morning (shown in the image above). We all learned a great deal, and Dr. O’Connor was especially good at asking our students questions.

2 Dinosaur cast 041416In Geology Club today Dr. O’Connor brought casts of fossils (like the above Maastrichtian theropod from Madagascar) and actual fossils (like the Maastrichtian bird bones from Madagascar shown below).

3 Bird bones 041416We very much appreciated Dr. O’Connor’s diverse scientific skills and accomplishments, along with his enthusiasm and good humor. This is exactly what the Osgood Lectureship is about.

 

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A crinoid stem internal mold from the Lower Carboniferous of Ohio

April 8th, 2016

crinoid internal mold 1The Biology Department at The College of Wooster is in the midst of a massive move in advance of the construction of the new Ruth Williams Hall of Life Science. The staff has been combing through old specimen collections, giving away items they don’t need for teaching or research. Among the objects are occasional fossils they gave to the Geology Department. The above specimen is one of the most curious: a combination internal and external mold of a crinoid stem from the local Lower Carboniferous rocks.

crinoid internal mold lumen copyThis is a closer view of the fossil. It is a cylindrical cavity with faint rings in a regular distribution. (These are external molds of the individual crinoid columnals.) Suspended down the axis is a segmented pillar with a stellate cross-section. (This is the internal mold of the crinoid stem lumen, a central cavity that runs down the center of the stem.) It appears that an iron-rich cement (probably siderite) filled this lumen after the death of the crinoid. The stem fragment was enveloped in a siderite concretion and the calcite stem columnals dissolved away. This leaves us with both an external mold of the stem and an internal mold of its lumen.

Carb stem 1For comparison, this is a crinoid stem fragment in its original calcite. It was found in a local Carboniferous limestone.

Carb stem 2Here are cross-sections of the same stems showing sediment-filled stellate lumens in their centers.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: An encrusted and bored coral (maybe) from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana (Part II)

April 1st, 2016

6 Tetradium cavernLast week we looked at a dull gray rock found in a roadcut in southeastern Indiana near the town of Liberty. It is from the Saluda Formation (Upper Ordovician), a thin unit that was likely deposited in very shallow, lagoonal waters along the Cincinnati Arch. We know that it is primarily a platter formed by the mysterious fossil Tetradium, and that it is encrusted with a trepostome bryozoan that was infested by some sort of soft-bodied encruster on its surface, forming the trace fossil Catellocaula vallata. Now we’re examining the wonders revealed by cutting this rock in half. Above we see the surprising and spectacular geode that it is, with calcite crystals surrounding a dark cavity. Let’s see what the fossils look like when polished and magnified.

7 LongitudinalCrossTetraThe orangish, irregular patch in the lower half of the section above is the crystalline calcite near the center of the rock. The sediment-filled tubes in the top half are of the Tetradium specimen. Note that the walls of the tubes are blurry and indistinct, and that they fade and disappear into the calcite crystals below. This is apparently because the skeleton of Tetradium was made of aragonite, an unstable form of calcium carbonate. It is likely that the aragonitc, tubular skeleton of Tetradium dissolved away in the center of this encrusted mass, forming the cavity that later filled with secondary calcite crystals. The remaining tubes were apparently preserved as ghostly molds by infillings of calcitic mud that didn’t dissolve.

8 TetracrossIn this section we are cutting the Tetradium tubes perpendicularly, rather than the longitudinal cuts we saw before. The cross-sections of the tubes show a four-part symmetry, which adds to the mystery of this group. (This is where the name “Tetradium” comes from.) It has been called a chaetetid sponge (as in Termier and Termier, 1980); a “calcareous filamentous florideophyte [red] alga” (Steele-Petrovich 2009a, 2009b, 2011; she renamed it Prismostylus), and most commonly a coral of some sort (as in Wendt, 1989). I now know enough about chaetetids to say that it is not in that group. Chaetetid tubes are not aragonitic, do not show tetrameral symmetry, and have diaphragms (horizontal floors). The corals of the Ordovician are decidedly calcitic, not aragonitic, and they too have internal features in their tubes not seen here. The four-part symmetry, though, is something you see in the coral’s phylum, Cnidaria, so there is that vague resemblance. The red algal affinity strongly urged by Steele-Petrovich may be our best diagnosis for the place of Tetradium.

9 BryoTetra1On top of the tubes of Tetradium is the encrusting trepostome bryozoan. Its tubes (zooecia) are made of stable calcite, so they are well preserved compared to the aragonite tubes of Tetradium below it. Note that the bryozoan is made of two layers. One colony died or went into some sort of remission, and another of the same species grew across it. The second colony could have budded somewhere from the first colony.

10 BrownBodies122915This closer view of the bryozoan section shows details of the zooecia, including the horizontal diaphragms inside. The dark spots at the tops of the zooecia are brown bodies, the remains of polypides preserved here in clear calcite cement. (We’ve seen brown bodies before in this blog.) They likely represent some sort of traumatic event in the life of this bryozoan when this part of the colony essentially shut down and was covered with sediment.

11 Gypsumflower122915Finally, there is a mineralogy story here too! Attached to the dog-tooth calcite spar in the center of this geode is this tiny gypsum flower. The gypsum crystals are white and very delicate. The dark needles among them are mysterious. Dr. Meagen Pollock and her students will subject them to x-ray diffraction in her lab later this semester. I’ll report the results here.

It is a simple tool, the rock saw. For geologists and paleontologists, it is one of our essential instruments for discovery.

References:

Hatfield, C.B. 1968. Stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Saluda Formation (Cincinnatian) in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Geological Society of America Special Papers 95: 1-30.

Li, Q., Li, Y. and Kiessling, W. 2015. The first sphinctozoan-bearing reef from an Ordovician back-arc basin. Facies 61: 1-9.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939-949.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009a. The biological reconstruction of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 297-311.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009b. Biological affinity, phenotypic variation and palaeoecology of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 383-392.

Steele-Petrovich, H.M. 2011. Replacement name for Tetradium DANA, 1846. Journal of Paleontology 85: 802–803.

Termier, G. and Termier, H. 1980. Functional morphology and systematic position of tabulatomorphs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 25: 419-428.

Wendt, J. 1989. Tetradiidae — first evidence of aragonitic mineralogy in tabulate corals. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 63: 177–181.

 

Wooster Geologist Annette Hilton (’17) meets Lunar Geologist Harrison Schmitt

March 29th, 2016

Schmitt_Hilton_GrossAnnette Hilton (’17) gave a talk this month at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, along with her summer internship advisor Julianne Gross of the American Museum of Natural History and Rutgers University. You can read the story of their exciting discoveries here. This is a remarkable accomplishment for any undergraduate, let alone a junior. As a bonus, they met the only geologist to go to the Moon: Harrison (Jack) Schmitt. He even stayed for Annette’s presentation. Very cool.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: An encrusted and bored coral (maybe) from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana (Part I)

March 25th, 2016

1 TopEncrustedTetradiumI found this lump of a gray rock in southeastern Indiana along a highway near the town of Liberty. It is from the Saluda Formation (Upper Ordovician), a thin unit that was likely deposited in very shallow, lagoonal waters along the Cincinnati Arch. It is not especially notable in this view. I intend to show you the wonders that can be revealed in such dull rocks by simply sawing them in half. First, though, let’s have a look at the outside. Inn the view above you can see on the left side a large trepostome bryozoan with some irregular holes in it. We’ll come back to that.

2 BaseEncrustedTetradiumFlipping the rock over we find that most of it is a fibrous fossil shaped like a dinner plate with limestone matrix and encrusting bryozoans covering most of the center.

3 CloserTubesTetraA closer view of the fibrous part shows thousands of thin tubes radiating out from the center of the plate. This is the Ordovician fossil known as Tetradium. It is strange and mysterious enough that we will use the next Fossil of the Week blog post to describe it. It has been called a chaetetid sponge (as in Termier and Termier, 1980); a “calcareous filamentous florideophyte alga” (Steele-Petrovich 2009a, 2009b, 2011; she renamed it Prismostylus), and most commonly a coral of some sort (Wendt, 1989). Interesting range of options! We’ll explore later.

4 Catellocaula122915Now, back to the trepostome bryozoan visible on the top surface. There are three kinds of holes on this specimen. The smallest are the zooecia of the bryozoan itself, each of which would have hosted a zooid (a bryozoan individual). They are the background texture of the fossil. The large holes above are a bioclaustration structure that Time Palmer and I named in 1988 as Catellocaula vallata (little chain of walled  pits). It is explained thoroughly in one of the early Fossil of the Week posts. Basically they are pits formed when the bryozoan grew up and around some sort of soft-bodied colonial organism sitting on top of the surface, forming these embedment structures connected together by tunnels at their bases.

5 Trypanites122915A third kind of hole in this bryozoan is a boring cut down into its skeleton. These are the trace fossil Trypanites, formed when some kind of filter-feeding worm bored straight into the calcite zoarium (colonial skeleton) to make a protective home, as many polychaete worms do today.

Now let’s cut this stone in half —

6 Tetradium cavernInside we find a wonderful cavern of crystals — a geode! The crystals are mostly calcite, with dog-tooth spar lining the cavity and blocky spar replacing large parts of the Tetradium skeleton. There’s a story here, and it will be told in the next Fossil of the Week post!

References:

Hatfield, C.B. 1968. Stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Saluda Formation (Cincinnatian) in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Geological Society of America Special Papers 95: 1-30.

Li, Q., Li, Y. and Kiessling, W. 2015. The first sphinctozoan-bearing reef from an Ordovician back-arc basin. Facies 61: 1-9.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939-949.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009a. The biological reconstruction of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 297-311.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009b. Biological affinity, phenotypic variation and palaeoecology of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 383-392.

Steele-Petrovich, H.M. 2011. Replacement name for Tetradium DANA, 1846. Journal of Paleontology 85: 802–803.

Termier, G. and Termier, H. 1980. Functional morphology and systematic position of tabulatomorphs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 25: 419-428.

Wendt, J. 1989. Tetradiidae — first evidence of aragonitic mineralogy in tabulate corals. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 63: 177–181.

A Wooster Geologist visits the caves of Tel Maresha in central Israel

March 21st, 2016

1 Bell caves MareshaTEL AVIV, ISRAEL — My last day in Israel was spent with my friend Yoav Avni exploring some sites in the central part of the country before my flight left Tel Aviv late in the evening. The most geological place we visited was Maresha (which later became, in order, Beit Guvrin, Eleutheropolis, Bethgibelin, Bayt Jibrin, Kibbutz Beit Guvrin and Beit Guvrin National Park — you know there’s a long story there!). Maresha was an 8th Century BCE Israelite city in Judah that guarded several trade routes and access to the Judean hills from the coast. It thus had significant strategic value and was subject to just about every conqueror of the region since the Iron Age. The bedrock has a very thick section of the Maresha Formation (Eocene), a homogeneous soft chalk that is easily carved. This chalk has long been quarried for building stone and the main component of plaster and cement. The typical quarries are bell-shaped, with a small circular entrance from ground level and an expanding cone downwards. Above we see several intersecting quarries exposed by a roof collapse.

2 Bell caves signHere is a helpful diagram showing the construction of bell caves. The top geological layer is a hard calcrete (caliche) locally called nari. It provides a strong roof for the quarries.

3 Bell cave openingThe opening of a bell cave through the calcrete upper layer.

4 Bell cave carving marksThe sides of the quarries easily show the tool marks made by the workers as they spiraled down into the bedrock. This rock is soft enough to dig with your fingernails.

5 Columbarium Maresha

Residents of Maresha, especially in the diverse Hellenistic times (2nd-3rd centuries BCE), reused the quarries for living and working spaces, expanding several into new rooms. Above Yoav is standing in the largest columbarium, a place to raise doves for food and rituals. (Not for the storage of ancestral ashes or bones, as was once thought.)

6 Yoav in Columbarium MareshaI didn’t want to crop out Yoav’s happy face! He is standing in the bottom of a bell cave repurposed as a columbarium.

7 Olive cracker MareshaThere are several underground olive oil factories that were active from the 3rd Century BCE until modern times. This device was driven by a donkey to crush raw olives.

8 Large olive press MareshaThis is an underground olive press. Heavy stones were attached to the beams to press the juices out of olives cracked first by the donkey apparatus above.

9 Siddonian cavesThe Sidonian tombs (about 2nd Century BCE) are very impressive. All the carving is original, but the paint shown above is a modern reconstruction. This inscription on a tomb here is haunting:

Nothing else remains that I can do for you, or that will pleasure you. I am sleeping with someone else, but it is you I love, dearest to me of all.

In the name of Aphrodite, I am happy about one thing, that your cloak has been left to me as a pledge.

But I flee, and permit you expanses of freedom. Do anything you desire.

Do not strike the wall; it only makes noise. We will motion to each other; this will be the sign between us.

10 Maresha countrysideThe scenery above ground at Tel Maresha is lush and green. This region received more than the usual amount of rain this season, and it shows. We are looking here from the tel towards Hebron in the Judean hills. Note the herd of sheep in the middle ground distance.

11 Bedouin sheep MareshaLater in the day we met those sheep and their Bedouin shepherds.

12 Tel MareshaAnd here is Tel Maresha itself. Only 10% has been excavated, so much more remains to be discovered.

__________________________

My tradition at the end of a field excursion is to include my most important GPS numbers and coordinates:

125: N29.99183°, E35.07680° Gerofit Junction Ora Formation
126: N30.94310°, E34.97972° SU62 below oolite; nice corals
127: N30.94323°, E34.99110° Top Zohar Cliff
128: N30.95774°, E35.00615° SU65 bedding plane
129: N30.94358°, E34.97828° SU65 in Matmor Hills
130: N30.94812°, E35.00099° Lowest exposed Zohar
131: N30.33491°, E34.92828° Road to Be’er Ada
132: N30.32229°, E34.90701° Be’er Ada
133: N30.32553°, E34.90683° Near Be’er Ada along fault
135: N30.32973°, E34.91417° Ada Canyon top view
136: N30.32001°, E34.97467° Wadi Paran cliffs

Wildflowers of the Negev, 2016 version

March 21st, 2016

1 purple flower 031616MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — One of my last posts from a trip into the Negev is a selection of flower images. (Here is the previous wildflower post. None of the blooms are the same.) I don’t know any of their names, so I depend on commentators to help me add them. Above is a nice purple flower from Makhtesh Ramon.

2 Light purple flowersAnother purple flower, this one with four petals. Makhtesh Ramon.

3 Flower with two insectsThis swirly purple flower has two insects on it. Did one arrive to eat the other? Makhtesh Gadol.

4 Blood red flowersThese blood-red flowers are on a common shrub in the wadis.

5 Red flowersThese flowers of unusual shape are very common in all the wadis I visited.

6 Spiky bubbles bushA spiky bubble bush in Makhtesh Gadol.

7 Spiky bubbles closeA closer view of the spiky bubble bush. I was told that squeezing the bubbles produces a foul smell. I did not experiment.

8 Wrapped thistleThese thistle-like plants are always wrapped in some sort of insect or spider silk.

It was a beautiful season for flower diversity, if not abundance. Comments welcome!

Last day of fieldwork in Israel: More Jurassic enjoyment

March 20th, 2016

1 SU66 at Meredith 032016MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — For my last day of fieldwork during this short Spring Break trip to Israel, I returned to Makhtesh Gadol to collect a bit more data from subunits 65 and 66 of the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian). The above image shows part of my field site in the Meredith section north of the “British Road” across the top of the makhtesh. The yellowish marls are subunit 66, with the white limestone of subunit 65 peeking out at their base. The Matmor Formation is distinguished by this alternation of carbonates and marls, and the faunas in each sediment type are very different.

2 SU65 bivalve at Meredith 032016I did not do any collecting today. Most of my work was tracing rock units, photographing fossils, and taking lots of notes. Above is a nice bivalve in the limestone of subunit 65.

3 SU65 bivalve and bullet 032016Here’s another bivalve with a spent bullet for scale. (Dramatic effect. There is far less ordnance in Makhtesh Gadol than other places I’ve worked in the Negev.) Note that the bivalve is articulated (both valves are locked together), meaning it likely was buried alive. Almost all the bivalves in subunit 65 are articulated.

4 SU65 branching coral 032016There is one horizon in subunit 65 with a surprising number of branching corals. These look very much like the modern Acropora, but they’re not.

5 SU65 SU66 boundary at Meredith 032016This is again the boundary between the white and resistant subunit 65 and the yellowish and nonresistant subunit 66. I have no images of fossils to show you from subunit 66 because they weren’t very photogenic. They are relatively rare and consist mostly of small solitary and colonial corals and occasional oysters.

Thus ends my 2016 fieldwork in Israel! I learned a lot in these eight days of exploration and study, and I worked with excellent colleagues. I have some ideas now for a project that will place these Middle Jurassic rocks and fossils in a global paleobiogeographic and evolutionary context. Many future Independent Study projects are possible!

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