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

November 17th, 2017

1 pdt19598 D1253[This week’s post is a repeat from last year, with some modifications. The paper Paul Taylor and I wrote on these microbial beauties has just appeared this week in the latest issue of the journal Palaios. A pdf is yours if you send me an email message.]

Deep 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 D7139Paul 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.”


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.

Wilson, M.A. and Taylor, P.D. 2017. Exceptional pyritized cyanobacterial mats encrusting brachiopod shells from the Upper Ordovician (Katian) of the Cincinnati, Ohio, region. Palaios 32: 673-677.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A Middle Jurassic trace fossil from southwestern Utah

November 10th, 2017

1 Gyrochorte 2 CarmelTime for a trace fossil! This is one of my favorite ichnogenera (the trace fossil equivalent of a biological genus). It is Gyrochorte Heer, 1865, from the Middle Jurassic (Bathonian) Carmel Formation of southwestern Utah (near Gunlock; locality C/W-142). It was collected on an Independent Study field trip a long, long time ago with Steve Smail. We are looking at a convex epirelief, meaning the trace is convex to our view (positive) on the top bedding plane. This is how Gyrochorte is usually recognized.
2 Gyroxhorte hyporelief 585A quick confirmation that we are looking at Gyrochorte is provided by turning the specimen over and looking at the bottom of the bed, the hyporelief. We see above a simple double track in concave (negative) hyporelief. Gyrochorte typically penetrates deep in the sediment, generating a trace that penetrates through several layers.
3 Gyrochorte Carmel 040515Gyrochorte is bilobed (two rows of impressions). When the burrowing animal took a hard turn, as above, the impressions separate and show feathery distal ends.
4 Gyrochorte 585Gyrochorte traces can become complex intertwined, and their detailed features can change along the same trace.
5 Gibert Benner fig 1This is a model of Gyrochorte presented by Gibert and Benner (2002, fig. 1). A is a three-dimensional view of the trace, with the top of the bed at the top; B is the morphology of an individual layer; C is the typical preservation of Gyrochorte.

Our Gyrochorte is common in the oobiosparites and grainstones of the Carmel Formation (mostly in Member D). The paleoenvironment here appears to have been shallow ramp shoal and lagoonal. Other trace fossils in these units include Nereites, Asteriacites, Chondrites, Palaeophycus, Monocraterion and Teichichnus. (I also ran into Gyrochorte in the beautiful Triassic of southern Israel.)

So what kind of animal produced Gyrochorte? There is no simple answer. The animal burrowed obliquely in a series of small steps. Most researchers attribute this to a deposit-feeder searching through sediments rather poor in organic material. It may have been some kind of annelid worm (always the easiest answer!) or an amphipod-like arthropod. There is no trace like it being produced today.

We have renewed interest in Gyrochorte because a team of Wooster Geologists is going to southern Utah this summer to work in these wonderful Jurassic sections.
6 Heer from ScienceOswald Heer (1809-1883) named Gyrochorte in 1865. He was a Swiss naturalist with very diverse interests, from insects to plants to the developing science of trace fossils. Heer was a very productive professor of botany at the University of Zürich. In paleobotany alone he described over 1600 new species. One of his contributions was the observation that the Arctic was not always as cold as it is now and was likely an evolutionary center for the radiation of many European organisms.


Gibert, J.M. de and Benner, J.S. 2002. The trace fossil Gyrochorte: ethology and paleoecology. Revista Espanola de paleontologia 17: 1-12.

Heer, O. 1864-1865. Die Urwelt der Schweiz. 1st edition, Zurich. 622 pp.

Heinberg, C. 1973. The internal structure of the trace fossils Gyrochorte and Curvolithus. Lethaia 6: 227-238.

Karaszewski, W. 1974. Rhizocorallium, Gyrochorte and other trace fossils from the Middle Jurassic of the Inowlódz Region, Middle Poland. Bulletin of the Polish Academy of Sciences 21: 199-204.

Sprinkel, D.A., Doelling, H.H., Kowallis, B.J., Waanders, G., and Kuehne, P.A., 2011, Early results of a study of Middle Jurassic strata in the Sevier fold and thrust belt, Utah, in Sprinkel, D.A., Yonkee, W.A., and Chidsey, T.C., Jr. eds., Sevier thrust belt: Northern and central Utah and adjacent areas, Utah Geological Association 40: 151–172.

Tang, C.M., and Bottjer, D.J., 1996, Long-term faunal stasis without evolutionary coordination: Jurassic benthic marine paleocommunities, Western Interior, United States: Geology 24: 815–818.

Wilson. M.A. 1997. Trace fossils, hardgrounds and ostreoliths in the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic) of southwestern Utah. In: Link, P.K. and Kowallis, B.J. (eds.), Mesozoic to Recent Geology of Utah. Brigham Young University Geology Studies 42, part II, p. 6-9.

[An earlier version of this article was posted on April 17, 2015.]

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: The tiniest of brachiopods (Middle Jurassic of Utah)

November 3rd, 2017

While preparing for this summer’s expedition to the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah, I found this specimen in our collection from the 1990s. You may be able to just make out the wedge-shaped outline of a mytilid-like bivalve with several cup-like oysters (Liostrea strigilecula of oyster reef and oyster ball fame) encrusting the shell exterior. This specimen, labeled EM-1, is from our Eagle Mountain exposure of Member D, Carmel Formation, near Gunlock, Utah.

If you look very closely near the middle of the clam, you will see some super-small encrusting shells the size of sand grains. Two are shown above, photographed with all the extension tubes on my camera. Believe it or not, these are shells of thecideide brachiopods, among the smallest known. They are, as far as I can tell, the only brachiopods thus far recorded from the Carmel Formation. They are abundant in this unit, encrusting carbonate hardgrounds as well as shells.

We know who these minuscule critters are from the careful analysis of their interiors by my colleague Peter Baker at the University of Derby. They are, in fact, the first thecideide brachiopods to be described from the Jurassic of North America. We published a description of them in 1999, naming them as the new genus and species Stentorina sagittata. The etymology of the genus name: “From the Greek Stentor (herald, of the Trojan War) in recognition of the first discovery of thecideoid brachiopods in the Jurassic of North America.” How’s that for classical drama about an itty-bitty brachiopod? We said of the new species name: “From the way the edges of the hemispondylium converge on the median ridge to form a characteristic arrowhead-shaped structure on the floor of the ventral valve.” Sagittate means arrowhead-shaped.

I’m looking forward to more paleontological treasures from the Carmel Formation of southern Utah.


Baker, P G. and Wilson, M A. 1999. The first thecideide brachiopod from the Jurassic of North America. Palaeontology 42: 887-895.

Carlson, S.J. 2016. The evolution of Brachiopoda. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 44: 409-438.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Bryozoan encrusting a bryozoan (Campanian of southwestern France)

October 27th, 2017

Today’s post is in honor of Macy Conrad’s (Wooster ’18) poster at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, which was held earlier this week. It is also to recognize again the Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) genius of our friend Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London). The scene is the curving bryozoan ?Oncousoecia sp. encrusting the bifoliate erect bryozoan known as Onychocella aglaia (d’Orbigny, 1851). The specimen is from the Biron Formation (Upper Campanian,Upper Cretaceous), at Cailleau on the north side beneath fishing carrelets near Talmont-sur-Gironde, Charente Maritime, France. We collected from this location this past summer on our wonderful French paleontological expedition. This image comes from a fantastic library of Type Campanian encrusting bryozoan SEM photographs Paul gave us for our identifications in the Wooster lab. I especially like encrusters on encrusters.

This encrusting ?Oncousoecia is, as you can tell from the question mark, not placed for certain in this cyclostome genus, but it is similar to other known examples. This is a closer view of its ancestrula, the first zooid. You can also see pseudopores in the skeleton. The underlying Onychocella aglaia (d’Orbigny, 1851) is a cheilostome bryozoan. This is another reason I find this view interesting: Our larger project examines the dynamics of cyclostome and cheilostome distribution in the Campanian.

This image of Macy’s GSA poster is only symbolic because it is way too small to read. It at least conveys Macy’s neat organization and colorful images. You can read her published abstract on the GSA site. Nice work, Macy, and a major milestone on your way to completing your Independent Study thesis.


Agostini, V., Ritter, M., Macedo, A., Muxagata, E., and Erthal, F., 2017, What determines sclerobiont colonization on marine mollusk shells? PLOS ONE, v. 12, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184745.

Neumann, M., Platel, J.-P., Andreiff, P., Bellier, J.-P., Damotte, R., Lambert, B., Masure, E., and Monciardini, C., 1983, Le Campanien stratotypique: étude lithologique et micropaléontologique: Géologie Méditerranéenne, v. 10, p. 41-57.

Platel, J.-P., Célerier, G., Duchadeau-Kervazo, C., Chevillot, C., and Charnet, F., 1999, Notice explicative, Carte géologie France (1/50 000), feuille Ribérac, Orléans, BRGM, 103 p.

Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 2003, Palaeoecology and evolution of marine hard substrate communities: Earth-Science Reviews, v. 62, p. 1-103.

Taylor, P.D. and Zatoń, M. 2008. Taxonomy of the bryozoan genera Oncousoecia, Microeciella and Eurystrotos (Cyclostomata: Oncousoeciidae). Journal of Natural History, v. 42, p. 2557-2574.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Foraminifera clustered around a sponge boring (Campanian of southwestern France)

October 20th, 2017

If all goes to plan, today I leave for the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, held this year in Seattle, Washington. To mark the occasion, this week’s fossil is from a poster Macy Conrad (’18), Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) and I are presenting on Tuesday at the meeting. It comes from our delightful work in southwestern France this summer. There we explored the Type Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) and collected bucketfuls of the oyster Pycnodonte vesicularis. We’ve been studying the sclerobionts on these oysters ever since.

Above are two bore holes formed by a clionaid sponge, making the trace fossil Entobia. A group of foraminiferans has encrusted around one of the holes, making a kind of chimney. Bromley and Nordmann (1971) described a nearly identical occurrence from the Maastrichtian (Upper Cretaceous) of Denmark. It is likely the forams grew around the hole to take advantage of the sponge’s feeding currents, thus making this another example of symbiosis in the fossil record.

I know you can’t actually read this poster, one of a pair Macy and I are presenting, but at least you can see its colorful arrangement! Here’s a link to the abstract. In a later blog post you’ll see the second poster on which Macy is the senior author. My second presenting senior, Brandon Bell, will also get his moment of blog fame soon.

The Geology Department faculty hopes to have numerous posts from the GSA meeting, so more to come!


Breton, G. 2017. Les sclérobiontes des huîtres du Cénomanien supérieur du Mans (Sarthe, France). Annales de Paléontologie 103: 173-183.

Bromley, R.G. and Nordmann, E. 1971. Maastrichtian adherent foraminifera encircling clionid pores. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark 20: 362-368.

Coquand, H. 1858. Description physique, géologique, paléontologique et minéralogique du département de la Charente: Besançon, Dodivers, 420 p.

Platel, J.-P. 1996. Stratigraphie, seédimentologie et évolution géodynamique de la plate-forme carbonatée du Crétacé supérieur du nord du basin d’Aquitaine. Géologie de la France 4: 33-58.

Taylor, P. and Wilson, M. 2003. Palaeoecology and evolution of marine hard substrate communities. Earth-Science Reviews 62: 1-103.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: “Ghosts” in the Upper Ordovician of Kentucky

October 13th, 2017

This year Caroline Buttler (Department of Natural Sciences, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and I had a great project describing a cave-dwelling fauna in the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky. We hope that work will appear soon in the Journal of Paleontology. During our lab studies of thin-sections and acetate peels of massive trepostome bryozoans, we found several examples of clear calcite bodies in the middle of sediment-filled borings. These structures were described from the Ordovician of Estonia as “ghosts” of soft-bodied organisms by Wyse Jackson and Key (2007). They appear to be mineralized casts of organisms that were buried when sediment filled the borings that they occupied.

Meanwhile, Luke Kosowatz (’17) has a senior Independent Study project assessing bioerosion in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area. He and I have also found numerous examples of these ghosts in borings, so many that they have become a phenomenon in themselves for study. Above is an acetate peel made tangentially to the bryozoan surface showing the numerous tubular zooecia punctured by a few larger borings. Most of these borings are filled with sediment, but the two indicated by the arrows have these calcitic ghosts. This specimen is from the Corryville Formation near Washington, Mason County, Kentucky (38.609352°N latitude, 83.810973°W longitude; College of Wooster location C/W-10).

Above is one of our many heavily-bored trepostome bryozoans. This one comes from the Bellevue Formation (Katian) exposed on Bullitsville Road near the infamous Creation Museum (C/W-152). The irregular holes are the cylindrical boring Trypanites. The ghosts are not visible without sectioning.

Here is a close view of one of the ghostly calcitic casts in an acetate peel. The boundaries are sharp between the ghosts and the surrounding sediment.

The arrows above show ghosts in longitudinal cross-sections. Note their extended oval shapes. These are clearly organic shapes under these circumstances. (This is a thin-section.)

So what do the ghosts represent? They could be remains of the boring organisms themselves. If they are, they can be used to address a problem we have with bioerosion: What is the temporal relationship between the borings? How many were active in a given substrate at a given time? The percentage of borings with ghosts may give us a minimum amount of contemporary bioerosion. If, again, these are remnants of the borers themselves.

Maybe the ghosts are of later organisms that occupied the borings after the borers died? This happens often, with the secondary inhabitants called nestlers.

I know of no way to sort possible borers from nestlers with this kind of evidence.

The above image shows it’s possible that some of the ghosts are of organisms that had shells. The arrow is pointing to a dark line that may represent the remains of some type of shell. I’ve seen little tiny lingulid brachiopods in some borings before.

A fun mystery!

For technical interest, here is our photomicroscope we use to produce images like those in this post.


Cuffey, R.J. 1998. The Maysville bryozoan reef mounds in the Grant Lake Limestone (Upper Ordovician) of north-central Kentucky, in Davis, A., and Cuffey, R. J., eds., Sampling the layer cake that isn’t: the stratigraphy and paleontology of the type-Cincinnatian. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Guidebook 13: 38-44.

Wyse Jackson, P.N. and Key, M.M. Jr. 2007. Borings in trepostome bryozoans from the Ordovician of Estonia: two ichnogenera produced by a single maker, a case of host morphology control. Lethaia 40: 237-252.


Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A terebratulid brachiopod from the Upper Cretaceous of southwestern France

October 6th, 2017

Yes, we’ve had a run of French Cretaceous fossils here. This is because we’re in the midst of a major project stemming from summer fieldwork in the Type Campanian of southwestern France. The fossils are delicious, and they are before us every day in the lab.

The above terebratulid brachiopod was found by Macy Conrad (’18) at our Caillaud South locality in the Biron Formation. It is so beautifully symmetrical that it just had to be a Fossil of the Week. I’ve apparently felt this way before about terebratulid brachiopods since I’ve previously written about Triassic, Jurassic and Miocene examples before in this blog. A Cretaceous example at least completes the Mesozoic set.

The above view of our articulated specimen shows the fragmentary smooth dorsal valve of the terebratulid, with the posterior portion of the ventral valve extending upwards at the top. The ventral valve has the characteristic round pedicle opening.

This is the flip side showing only the exterior of the ventral valve. A bit of chalky matrix adheres in the lower left, and the darker circles at the top are a form of silicification called beekite rings.

Here is the side view of our terebratulid, with the dorsal valve on top and larger ventral valve below. You can see why brachiopods were given the common name “lamp shells” because of the resemble to a Roman oil lamp.


Coquand, H. 1858. Description physique, géologique, paléontologique et minéralogique du département de la Charente. Besançon, Dodivers, 420 p.

Platel, J.-P. 1996. Stratigraphie, sédimentologie et évolution géodynamique de la plate-forme carbonatée du Crétacé supérieur du nord du basin d’Aquitaine. Géologie de la France 4: 33-58.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: An oyster reef from the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah

September 29th, 2017

It was a pleasure to pull this massive specimen out of the cabinets, where it had been sitting for more than 20 years. It is a small reef of the oyster Liostrea strigilecula (White, 1877) from the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic) near Gunlock, southwestern Utah. It is out of storage because I’m returning to this section in Utah with students this summer to begin fieldwork again. The rocks and fossils are fascinating, and it is time someone looked seriously at them again.

A closer look at these little oysters shows how they could construct such a tight, nearly seamless structure. Each oyster grew in a cup-like fashion (first pointed out by Tim Palmer) so that they nestled together rather than overgrowing each other. These same oysters in this same locality also formed the famous oyster balls (ostreoliths). These reefal equivalents grew on carbonate hardgrounds, which are abundant in the Carmel Formation.

Liostrea strigilecula was named by Charles Abiathar White (1826-1910) as Ostrea strigilecula in 1877. White was an American paleontologist and geologist who did considerable work on midwestern and western North America. He was born in Massachusetts and worked in Iowa as the state geologist from 1866 to 1870. He returned east to teach at Bowdoin College for a couple of years, and then he joined the United States Geological Survey from 1874 into 1892. In 1895 he became an associate in paleontology at the United States National Museum. White was one of the first fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the first members of the Geological Society of America, and he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1889. Abiathar Peak in Yellowstone National Park was named after him. A more thorough biography can be found at the link.

I’m looking forward to seeing these beautiful oysters in the field again!


Bennett, K. 2017. White, Charles Abiathar. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 September 2017

Nielson, D.R. 1990. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Middle Jurassic Carmel Formation in the Gunlock area, Washington County, Utah. Brigham Young University Geology Studies 36: 153-192.

Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Middle Jurassic bryozoans from the Carmel Formation of southwestern Utah. Journal of Paleontology 73: 816–830.

Wilson, M.A. 1998. Succession in a Jurassic marine cavity community and the evolution of cryptic marine faunas. Geology 26: 379–381.

Wilson, M.A. 1997. Trace fossils, hardgrounds and ostreoliths in the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic) of southwestern Utah, in Link, P. and Kowallis, B., eds., Mesozoic to recent geology of Utah, Brigham Young University, v. 42, p. 6–9.

Wilson, M.A., Ozanne, C.R. and Palmer, T.J. 1998. Origin and paleoecology of free-rolling oyster accumulations (ostreoliths) in the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah, USA. Palaios 13: 70–78.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Chaetetids from the Upper Carboniferous of Liaoning Province, North China

September 22nd, 2017

1 Benxi chaetetid 2a 585Three years ago I had a short and painful trip to China to meet my new colleague and friend Yongli Zhang (Department of Geology, Northeastern University, Shenyang). The China part was great; the pain was from an unfortunately-timed kidney stone I brought with me. Nevertheless, I got to meet my new colleagues and we continued on a project involving hard substrates in the Upper Carboniferous of north China. Above is one of our most important fossils, a chaetetid demosponge from the Benxi Formation (Moscovian) exposed in the Benxi area of eastern Liaoning Province. We are looking at a polished cross-section through a limestone showing the tubular, encrusting chaetetids. This month the paper on these fossils has at last appeared.
2 Chaetetid Benxi Formation (Moscovian) Benxi Liaoning China 585This closer view shows two chaetetids. The bottom specimen grew first, was covered by calcareous sediment, and then the system was cemented on the seafloor. After a bit of erosion (marked by the gray surface cutting across the image two-thirds of the way up), another chaetetid grew across what was then a hardground that partially truncated the first chaetetid. This little scenario was repeated numerous times in this limestone, producing a kind of bindstone with the chaetetids as a common framework builder.
3 Chaetetid Benxi cross-section 585Here is the closest view of the chaetetids, showing the tubules running vertically, each with a series of small diaphragms as horizontal floors.

Last week’s fossil was a chaetetid, introducing the group. They are hyper-calcified demosponges, and the classification of the fossil forms is still not clear. Their value for paleoecological studies, though, is clear. This particular chaetetid from the Benxi Formation preferred a shallow, warm, carbonate environment, and it was part of a diverse community of corals, fusulinids, foraminiferans, brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoans, gastropods, and algae. Such hard substrate communities are not well known in the Carboniferous, and this is one of the best.


Gong, E.P, Zhang, Y.L., Guan, C.Q. and Chen, X.H. 2012. The Carboniferous reefs in China. Journal of Palaeogeography 1: 27-42.

West, R.R. 2011a. Part E, Revised, Volume 4, Chapter 2A: Introduction to the fossil hypercalcified chaetetid-type Porifera (Demospongiae). Treatise Online 20: 1–79.

West, R.R. 2011b. Part E, Revised, Volume 4, Chapter 2C: Classification of the fossil and living hypercalcified chaetetid-type Porifera (Demospongiae). Treatise Online 22: 1–24.

Zhang, Y.L., Gong, E.P., Wilson, M.A., Guan, C.Q., Sun, B.L. and Chang, H.L. 2009. Paleoecology of a Pennsylvanian encrusting colonial rugose coral in South Guizhou, China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 280: 507-516.

Zhang, Y.L., Gong, E.P., Wilson, M.A., Guan, C.Q.. and Sun, B.L. 2010. A large coral reef in the Pennsylvanian of Ziyun County, Guizhou (South China): The substrate and initial colonization environment of reef-building corals. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 37: 335-349.

Zhang, Y., Gong, E., Wilson, M.A., Guan, C., Chen, X., Huang, W., Wang, D. and Miao, Z. 2017. Palaeoecology of Late Carboniferous encrusting chaetetids in North China. Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments https://doi.org/10.1007/s12549-017-0300-5

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Predatory trace from the Upper Cretaceous of southwestern France

September 15th, 2017

One hole in a shell is unremarkable. Several in a repeating pattern is a story. Above is a right valve (exterior) of the oyster Pycnodonte vesicularis from the Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) of southwestern France. It was collected during our fantastic summer excursion into the Type Campanian at the Archiac location, which had beautiful exposures of the Aubeterre Formation. Note the jagged hole near the center, the subject of this post.Here is the other side of the right valve (the interior). We have multiple such examples in our collection, all in right valves and all near or on what would have been the oyster’s adductor (closing) muscle attachment. (Those of you with sharp eyes may also find some sweet Rogerella borings made by  barnacles, along with several encrusting bryozoan colonies.)A closer view of the hole showing spalled shell layers. (Also more bryozoans!)
Another close view of the above hole on the other side of the valve. It appears that these holes have been produced by some hard object punching through, spalling away the edges. This is what some predators do to shelled organisms to break them apart. Pether (1995) named the “ballistic trace” resulting from stomatopod shrimp predation as Belichnus. Cadée and de Wolf (2013) extended the range of trace makers to include seagulls. In both cases the predators essentially “spear” the shell, with the ensuing hole looking rather squarish and jagged. This is one of the “fracture-shaped bioerosion traces” in the architectural analysis of Buatois et al. (2017).

In our Cretaceous examples, the culprit was most likely some type of stomatopod (a large, diverse and long-lived group) smacking its way into the oysters through the thin right valve. Striking the muscle attachment would be the quickest way of forcing the shell open to reveal all the oysters goodness. The previously oldest example of Belichnus in the fossil record is Oligocene (David, 1997), so this occurrence extends the range back to the Late Cretaceous. That’s not a big deal because the ichnotaxon (trace fossil formal name) is relatively young and those who would look for it are very few. Its stratigraphic range is still maturing.

Update: Katherine Marenco sent this great video of mantis shrimp in action, including a “smasher”.


Buatois, L., Wisshak, M., Wilson, M.A. and Mángano, G. 2017. Categories of architectural designs in trace fossils: A measure of ichnodisparity. Earth-Science Reviews 164: 102-181.

Cadée, G. C. and de Wolf, P. 2013. Belichnus traces produced on shells of the bivalve Lutraria lutraria by gulls. Ichnos 20: 15-18.

David, A. 1997. Predation by muricid gastropods on Late-Oligocene (Egerian) molluscs collected from Wind Brickyard, Eger, Hungary. Malak Táj 16: 5–12

Pether, J. 1995. Belichnus new ichnogenus, a ballistic trace on mollusc shells from the Holocene of the Benguela region, South Africa. Journal of Paleontology 69: 171-181.


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