Five-Year Anniversary Edition of Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A tabulate coral from the Devonian of northwestern Ohio

January 1st, 2016

AuloporaDevonianSilicaShale010211This post of Wooster’s Fossil of the Week marks five years of this feature. If you’re counting, that is 260 entries, with never a week missed. To celebrate, I’m returning to the very first fossil in the series, a beautiful encrusting tabulate coral. The original entry is below, with some updates and added links.

This week’s fossil was collected by Brian Bade of Sullivan, Ohio, and donated to Wooster as part of my hederelloid project.  It is a beautiful specimen of the tabulate coral Aulopora encrusting a brachiopod valve from the Silica Shale (Middle Devonian — about 390 million years old) of northwestern Ohio.  [Update: I now know the species is A. microbuccinata Watkins, 1959.] Auloporid corals are characterized by an encrusting habit, a bifurcating growth pattern, and horn-shaped corallites (individual skeletal containers for the polyps).

What is especially nice about this specimen is that we are looking at a well preserved colony origin.  The corallite marked with the yellow “P” is the protocorallite — the first corallite from which all the others are derived.  You can see that two corallites bud out from the protocorallite 180° from each other.  These two corallites in turn each bud two corallites, but at about 160°.  This pattern continues as the colony develops (a process called astogeny).  The angles of budding begin to vary depending on local obstacles; they never again go below 160°.

The polyps inside the corallites are presumed to have been like other colonial coral polyps.  Each would have had tentacles surrounding a central opening, and all were connecting by soft tissue within the skeleton.  They likely fed on zooplankton in the surrounding seawater.  This type of coral went extinct in the Permian, roughly 260 million years ago.

Again, we thank our amateur geologist friends for such useful donations to the research and educational collections in the Geology Department at Wooster.

Later I began to add information about a notable paleontologist associated with the highlighted fossil. I especially wanted to put a face and brief biography with a name we may often see in our taxonomic pursuits but know little about. We can now add this German gentleman from a previous entry —
August_Goldfuss_1841Aulopora was first described in 1826 by Georg August Goldfuss (1782-1848), a German paleontologist and zoologist. (Goldfuß is the proper spelling, if I can use that fancy Germanic letter.) He earned a PhD from Erlangen in 1804 and later in 1818 assumed a position teaching zoology at the University of Bonn. With Count Georg zu Münster, he wrote Petrefacta Germaniae, an ambitious attempt to catalog all the invertebrate fossils of Germany (but only got through some of the mollusks). The 1841 portrait above is by Adolf Hohneck (1812-1879).

Since the first few entries I began to add a few critical references for the fossils and related stratigraphy. At first these were for me so that I could remember where I got the information used in the text. Later I noted that students and others were finding these entries online and using them as brief introductions to particular taxa. A few references made each entry a starting point for someone else’s paleontological explorations. Here are some added citations for Aulopora


Fenton, M.A. 1937. Species of Aulopora from the Traverse and Hamilton Groups. American Midland Naturalist 18: 115-119.

Fenton, M.A. and Fenton, C.L. 1937. Aulopora: a form-genus of tabulate corals and bryozoans. American Midland Naturalist 18: 109-115.

Goldfuß, G.A. 1826-1844. Petrefacta Germaniae. Tam ea, quae in museo universitatis Regia Borussicae Fridericiae Wilhelmiae Rhenanae servantur, quam alia quaecunque in museis Hoeninghusiano Muensteriano aliisque extant, iconibus et descriptionibus illustrata = Abbildungen und Beschreibungen der Petrefacten Deutschlands und der angränzenden Länder, unter Mitwirkung von Georg Graf zu Münster, Düsseldorf.

Helm, C. 1999. Astogenese von Aulopora cf. enodis Klaamann 1966 (Visby-Mergel, Silur von Gotland). Paläontologische Zeitschrift 73 (3/4): 241–246. [Courtesy of Paul Taylor]

Scrutton, C.T. 1990. Ontogeny and astogeny in Aulopora and its significance, illustrated by a new non‐encrusting species from the Devonian of southwest England. Lethaia 23: 61-75.

Watkins, J.L. 1959. Middle Devonian auloporid corals from the Traverse Group of Michigan. Journal of Paleontology 33: 793-808.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A fragmentary rostroconch from the Middle Devonian of Ohio

November 27th, 2015

1 Hippocardia 1Not all of our featured fossils are particularly beautiful, or even entire, but they are interesting in some way. Above is the broken cross-section of a rostroconch mollusk known as Hippocardia Brown, 1843. It was found somewhere in Ohio by the late Keith Maneese and kindly donated to the department by his widow Cameron Maneese. From its preservation and the kind of rock making up the matrix inside, we can tell that it almost certainly came from the Columbus Limestone (Middle Devonian, Eifelian).

In the top image it is apparent that this fossil has bilateral symmetry, a heart-shaped cross-section, and a ribbed calcitic shell. This is the dorsal view.
2 Hippocardia 2Flipping the specimen upside-down, we now have a view of the ventral portion. Again we see the ribs and bilateral symmetry.
3 Hippocardia side viewThis side view shows that the ribs extend from the dorsal to the ventral sides and are angled to the axis of the shell. That’s about all we can tell. (And this is the best specimen of a rostroconch we have! Thank you again, Cameron.)
4 CzechVirtualRostroThis diagram of a complete rostroconch (from the Czech Virtual Museum). This is a side view of a species that does not have the dorsal-ventral ribbing. The shell is superficially like that of a bivalve (clam), but the valves are fused together and their is a distinctive tube (rostrum) extending to the posterior. Much study and debate about the rostroconchs has at least confirmed that these are a class of mollusks separate from the bivalves. They lived semi-infaunally with the rostrum extending into the seawater to channel a flow of water into the body chamber for filter-feeding, much like infaunal bivalves today that have siphons. Rostroconchs and cephalopods appear to be sister groups, and some rostroconchs may have evolved into the scaphopods. Plenty of arguments to go around, though, on the evolution and diversification of mollusks
5 Thomas 1843 p 976 Thomas pl 8 fig 10 1843Captain Thomas Brown (1785-1862) named the genus Hippocardia in 1843. He was a Scottish naturalist who studied many topics, including mollusks. Above are the sections of his book The Elements of Fossil Conchology that describe and illustrate Hippocardia (considering it a bivalve). Captain Brown was born in Perth and went to school in Edinburgh. He joined the militia at 20, becoming a captain at 26. When he was transferred to Manchester, England, Brown acquired an interest in nature. He bought a flax mill after leaving the military, but it burned down while still uninsured. He thus turned to nature writing for support. He was became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1818, and in 1840 he was appointed curator of the Manchester Museum. He retained this position for the rest of his life. He was later a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a member, in classic 19th Century fashion, of several other groups, including the Wernerian, Kirwanian and Phrenological Societies. (I love the addition of phrenology to his interests!) The marine gastropod Zebina browniana d’Orbigny, 1842, was named after him. An interesting character, this Captain Brown, but I’ve been unable to find a single portrait of him.


Brown, T. 1843. The elements of fossil conchology according to the arrangement of Lamarck; with the newly established genera of other authors. Houlston & Stoneman, London; 133 pages.

Hoare, R.D. 1989. Taxonomy and paleoecology of Devonian rostroconch mollusks from Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 63: 838-846.

Pojeta, J., Jr., Runnegar, B. 1976. The paleontology of rostroconch mollusks and the early history of the phylum Mollusca. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 968: 1-88.

Pojeta, J., Jr., Runnegar, B., Morris, N.J. and Newell, N.D. 1972. Rostroconchia: a new class of bivalved mollusks. Science 177: 264-267.

Runnegar, B., Goodhart, C.B. and Yochelson, E.L. 1978. Origin and evolution of the Class Rostroconchia [and discussion]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1001): 319-333.

Wagner, P.J. 1997. Patterns of morphologic diversification among the Rostroconchia. Paleobiology 23: 115-150.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A tall brachiopod from the Devonian of western Russia

November 20th, 2015

1 Ladogia Nalivkin, 1941In the summer of 2009 I had a field adventure in Russia. It was an extraordinary time. I learned considerable amounts of Russian geology and paleontology, of course, and was immersed in the Russian geological culture. Along the way I collected the above unusual brachiopod. We are looking at its posterior (where the articulating hinge is), with the ventral valve below and dorsal valve above.
2 Ladogia Nalivkin, 1941This is the anterior view of the same specimen showing the junction between the valves (the commissure). The brachiopod is Ladogia Nalivkin, 1941, a rhynchonellid from the Upper Devonian (Frasnian) of the Central Devonian Field somewhere along the Syas River in the Leningrad Oblast of western Russia. We can immediately see that this brachiopod is very tall for its kind, with a strongly defined fold (the top part of the “anticline” in the dorsal valve) and sulcus (the lower folded surface in the  ventral valve). Note that the sulcus has several encrusting organisms, including eroded microconchids.
3 Ladogia Nalivkin, 1941The side view shows the dramatic upward sweep of the dorsal valve and the fine radiating ornamentation. The tall fold was effective in separating the incoming water for filter-feeding from the outflow of filtered water, essentially functioning like a chimney. Many brachiopods have such a fold and sulcus, but few have a set of such amplitude.
4 Nalivkin, Dmitrii VasilevichLadogia was described by Dmitrii Vasil’evich Nalivkin (1889-1982) in 1941. Nalivkin was a Soviet paleontologist and geologist born in 1889 in St. Petersburg. He graduated from the Institute of Mines in Petrograd (the name was changed from St. Petersburg) in 1915. In 1917 he joined the Geological Commission of Russia, staying a member through its many changes for over six decades. In 1920 he became a professor at the Institute of Mines after, we presume, the political situations from the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War calmed down. He is notable for giving the first lecture series on facies theory in the USSR in 1921. After World War II he was chairman of the Turkmen section of the Academy of Sciences. In 1954 he was made chairman of the Interdepartmental Stratigraphic Committee of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1954 he was appointed chairman of the Interdepartmental Stratigraphic Committee of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Nalivkin specialized in stratigraphy and paleontology of the Paleozoic, especially the Devonian and Carboniferous. He is best known for his geological maps of the USSR, for which he received the Lenin Prize in 1957. Here’s a man who saw a lot of history in his time.


Nalivkin, D.V. 1941. Brachiopods of the Main Devonian field. Akademii Nauk SSSR Trudy 1: 139-226.

Sokiran, E.V. 2002. Frasnian-Famennian extinction and recovery of rhynchonellid brachiopods from the East European Platform. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 47: 339-354.

Zhuravlev, A.V., Sokiran, E.V., Evdokimova, I.O., Dorofeeva, L.A., Rusetskaya, G.A. and Malkowski, K. 2006. Faunal and facies changes at the Early-Middle Frasnian boundary in the north-western East European Platform. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51: 747-758.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: an upside-down nautiloid from the Devonian of Wisconsin

October 16th, 2015

1 Poterioceras calvini Milwaukee Formation DevonianThis lump of a fossil in Wooster’s teaching collection requires some explanation. It is not particularly well preserved, but it is our only representative of an interesting group of nautiloid cephalopods. The label that came with it says it is Poterioceras calvini, but I see no reason to believe it. There are simply not enough characters visible to identify it to the genus level, let alone the species. We should confine it to a higher taxon: Order Oncocerida Flower in Flower and Kummel, 1950. It comes from the Wisconsin Dolomite (Devonian) exposed in the city of Milwaukee.
2 Poterioceras calvini Milwaukee Formation DevonianOn the left-hand side (with the scale) of each image you may barely make out vertical partitions, shown as faint lines. These are sutures, which represent the junction between internal septal walls and the outer shell. The shell has dissolved (since it was made of more soluble aragonite), leaving this internal mold fossil. The right side of the fossil shows no such partitions because it is where the large body chamber was located. The nautiloid animal lived in the body chamber, with the septal walls (and the chambers they delineated) behind it as the phragmocone.
3 Gomphoceras cartoon 585This diagram from Wikipedia may make sense of this anatomy. The chambered phragmocone is shown in the top left, colored yellow; the body hangs below it in the body chamber. The phragmocone was filled with a mixture of gases and liquids, giving it positive buoyancy relative to the negatively-buoyant body chamber. The nautiloid thus in life hung upside-down facing the seafloor as it floated about. The cartoons on the right show the shell itself, including the keyhole aperture that kept the body from falling out.
4 orthoconeCompare this to the typical orientation of a Paleozoic nautiloid (above). Both of these nautiloid types were nektic (swimming) predators. The oncocerid just did it by hanging upside-down!
5 RH Flower 585The Order Oncocerida was named and described by one of the 20th Century’s most eccentric paleontologists, Rousseau Hayner Flower (1913-1988). I never met Dr. Flower, but I stumbled into a memorial session for him at the 1988 annual Geological Society of America meeting, which was held that year in Denver. Some people were barely holding back tears, others were laughing, and one crusty old paleontologist stormed out muttering “He was a bastard!”. I knew then that Flower was a character. (The photograph is from Wolberg, 1988, inside front cover.)

Rousseau Flower was born in a small town in upstate New York in 1913. He was both musically and scientifically gifted, winning a scholarship to Cornell University where he trained in entomology, eventually earning an M.A. degree there. An interest in fossil dragonflies drew him into paleontology, and a chance to take an extended geological field trip sealed his new interest in fossils. He had an eventful few years in the New York State Museum and the University of Indiana, finally earning his PhD at the University of Cincinnati in 1939. After bouts of unemployment during the war years, he went back to the New York State Museum to fill various temporary positions. In 1951 he took a job as Stratigraphic Geologist at the State Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources in New Mexico, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Flower took on his new Western identity with gusto, wearing cowboy garb and sometimes brandishing a bullwhip. He traveled the world studying corals and cephalopods and amassing an enormous collection that people are still sorting through. He published some 1800 pages of paleontological work, naming dozens of new taxa and making major contributions to our understanding of cephalopod evolution and paleobiology, coral systematics, and western North American stratigraphy. He was acerbic and, shall we say, confident in his analyses, so he made as many enemies as friends. Over half of his work was published in the memoir series of the New Mexico Bureau — so much that some suspected it was his private journal. On top of all this, he was also a prominent music and arts critic in New Mexico. Rousseau Flower earned his fearsome reputation!


Flower, R.H. and Kummel, B. 1950. A classification of the Nautiloidea. Journal of Paleontology 24: 604-616.

Mutvei, H. 2013. Characterization of nautiloid orders Ellesmerocerida, Oncocerida, Tarphycerida, Discosorida and Ascocerida: new superorder Multiceratoidea. GFF 135: 171-183.

Wolberg, D.L. 1988. Rousseau Hayner Flower, p. viii-x, in: Contributions to Paleozoic Paleontology and Stratigraphy in Honor of Rousseau H. Flower. New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources, Memoir 44, 415 pp.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A rugose coral and its encrusters from the Middle Devonian of New York

October 9th, 2015

Heliophyllum halli Bethany Center Centerfield 2 585This week’s fossils were found on a most excellent field trip to the Niagara region of New York in August. One of our outcrops was a small patch of gravel in Bethany Center where the Centerfield Limestone Member of the Ludlowville Formation (Givetian, Middle Devonian) was exposed. My colleagues and I found many interesting fossils here. The largest specimen I collected was the above rugose coral.
1 Heliophyllum halli Bethany Center Centerfield 2 copyIt is Heliophyllum halli Milne-Edwards and Haime, 1850. This species is very common throughout the Devonian Hamilton Group of New York, Ontario and surrounding areas. The 90-degree bend in the specimen is a result of the living coral being knocked over onto its side and then twisting to grow upwards again.
3 Rugose Bethany Center Centerfield 3These corals are called “rugose” because of their “wrinkled” exteriors, easily seen in this view. The solitary forms, like this one, are a single corallite that held one polyp in life. Their conical growth form gives them another nickname: “horn corals”. Rugose corals also come in colonial varieties, which we’ve covered before in this blog. Their skeletons are made of thick calcite, so they are almost always well preserved. These corals are distinguished from others by their strong internal vertical walls (septa) and relatively few horizontal or angled partitions (tabulae and dissepiments). They lived like most other corals as sessile benthic (stationary on the bottom) predators catching food with their tentacles. It is still uncertain whether they had photosynthetic symbionts (zooxanthellae) like modern corals. Emily Damstra has a nice reconstruction of living Heliophyllum halli.
4 Encrusting Bryozoan Bethany CenterThis particular coral has a collection of encrusting organisms on its exterior. Above is a remnant of a bryozoan.
5 Microconchid Bethany CenterThe encrusting coiled shell in the lower left is a nice microconchid (a mysterious lophophorate) and at the top is another type of bryozoan. Many of these encrusters are found on eroded parts of the coral skeleton, so they likely encrusted it after death.

Heliophyllum halli was named by Milne-Edwards and Haime in 1850. We’ve introduced Henri Milne-Edwards (1800-1885) before, and even James Hall (1811–1898) for whom the species is named. Jules Haime (1824-1856) is less known. He died too young at age 32, which may explain why we have no images of him. HIs father was a prominent physician, Auguste Haime (1790-1877). Jules, like many 19th Century paleontologists, started in medicine (studying in Tours) but gravitated toward the excitement in natural history, becoming a zoologist and paleontologist. He specialized in corals, joining up early in his career with Milne-Edwards. Haime rose fast in his new profession. One year before his death he became a professor of natural history at the Lycée Napoléon in Paris. In 1856 he was appointed vice-president of the Société géologique de France, but died a few months later.


Baird, G.C. and Brett, C.E. 1983. Regional variation and paleontology of two coral beds in the Middle Devonian Hamilton Group of Western New York. Journal of Paleontology 57: 417-446.

Brett, C.E. and Baird, G.C. 1994. Depositional sequences, cycles, and foreland basin dynamics in the late Middle Devonian (Givetian) of the Genesee Valley and western Finger Lakes region. In: Brett, C.E., and Scatterday, J., eds., Field trip guidebook: New York State Geological Association Guidebook, no. 66, 66th Annual Meeting, Rochester, NY, p. 505-585.

Milne-Edwards, H. and Haime, J. 1850-1854. A monograph of the British fossil corals. London, Palaeontographical Society. 736 pages.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mystery fossil for my Invertebrate Paleontology students

September 4th, 2015

1 Stereolasma singleAt the beginning of my Invertebrate Paleontology course I give each student a fossil to identify by whatever means necessary. I challenge them to take it down to the species level, and tell me its age and likely place of collection. The fossil this year is shown above: the rugose coral Stereolasma rectum (Hall, 1843) from the Middle Devonian of New York. I collected the specimens on my western New York adventure last month from the Wanakah Shale Member of the Ludlowville Formation at Buffalo Creek in Erie County. (There were a lot of them! This coral is so common that you can buy them online at science supply stores.)

The corals I collected were well weathered on the Devonian seafloor. You can see some evidence of this in the exterior which shows opened tunnels of borings. They were not appreciably weathered on the outcrop because they were directly excavated from the shale matrix.
2 Stereolasma cross section 585This is a cross-section through one of the S. rectum specimens. The internal radiating calcitic partitions (septa) are well preserved by clear calcite cement. There appear to be at least two generations of sediment that penetrated into the interior after the death of the polyp. The posthumous events affecting these corals may be more interesting than their life histories.

That awkward species name comes from the Latin rectus for “straight”. The anatomical rectum that we all know well comes from the same root but is based on a misconception by early anatomists that the terminal part of the large intestine in mammals is straight. It’s not, as a Google search will quickly show you. (I decided against including an image.)
3 Wanakah coralsReferences:

Baird, G.C. and Brett, C.E. 1983. Regional variation and paleontology of two coral beds in the Middle Devonian Hamilton Group of Western New York. Journal of Paleontology 57: 417-446.

Brett, C.E. and Baird, G.C. 1994. Depositional sequences, cycles, and foreland basin dynamics in the late Middle Devonian (Givetian) of the Genesee Valley and western Finger Lakes region. In: Brett, C.E., and Scatterday, J., eds., Field trip guidebook: New York State Geological Association Guidebook, no. 66, 66th Annual Meeting, Rochester, NY, p. 505-585.

Busch, D.A. 1941. An ontogenetic study of some rugose corals from the Hamilton of western New York. Journal of Paleontology 15: 392-411.

Stumm, E.C. and Watkins, J.L. 1961. The metriophylloid coral genera Stereolasma, Amplexiphyllum, and Stewartophyllum from the Devonian Hamilton group of New York. Journal of Paleontology 35: 445-447.

A day’s excursion into the Middle Devonian of western New York

August 7th, 2015

1 Wanakah at Buffalo CreekLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 7, 2015) — Today Andrej Ernst and I were able to join Brian Bade and his friends on a collecting trip up Buffalo Creek in Erie County, New York. Our goal was simply to look for interesting fossils in the Wanakah Shale Member of the Ludlowville Formation (Middle Devonian) and enjoy the fellowship of fossil enthusiasts. Success on both counts. It was a great day, and rather fun wading through the cool waters of the creek as we examined the shale on the banks.

2 Wanakah TrilobiteHere is an external mold of a trilobite in the soft Wanakah Shale. An external mold is an impression of the exterior of the organism. If you look at this upside-down it pops into reverse relief! This fossil is not recoverable because it would break into bits with any attempt to hammer it out. Andrej and I found plenty of bryozoans here, along with other cool fossils.

3 Bethany Center Centerfield LimestoneAs a bonus we also were able to visit the Bethany Center exposure of the Centerfield Limestone, also Middle Devonian. There isn’t much left of the exposure, as you can see, but we still found numerous encrusting organisms (sclerobionts) on brachiopods and the abundant rugose corals. We also got plenty of sun here.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A coiled nautiloid from the Middle Devonian of Ohio

July 17th, 2015

Goldringia cyclops Columbus Ls Devonian 585The above fossil is a nautiloid cut in cross-section, showing the large body chamber at the bottom and behind it to the left and above the phragmocone, or chambered portion of the conch (shell). It is a species of Goldringia Flower, 1945, found in the Columbus Limestone (Middle Devonian, Eifelian) exposed in the Owen Stone Quarry near Delaware, Ohio. It is a nice specimen for both what it shows us about a kind of nautiloid coiling and for clues to its preservation.

This specimen was originally labelled Gyroceras cyclops Hall, 1861. In 1945, Rousseau Flower designated this taxon the type species of Goldringia. I can’t tell if we really have G. cyclops here or some other species, so I’m leaving it at the genus level. The old name lingers, though, in the term for this kind of open coiling: gyroceraconic. It is one of the earliest examples of the nautiloids having the phragmocone positioned above the body chamber, presumably for stable buoyancy.
Pentamerid embedded 071315I like the clues to the early history of this conch after death. The chambers are entirely filled with sediment, a fossiliferous micrite. You can see places where the original shell was broken and larger bits infiltrated, like the whole brachiopod shown above. This brachiopod appears from its cross-section to be a pentamerid. Also visible are strophomenid brachiopods and gastropods.
Winifred GoldringRousseau Hayner Flower (1913–1988) described Goldringia in 1945. He doesn’t directly say who he named it after, but he thanks “Dr. Winifred Goldring of the New York State Museum” in the acknowledgments. We can tell Flower’s story later (and it’s a good one), but this gives us a chance to introduce Winifred Goldring (1888-1971). She was the first paleontologist to describe the famous Gilboa fossil flora (Devonian) in upstate New York, and she was the first woman State Paleontologist of New York (or anywhere, for that matter). (Now there is Lisa Amati in this prestigious position. Congratulations, Lisa!) Goldring grew up near Albany, New York, one of nine children in a very botanical family. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1909 with a bachelor’s degree in geology (very unusual for a woman at the time). She stayed at Wellesley to earn a master’s degree (1912). She also taught geology courses at Wellesley. In 1913 she studied geology at Columbia University with the famous Amadeus Grabau. In 1914, Goldring joined the scientific staff at the New York State Museum as a “scientific expert”. She worked her way up through the many ranks there to become State Paleontologist in 1939. She is best known as a paleontologist for her work with the fascinating Gilboa fossil forest, bringing her early upbringing by botanists to full circle. Along the way she was the first woman president of the Paleontological Society (in 1949) and vice-president of the Geological Society of America (in 1950). A hero of paleontology.


Flower, R.H. 1945. Classification of Devonian nautiloids. American Midland Naturalist 33: 675–724.

Goldring, W. 1927. The oldest known petrified forest. Scientific Monthly 24: 514–529.

Koninck, L.G.D. 1880. Faune du Calcaire Carbonifere de la Belgique, deuxieme partie, Genres Gyroceras, Cyrtoceras, Gomphoceras, Orthoceras, Subclymenia et Goniatites. Annales du Musee Royal d‘Histoire Naturelle, Belgique 5: 1–333.

A Day in Stromness

June 21st, 2015

1 Stromness Museum sceneSTROMNESS, SCOTLAND (June 21, 2015) — I intended to explore the region around Stromness today as I waited for the late afternoon ferry to Thurso, but it rained continuously. Since I can’t afford to get my meager kit wet while traveling, I was confined to indoors activities, including visiting the excellent though small Stromness Museum.

2 Labradorite as ballastThe bulk of the museum displays are devoted to maritime history, naturally, but there is always some geology. This, for example, is a beautiful piece of labradorite (from, naturally, Labrador) used as ship ballast.

3 Hugh Miller fossilI was very pleased to see this small exhibit on the brilliant polymath Hugh Miller (1802-1856) and the fossils he collected from Devonian rocks in the region. This is his most famous specimen: “The Asterolepis of Stromness”. He was the earliest expert on the Old Red Sandstone and its fossils.

This afternoon I take the ferry across these stormy seas back to the Scottish mainland. I’ve very much enjoyed Orkney, cold and wet though it is.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: The mysterious Paleozoic encrusters Ascodictyon and Allonema

September 12th, 2014


1 Slide01The above pair of fossils are small sclerobionts commonly found on hard substrates in shallow marine sediments through much of the Paleozoic, especially the Silurian and Devonian. Paul Taylor and I have been studying them for a few years now and our first paper on them was published this summer (Wilson and Taylor, 2014). Ascodictyon (Silurian-Carboniferous) is on the left and Allonema (Silurian-Permian) is on the right. Both are calcitic encrusters and look, at least in this view, very different from each other. We present evidence in our paper, though, that strongly suggests Ascodictyon and Allonema are actually manifestations of the same organism. What that organism is, exactly, still eludes us. We are persuaded at the very least that they are not bryozoans as originally described by Nicholson, Ulrich and Bassler. Since they are so common their identity is important for studies of fossil diversity and paleoecology.
2 Slide07The above view through a light microscope of Ascodictyon and Allonema shows the perspective paleontologists have had of these encrusters until recently. The clear calcite skeletons sitting on a calcitic brachiopod shell (this is from the Devonian of Michigan) makes for little contrast and poor resolution, and the microscope-camera combination has a very limited depth of field. The rest of the images in this post were made with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) expertly operated by Paul. The difference in morphological detail is not just astonishing, it is a revolution in the study of tiny fossils like this.
3 Slide16 siluriense UKThis is a typical view of Ascodictyon. It consists of stellate clusters of inflated vesicles (like little calcite balloons) connected by thin calcitic tubes called stolons. (Ascodictyon siluriense from the Silurian of the England.)

4 Slide24 waldronense S GotlandThis is a typical Allonema. The primary form is a series of porous vesicles attached in chains like sausages. (Allonema waldronense from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden.)

5 Slide29 Silica MIHere is where these obscure little encrusters get interesting. This is a specimen from the Silica Shale (Middle Devonian) exposed in Michigan. It was collected in a beautiful suite of fossils by that intrepid citizen scientist, Brian Bade. It consists of Allonema sausages connected to Ascodictyon stolons which are themselves connected to Ascodictyon stellate vesicle clusters. Clear evidence that Allonema and Ascodictyon are end members of a morphological continuum produced by the same organism.

7 Slide33 Silica MIA critical feature we see in this Ascodictyon/Allonema complex is the occurrence of “sockets” at the bases of vesicles like the above from the Silica Shale. These are almost certainly places where some erect portion of the organism extended above the substrate. Maybe these were feeding devices? Reproductive parts? We’ve found no trace of them.

8 Slide39 S GotlandOur hypothesis is that Allonema (left) and Ascodictyon (right, both from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden) are the basal parts of some as yet unknown erect organism. They may have stored nutrients for the creature. We are convinced they were not bryozoans, foraminiferans, corals or sponges. Unfortunately we can only classify them as incertae sedis or Microproblematica. At some point we’ll have to figure out how to name this complex with two genera and over a dozen species.

It was fun work, and the project continues. For more detail, see Wilson and Taylor (2014).


Nicholson H.A. and Etheridge R. 1877. On Ascodictyon, a new provisional and anomalous genus of Palæozoic fossils. J. Nat. Hist., Series 4, 19: 463-468.

Ulrich E.O. and Bassler R.S. 1904. A revision of the Paleozoic Bryozoa. Smith. Misc. Coll. (Quart.) 45: 256-294.

Wilson M.A. and Taylor P.D. 2001. “Pseudobryozoans” and the problem of encruster diversity in the Paleozoic. PaleoBios 21 (Supplement to No. 2): 134-135.

Wilson, M.A. and Taylor, P.D. 2014. The morphology and affinities of Allonema and Ascodictyon, two abundant Palaeozoic encrusters commonly misattributed to the ctenostome bryozoans. In: Rosso, A., Wyse Jackson, P.N. and Porter, J. (eds.), Bryozoan Studies 2013. Studi trentini di scienze naturali 94: 259-266.

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