Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A puzzle for my paleo students!

August 26th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Every year I start my Invertebrate Paleontology course by giving every student an “unknown” fossil to identify. (Here is last year’s version.) This is not always easy since each student gets the same species from the same horizon and with the same preservation. As classes get larger (I have 27 students this semester) I have to dig deeper into my collections. I found some good ones today that have enough variation to challenge them.

These students are just beginning the journey, of course, so they usually know little about fossils. This exercise gets them into the online fossil literature immediately, and provokes early questions about the information used in taxonomy and the dilemmas of systematics based on morphology alone. Their task:

  1. Identify the fossil by scientific name as narrowly as possible. Phylum is a start, then Class, Order and so on down to the grand prize of correctly determining the species.
  2. Estimate the age of the fossil. Finding the period during which it lived is good; the actual stage it was found in, better.
  3. Make an educated guess at where this fossil was found. Chances are if you are right about the name and age, and then consider the places my students and I do fieldwork, you’ll come up with at least a region.

Next week I will post here the identity and collecting location of these fossils, along with the name of the student who came the closest to the right answers. You, Dear Reader, can make a guess in the comments!

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Another molluscan assemblage from the Miocene of Maryland (side two)

August 19th, 2016

1 Calvert 2 585Last month we featured a fossil slab kindly donated by Dale Chadwick of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dale is an enthusiastic fossil collector with a very useful website for his favorite sites and specimens. I promised to show the other side of this rock, and here it is.

Again, this is a fine sandstone from the famous Calvert Formation (lower to middle Miocene) exposed at the Calvert Cliffs, Plum Point, Calvert County, Maryland, in the stratigraphic Shattuck Zone 10. Some horizons are especially fossiliferous with large numbers of gastropods and bivalves. This is what we refer to us a death assemblage, meaning these shells are not preserved in their life positions but how they accumulated just before final burial. These rocks and their fossils were the initial basis of Susan Kidwell’s important work on taphonomic feedback, or how shell accumulations affect the succeeding living communities.

So what are the prominent fossils in this slab? Dale has the answers on his website. I’ve annotated the image and made a list below:

2 Calvert 2 585 labelsA Astarte sp. (a veneroid bivalve)
B Glycymeris parlis (an arcoid bivalve)
C Siphonalia devexa (a buccinid gastropod)
D Turritella variablis (a turritellid gastropod)

Thank you again to Dale Chadwick for this gift! I will use it in my paleontology course this very month.

References:

Kelley, P.H., 1983, Evolutionary patterns of eight Chesapeake Group molluscs: Evidence for the model of punctuated equilibria: Journal of Paleontology 57: 581–598.

Kelley, P.H. 1988. Predation by Miocene gastropods of the Chesapeake Group: stereotyped and predictable. Palaios 3: 436-448.

Kidwell, S.M. 1986. Taphonomic feedback in Miocene assemblages: Testing the role of dead hardparts in benthic communities: Palaios 1: 239–255.

Kidwell, S.M., Powars, D.S., Edwards, L.E. and Vogt, P.R. 2015. Miocene stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, in Brezinski, D.K., Halka, J.P. and Ortt, R.A., Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015: Geological Society of America Field Guide 40, p. 231–279.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Trepostome bryozoans, burrow systems, and bedding features in an Upper Ordovician limestone from southeastern Minnesota

August 12th, 2016

1 DSC_1322One of the little mysteries on the recent Minnesota research trip by Wooster students, faculty and staff is the origin of thin limestone beds in the middle of the thick shales of the Decorah Formation (Upper Ordovician). How did such accumulations of almost pure carbonate develop on such a muddy seafloor? Are they storm beds? Some sort of diagenetic feature? The records of brief sealevel changes? Brief interruptions in the supply of silicate sediments to the basin? Turbidites of carbonate material swept into a deeper basin? Above is a view of the top surface of such a limestone bed, this one found in the middle of the Decorah in Shop Quarry (N 43.97232°, W 92.38332°). The light-colored twiggy objects are broken colonies of trepostome bryozoans; the network of holes are burrows of a trace fossil called Chondrites.

3 Wangs carbonate bedAn outcrop view of one of these carbonate beds in the Decorah Formation, this one at Wangs Corner (N 44.41047°, W 92.98338°). These units are only a few centimeters thick, and have a variety of petrographic fabrics. This one appears to be an almost pure biosparite with Thalassinoides burrows penetrating from above carrying down a light brown sediment.

2 DSC_1325Back to our slab from the Decorah at Shop Quarry with a closer view of the trepostome bryozoans and round holes representing the trace fossil Chondrites.

3 DSC_1333Sawing a rock and then polishing a cut surface is always fun and profitable! This is a cross-section through the Shop Quarry slab, oriented with the top upwards. A little bit of iron oxide diffused through the sediments provides the touches of red in the fabric of the limestone.

4 DSC_1341This closer view of the cut surface shows the exquisite bedding features, along with the bryozoans (B) and trace fossils (T) in cross-section. The burrows pass through the bedding and pie down into the rock a brownish sediment from above. These burrows were made by some sort of deposit-feeding organism that was mining the sediment for organic material. The bedded sediment may be slightly graded in grain size, meaning the many beds may consist of thin fining-upwards sequences. Note how the beds are contorted around the bryozoans as if they were dropped into the sediment while it was still accumulating.

This slab of bryozoans, trace fossils and contorted laminae looks to me like a storm bed formed quickly during and after the seafloor was significantly disturbed by currents. When conditions returned to normal some worm-like deposit-feeders in the fine sediment above sent their mining tunnels down deep into the carbonate looking for food. We have a hypothesis to test!

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mytilid bivalve from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

August 5th, 2016

1 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis 585This week’s specimen comes from one of my favorite fossiliferous units: the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. I’ve been delighted by the fossils and lithologies of the Matmor since 2003. This particular fossil is exposed in a bedding plane of the very rich subunit 65, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog. It is a mytilid bivalve identified as Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis It has the classic wing shape of its order.
2 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensisM. jurensis is very common in the Matmor Formation, especially in the upper third where it can be seen protruding from limestones at a variety of angles. The species was widespread throughout the Tethys Ocean, now recorded by sediments in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions.
3 mytilids090809Mytilid bivalves are very common today as well, and they have the same life mode as they did at least 150 million years ago. They attach to hard substrates in shallow waters with strong fibers they secrete called byssal threads. Above we see our M. jurensis shell with several others clustered around a gastropod shell to which they were attached. The organic byssal threads are long gone, of course, but the shells remain in their living positions.

I like to use these Fossils of the Week to explore their taxonomic histories. The specimens, after all, are usually not exceptionally well preserved or rare, but they all have stories. Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis proved to be a challenge when it came to identifying the author of the species.
4 MNHN figFirst I went to the online catalogue of the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris — an excellent resource. There I found the above image and information. Someone named Roemer named the species in 1836. So who was this Roemer and what was the publication?
5 Friedrich Adolph RoemerAfter considerable searching, I learned our taxonomist was Friedrich Adolph Roemer (1809-1869), a German geologist born in Hildesheim, part of the Kingdom of Westphalia. He had a younger brother, Carl Ferdinand von Roemer, who was also a geologist, creating some confusion.
6 Oolithen-GebrigesFriedrich Roemer has an 1836 book (above) that roughly translates as The Fossils of the North German Oolitic Mountains, “oolitic” referring to a kind of limestone common in the European Jurassic; for awhile it was essentially synonymous with “Jurassic”.
7 Plate IV, fig 10On Plate IV, fig. 10, of this 1836 book is a pair of drawings of Mytilus jurensis. So far all is on track for sorting out the taxonomic history of the species.
8 p 89Surprise! When we look at the description in the text on page 89, we see that Roemer gives an undated credit for the species to “Merain”. Who is Merain?
9 Thurmann p 13I thought I’d never find the identity of this “Merain”, but through the extraordinary resource of Google Books, I uncovered the earliest record of Mytilus jurensis. It is on page 13 of Thurmann (1833). Note that following the species (fourth line above) is “Mèr.” and then “n. sp.”, meaning “new species”. (I have no idea what the intervening “M. Bas.” indicates. [Update: See comment by Christopher Taylor below.]) There is no description of the species, and no illustration, but there’s the first mention of it.

So is “Mèr.” short for Roemer’s “Merain”? Turns out Roemer misspelled the last three letters — it is “Merian”.
10 Peter_MerianPeter Merian (1795-1883) was a Swiss geologist and paleontologist who was born in Basel. He studied scientific topics at the University of Basel, the Academy of Geneva, and the University of Gottingen. After two years in Paris, Merian returned to Baasel and began to specialize in the geology and fossils of the Jura Mountains. He was appointed a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Basel, and later an honorary professor of geology and paleontology. He was also Director of the Natural History Museum in Basel. Along with his work on Triassic and Jurassic fossils, he also made contributions to glaciology and meteorology. Peter Merian died in Basel in 1883 after a long, notable career. He certainly looked the part of a dashing 19th Century Swiss geologist. Kevin McNally could play him in the movie! And now we know that he was the man who named Mytilus jurensis in 1833. Roemer (1836) was probably credited with the species at one point because he had the first description and figures. Merian, apparently, just provided the name in someone else’s book.
11 Merian map JuraHere is an 1829 geological map by Peter Merian of a portion of the Jura Mountains, one of the first of the region.

References:

Cox, L.R. 1937. Notes on Jurassic Lamelibranchia V. On a new subgenus of Mytilus and a new Mytilus-like genus. Journal of Molluscan Studies 22: 339-348.

Freneix, S. 1965 – Les Bivalves du Jurassique moyen et supérieur du Sahara tunisien (Arcacea, Pteriacea, Pectinacea, Ostreacea, Mytilacea). Annales de Paléontologie, t. 51, vol. 1, p. 51-113.

Liu, C. 1995. Jurassic bivalve palaeobiogeography of the Proto-Atlantic and application of multivariate analysis method to palaeobiogeography. Beringeria 16: 31123.

Liu, C., Heinze, M. and Fürsich, F.T. 1998. Bivalve provinces in the Proto-Atlantic and along the southern margin of the Tethys in the Jurassic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 137: 127-151.

Merian, P. 1829. Geognostischer Durchschnitt durch das Jura-Gebirge von Basel bis Kestenholz bey Aarwangen, mit Bemerkungen über den Schichtenbau des Jura im Allgemeinen. Zürich.

Roemer, F.A. 1836. Die Versteinerungen des Nordeutschen Oolithen-Gebirges. Hahn. 218 pages.

Thurmann, J. 1833. Essai sur les soulèvemens Jurassiques du Porrentruy, avec une description géognostique des terrains secondaires de ce pays, et des considérations générales sur les chaines du Jura. Mém. Soc. Hist. Nat. Strasbourg 1: l-84.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A new Late Ordovician bryozoan from Oklahoma

July 29th, 2016

1 Color brach Zigzagopora encrustedI am very pleased to introduce a new bryozoan genus and species recently described in the First View section of the Journal of Paleontology. Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) and I present: “A new runner-like cyclostome bryozoan from the Bromide Formation (Sandbian, Upper Ordovician) of Oklahoma and its phylogenetic affinities”. The bryozoan is shown above encrusting the interior of an orthid brachiopod identified as Multicostella sulcata (thanks, Alycia Stigall!) in the Lower Echinoderm Zone of the Mountain Lake Member of the Bromide Formation near Fittstown, Oklahoma. We are particularly proud of its new scientific name. Here’s the abstract:

Zigzagopora wigleyensis n. gen. n. sp. is an Upper Ordovician (Sandbian, early Caradoc) cyclostome bryozoan from the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma, USA. It has runner-type colonies characterized by a mostly uniserial, geniculate arrangement of monomorphic zooids that bud alternately left and right, producing a zig-zag pattern of growth. This new genus has calcified interior walls and non-pseudoporous exterior walls. It is thus most likely affiliated with the paleotubuliporine Family Sagenellidae, despite superficial similarities with the corynotrypid cyclostomes with which it co-occurs.”

You’ve got to love a job where you can coin a name like Zigzagopora wigleyensis. The fortuitous species name, by the way, refers to the Wigley Quarry in Oklahoma (below).

Slide08_052815Here is a pictorial guide to Zigzagopora wigleyensis, featuring Paul’s excellent Scanning Electron Microscope images:
2 Good zigs 0p20This is what we mean by a “uniserial, geniculate arrangement of monomorphic zooids that bud alternately left and right”. The zooids are the little skeletal tubes, each of which housed an individual bryozoan connected by soft tissue to the rest of the colony. Uniserial means that most series of zooids have just one branching from another. Geniculate means “bent abruptly” like a knee joint. Monomorphic refers to the shape of each zooid being about the same. The scale bar is 0.20 mm.

3 Zig zooid shape 0p10

It is this zig-zag shape that makes Zigzagopora distinctive. Scale bar is 0.10 mm.

4 Zig over Cory 0p20The abstract ends with “… superficial similarities with the corynotrypid cyclostomes with which it co-occurs.” In this scene Zigzagopora (Z) has overgrown a branch of the encrusting cyclostome bryozoan Corynotrypa (C). These bryozoans are obviously similar, but the geniculate (our new word!) nature of Zigzagopora sets it apart. This is significant beyond just the shape of the colony: it indicates a different kind of budding of one zooid from another. The scale bar is 0.20 mm.

5 Ancestrula Zig 0p06All bryozoans start from an initial zooid called the ancestrula. It is not always easy to find, but is critical for identification and systematics. The arrow points to the protoecium, the first chamber. The scale bar is 0.06 mm.

6 Pore in zooecium 0p03Inside a broken zooid we can see an interior wall surface and a tiny pore. Really tiny. This is likely an interzooidal pore connecting the soft parts of the zooids. Scale bar is 0.03 mm.

7 Extended zig 0p60Here, then, is Zigzagopora wigleyensis, new to science. It is a tiny new piece for the puzzle that is the evolution of cyclostome bryozoans. It is one of countless billions of species in the history of life, but unique nonetheless.

References:

Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1994. Corynotrypa from the Ordovician of North America: colony form in a primitive stenolaemate bryozoan: Journal of Paleontology 68: 241–257.

Wilson, M.A. and Taylor, P.D. 2016. A new runner-like cyclostome bryozoan from the Bromide Formation (Sandbian, Upper Ordovician) of Oklahoma and its phylogenetic affinities. Journal of Paleontology 90: 413-417.

UPDATE: Zigzagopora wigleyensis made the cover!

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Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bored rhynchonellid brachiopod from the Middle Jurassic of France

July 22nd, 2016

1 Kutchi dorsal 585Another beautiful brachiopod this week from our friend Mr. Clive Champion in England. His donations to our collections have considerably enriched our teaching program, especially for brachiopods! This specimen is the rhynchonellid Kutchirhynchia morieri (Davidson, 1852) from the Middle Jurassic (Upper Bathonian) of Luc-sur-Mer, France. This is a view of the dorsal side with the dorsal valve on top with the ventral valve (containing the round opening from which the stalk-like pedicle extended) seen below it. Like most rhynchonellids, the valves have distinct plicae (thick ridges) where the shell is tightly folded.
2 Kutchi ventral 585This is the ventral view showing only the exterior of the ventral valve. Note the curved serpulid worm tube attached near the center, and the squiggly borings. These were likely sclerobionts (hard substrate dwellers) that occupied the brachiopod shell when the animal was still alive, since the dorsal and ventral valves are still articulated. The borings are probably of the ichnogenus Talpina, but I would have to grind down the shell to know for certain.
SSBuckmanThe genus Kutchirhynchia was named by Sydney Savory Buckman (1860-1929) in 1917. We met Buckman earlier in this blog when looking at another of his Jurassic rhynchonellid genera, Burmirhynchia. We learned a lot more about Buckman this summer during our expedition to the Jurassic of Dorset, where he did much of his work. He is best known there as an ammonite worker and stratigrapher (and massive taxonomic splitter).
3 Thomas DavidsonThe species Kutchirhynchia morieri was named by the Scottish paleontologist Thomas Davidson (1817-1885), who originally placed it in the large genus Rhynchonella. Buckman acknowledges Davidson in an ammonite monographs as one of his “earliest geological friends”. (Davidson was 43 years older than Buckman.) Davidson was born in Edinburgh to wealthy parents. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and then in France, Italy and Switzerland, where he made many long geological tours. He was convinced by the German paleontologist Christian Leopold von Buch (1774-1853) to work on fossil brachiopods. (Von Buch was 43 years older than Davidson. Nice to see the older generation having an effect on those kids!) Davidson stayed with brachiopods his entire career, producing massive monographs on both fossil and recent forms. He engraved his own plates on stone, and there are more than 200 of them. Davidson was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1852, awarded the Wollaston medal in 1865. In 1857 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, receiving their Royal medal in 1870. Upon his death in Brighton, England, in 1885, his entire collection of fossil and recent brachiopods went to the British Museum.
4 Elizabeth GrayThis is a good place to mention Elizabeth Anderson Gray (1831-1924), an important fossil collector in Scotland who supplied Thomas Davidson and many other paleontologists with critical specimens for their work. She is one of the many unnoticed heroes of paleontology, being rarely acknowledged publicly and then overshadowed by her husband. She worked primarily in the Ordovician and Silurian and so did not give Davidson Jurassic rhynchonellids, but she provided hundreds of brachiopods from the early Paleozoic. I love this image of her knocking out fossils with a hammer, just like we do today. Trowelblazers has an excellent biographical page on Elizabeth Anderson Gray.

References:

Buckman, S.S. 1917. The Brachiopoda of the Namyau Beds, Northern Shan States, Burma. Palaeontologia lndica 3(2): 1-254.

Gilman, D.C., Thurston, H.T. and Colby, F.M., eds. 1905. Davidson, Thomas (paleontologist). New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.

Shi, X. and Grant, R.E. 1993. Jurassic rhynchonellids: internal structures and taxonomic revisions. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, Number 73, 190 pages.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A molluscan assemblage from the Miocene of Maryland

July 15th, 2016

1 Calvert Zone 10 Calvert Co MD 585Earlier this month a gentleman stopped by The Department of Geology and donated the above beautiful slab of fossils to our program. Dale Chadwick of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is an avid amateur fossil collector with a very useful website and considerable generosity. His gift to the department makes an excellent Fossils of the Week entry. Later I’ll show you the equally-impressive other side of this specimen!

We have here a fine sandstone from the famous Calvert Formation (lower to middle Miocene) exposed at the Calvert Cliffs, Plum Point, Calvert County, Maryland, in the stratigraphic Shattuck Zone 10. As you can see, some horizons are densely fossiliferous with large numbers of gastropods and bivalves. This is what we refer to us a death assemblage, meaning these shells are not preserved in their life positions but how they accumulated just before final burial. These rocks and their fossils were the initial basis of Susan Kidwell’s important work on taphonomic feedback, or how shell accumulations affect the succeeding living communities.

So what are the prominent fossils in this slab? Dale has the answers on his website. I’ve annotated the image and made a list below:

2 Calvert Zone 10 Calvert Co MD 585 labeledA Turretilla variabilis (a turritellid gastropod)
B Stewartia sp. (a lucinid bivalve)
C Turritella plebia (a turritellid gastropod)
D Cardium laqueatum (a carditid bivalve)
E Siphonalia devexa (a buccinid gastropod)

So how did several of these animals die on that seafloor long ago? You’ve probably guessed predation by looking at that round hole in specimen B, a lucinid bivalve.

3 Naticid borehole Calvert 585The beveled nature of this round drillhole tells us it was made by a predatory naticid gastropod, which used its radula (a tongue-like device with sharp teeth) to penetrate the calcareous shell and damage the muscles holding it tight against the attack. About half the specimens in this slab show similar predatory penetrations. Wooster alumna Tricia Kelley did critical work on predation styles, intensities and evolutionary patterns with Calvert specimens like these.

Thank you again to Dale Chadwick for his gift!

References:

Kelley, P.H., 1983, Evolutionary patterns of eight Chesapeake Group molluscs: Evidence for the model of punctuated equilibria: Journal of Paleontology 57: 581–598.

Kelley, P.H. 1988. Predation by Miocene gastropods of the Chesapeake Group: stereotyped and predictable. Palaios 3: 436-448.

Kidwell, S.M. 1986. Taphonomic feedback in Miocene assemblages: Testing the role of dead hardparts in benthic communities: Palaios 1: 239–255.

Kidwell, S.M., Powars, D.S., Edwards, L.E. and Vogt, P.R. 2015. Miocene stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, in Brezinski, D.K., Halka, J.P. and Ortt, R.A., Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015: Geological Society of America Field Guide 40, p. 231–279.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An ammonite from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

July 8th, 2016

Leptosphinctes microconch Jurassic Dorset 585We’re featuring just a workaday fossil this week because of other summer activities. This is the ammonite Leptosphinctes Buckman 1929 from the Inferior Oolite (Middle Jurassic) at Coombe Quarry, Mapperton, Dorset, southern England. Cassidy Jester (’17) and I collected it last month during our 2016 England research expedition. Our friend Bob Chandler generously identified it. It popped out of a rock we were pounding into submission, providing a direct application of ammonite biostratigraphy to our work. As with many ammonites, the group is well known but the names are still a bit dodgy.

This specimen is a microconch, meaning it is the smaller version of a species pair, the larger being the macroconch. It is presumed that this is sexual dimorphism and that the microconch is the male because it didn’t need to carry resources for egg-laying. This is one reason why the taxonomy of these ammonites is in perpetual revision.

References:

Buckman, S.S. 1909–1930. Yorkshire Type Ammonites & Type Ammonites. Wesley & Son, Wheldon & Wesley, London, 790 pl.

Chandler, R B., Whicher, J., Dodge, M. and Dietze, V. 2014. Revision of the stratigraphy of the Inferior Oolite at Frogden Quarry, Oborne, Dorset, UK. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie-Abhandlungen 274: 133-148.

Galácz, A. 2012. Early perisphinctid ammonites from the early/late Bajocian boundary interval (Middle Jurassic) from Lókút, Hungary. Geobios 45: 285-295.

Pavia, G. and Zunino, M. 2012. Ammonite assemblages and biostratigraphy at the Lower to Upper Bajocian boundary in the Digne area (SE France). Implications for the definition of the Late Bajocian GSSP. Revue de Paléobiologie, Vol. spéc, 11: 205-227.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Iron-oxide oncoids (“snuff-boxes”) from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

July 1st, 2016

1 Snuffbox colection BBThese fossils (in the broad sense!) are inevitable for our weekly feature considering how much time we spent studying and collecting them during last month’s fieldwork in Dorset, southern England. “Snuff-boxes” are the subject of Cassidy Jester’s (’17) Senior Independent Study project, so here we’ll just broadly cover what we think we know about them.

These discoidal objects are called “snuff-boxes” because their carbonate centers (usually a bit of limestone or shell) often erode faster than their iron-oxide exteriors, making them weather a bit like boxes with lids.
2 Quote from Buckman 1910 67This quote from Buckman (1910, p. 67) is the earliest reference I can find to the snuff-box term. Snuff-boxes were sometimes works of art in the 18th and 19th centuries, although quarrymen probably had more homespun varieties in mind.
1 Snuffbox serpulidssWe’re counting these snuff-boxes as fossils here because they formed through biotic and physical processes. The cortex of a snuff-box has layers of serpulid worm tubes, as shown above.
4 Palmer Wilson Fig 3There are also cyclostome bryozoans embedded within the iron-oxide layers, as shown in this image from Palmer and Wilson (1990, fig. 3).
3 Snuff-box horn 061716We believe the snuff-boxes grew by accretion of microbially-induced layers of iron-oxide formed on their undersides, which would have been gloomy caverns on the seafloor. They then would have occasionally turned over and grew layers on the other side. Many snuff-boxes have extensions on their peripheries that look in cross-sections like horns, as seen above. The layers are separate from those that formed around the nucleus. They may have grown after the snuff-box became too big to be overturned by currents or animals.
6 Platy minerals pdt19573Paul Taylor and I looked at the cortex of a snuff-box with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and had the above surprising view. The odd platy materials may be limonite, an iron-oxide that is amorphous (non-crystalline).
7 Hebrew letters pdt19572Sometimes the plates look like they’ve partially evaporated, leaving remnants that resemble Hebrew letters!
8 iron ooid pdt19576Associated with the snuff-boxes are small “iron ooids” that are about sand-size. They too have the platy materials, and so their origin may be similar to that of the snuff-boxes.

Cassidy has an interesting project ahead of her testing various origin hypotheses and sorting out the paleontology, mineralogy and geochemistry.

References:

Buckman, S.S. 1910. Certain Jurassic (Lias-Oolite) strata of south Dorset and their correlation. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 66: 52-89.

Burkhalter, R.M. 1995. Ooidal ironstones and ferruginous microbialites: origin and relation to sequence stratigraphy (Aalenian and Bajocian, Swiss Jura mountains). Sedimentology 42: 57-74.

Gatrall, M., Jenkyns, H.C. and Parsons, C.F. 1972. Limonitic concretions from the European Jurassic, with particular reference to the “snuff-boxes” of southern England. Sedimentology 18: 79-103.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1990. Growth of ferruginous oncoliths in the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Europe. Terra Nova 2: 142-147.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Encrusting cyanobacteria from the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati region

June 24th, 2016

1 pdt19598 D1253Deep in the basement of the Natural History Museum in London, Paul Taylor and I were examining cyclostome bryozoans encrusting an Upper Ordovician brachiopod with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This is one of our favorite activities, as the SEM always reveals tiny surprises about our specimens. That day the surprises were the smallest yet – fossils we had never seen before.

2 Infected brachWe were studying the dorsal exterior surface of this beat-up brachiopod from a 19th Century collection labelled “Cincinnati Group”. (Image by Harry Taylor.) We knew it was the strophomenid Rafinesquina ponderosa, and that the tiny chains of bryozoans encrusting it were of the species Corynotrypa inflata. We’ve seen this scene a thousand times. But when we positioned the SEM beam near the center of the shell where there was a brown film …

3 pdt16920 D1253… we saw that the bryozoans were themselves encrusted with little pyritic squiggles. These were new to us.

4 pdt19580 D7139In some places there were thick, intertwining mats of these squiggles. We later found these fossils on two other brachiopod specimens, both also Rafinesquina ponderosa and from 19th Century collections with no further locality or stratigraphic information.

5 pdt19578 D7139Last week Paul and I scanned these specimens again and began to put together an analysis. We believe these are fossil cyanobacteria. They are uniserial, unbranching strands of cells that range from 5 to 9 microns in length and width. Some of individual strands are up to 700 microns long and many are sinuous. The cells are uniform in size and shape along the strands; there are no apparent heterocysts. They appear very similar in form to members of the Order Oscillatoriales.

6 CyanobacteriaCyanobacteria are among the oldest forms of life, dating back at least 2.1 billion years, and they are still abundant today. The fossils are nearly identical to extant forms, as seen above (image from: http://www.hfmagazineonline.com/cyanobacteria-worlds-smallest-oldest-eyeball/).

7 pdt19599 D1253Paul made this remarkable image, at 9000x his personal record for high magnification, showing the reticulate structure preserved on some of the fossil surfaces. Note that the scale bar is just 2 microns long. These are beautiful fossils in their tiny, tiny ways.

We have not seen these cyanobacteria fossils before on shell surfaces, so we submitted an abstract describing them for the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver this September. We are, of course, not experts on bacteria, so we are offering our observations to the scientific community for further discussion. Here is the conclusion of our abstract —

“We suggest the cyanobacterial mats developed shortly before final burial of the brachiopod shells. Since the cyanobacteria were photosynthetic, the shells are inferred to have rested with their dorsal valve exteriors upwards in the photic zone. That Cincinnatian brachiopod shells were occupied by cyanobacteria has been previously well demonstrated by their microborings but this is the first direct evidence of surface microbial mats on the shells. The mats no doubt played a role in the paleoecology of the sclerobiont communities on the brachiopods, and they may have influenced preservation of the shell surfaces by the “death mask” effect. The pyritized cyanobacteria can be detected with a handlens by dark squiggles on the brachiopod shells, but must be confirmed with SEM. We encourage researchers to examine the surfaces of shells from the Cincinnatian and elsewhere to find additional evidence of fossilized bacterial mats.”

References:

Noffke, N., Decho, A.W. and Stoodle, P. 2013. Slime through time: the fossil record of prokaryote evolution. Palaios 28: 1-5.

Tomescu, A. M., Klymiuk, A.A., Matsunaga, K.K., Bippus, A.C. and Shelton, G.W. 2016. Microbes and the Fossil Record: Selected Topics in Paleomicrobiology. In: Their World: A Diversity of Microbial Environments (pp. 69-169). Springer International Publishing.

Vogel, K. and Brett, C.E. 2009. Record of microendoliths in different facies of the Upper Ordovician in the Cincinnati Arch region USA: the early history of light-related microendolithic zonation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 281: 1-24.

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