Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A Pleistocene octocoral holdfast from Sicily

February 6th, 2015

OctocoralHoldfastPleistoceneSicilyMy Italian colleague Agostina Vertino collected this beautiful specimen from the Pleistocene of Sicily and brought it to Wooster when she visited five years ago. It is the attaching base (holdfast) of the octocoral Keratoisis peloritana (Sequenza 1864). Octocorals (Subclass Octocorallia of the Class Anthozoa) are sometimes called “soft corals” because of their organic-rich, flexible skeletons. They are distinguished by polyps with eight tentacles, each of which is pinnate (feathery). Octocorals include beautiful sea fans and sea whips that require a hard substrate for stability. This particular holdfast is on a small slab of limestone.

The genus Keratoisis is known as the “bamboo coral” because it looks jointed like stalks of the plant. I collected fragments of Pleistocene Keratoisis branches during my visit to Sicily last year.
Giuseppe SeguenzaGiuseppe Seguenza (1833-1889) named the species Keratoisis peloritana. He was a Sicilian natural historian with broad interests, especially in geology. Although educated as a pharmacist, he found geology much more exciting on the volcanically active islands of the Mediterranean. He eventually became a professor of geology at the University of Messina (where the bust of him shown above resides). Italian sources say Seguenza received the famous Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London, but that does not appear to be true. Instead it appears that he was given “the balance of the proceeds of the Wollaston Fund” as a donation at the time the medal was awarded to Thomas Huxley (in 1876). The records of the society say that “the stipend of an Italian professor was too small to enable him to prosecute his palaeontological researches as fully as he could desire” (Woodward, 1876). Giuseppe Seguenza died in Messina at 56 years old.


Di Geronimo, I., Messina, C., Rosso, A., Sanfilippo, R., Sciuto, F., and Vertino, A. 2005. Enhanced biodiversity in the deep: Early Pleistocene coral communities from southern Italy. In: Cold-Water Corals and Ecosystems, p. 61-86. Springer: Berlin, Heidelberg.

Fois, E. 1990. Stratigraphy and palaeogeography of the Capo Milazzo area (NE Sicily, Italy): clues to the evolution of the southern margin of the Tyrrhenian Basin during the Neogene. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 78: 87-108.

Langer M. 1989. The holdfast internodes and sclerites of Keratoisis melitensis Goldfuss 1826 Octocorallia in the Pliocene foraminifera marl Trubi of Milazzo Sicily Italy. Palaeontologische Zeitschrift 63: 15-24.

Woodward, H. 1876. Reports and proceedings, Geological Society of London. Geological Magazine 13: 181-182.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A stromatoporoid from the Silurian of Estonia

January 30th, 2015

Densastroma pexisumStromatoporoids are extinct sponges that formed thick, laminated skeletons of calcite. They can be very common in Silurian and Devonian carbonate units, sometimes forming extensive reefs. The stromatoporoid above is Densastroma pexisum (Yavorsky, 1929) collected from the Mustjala Member of the Jaani Formation (Silurian, Wenlock) exposed on Saaremaa Island, Estonia. It was part of Rob McConnell’s excellent Senior Independent Study he completed in 2010.
Densastroma pexisum sectionStromatoporoids are rather featureless lumps until you cut a section through them. Then you see their characteristic laminae of calcite. Looking very close you might also glimpse the tiny vertical pillars between the laminae. Identifying the species of stromatoporoid always involves a thin-section or acetate peel to discern the forms of the pillars and laminae.

In the upper left of the sectioned D. pexisum is an oval boring cut through the fabric of the stromatoporoid. This is likely the trace fossil Osprioneides kampto Beuck and Wisshak, 2008. This is the largest known Palaeozoic boring. It is relatively common in Silurian stromatoporoids of the Baltic region. Last year Olev Vinn, Mari-Ann Mõtus and I published a paper describing the same ichnospecies in large trepostome bryozoans from the Estonian Ordovician.
8 schematic drawing of Osprioneides kampto
This diagram of O. kampto is from Figure 8 of the Beuck et al. (2008) paper. The organism that made the boring was almost certainly a filter-feeding worm of some kind that gained a feeding advantage by placing itself high on a hard substrate.
Flügel in 7000 ts by Chris SchulbertDensastroma was originally named in 1958 by Erik Flügel (1934-2004). He combined the Latin densus with the Greek stroma, meaning “dense-layered”. (Yes, taxonomic purists will object to the mix of Latin and Greek in one name.) Flügel was a highly accomplished and diverse scientist who founded the Institute of Paleontology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg as well as the journal Facies. He is best known for his advocacy of detailed study of carbonate facies through petrography (“microfacies analysis“), developing a series of techniques and principles that I found very useful in my dissertation work. The above image is a fitting tribute to Erik Flügel made by Chris Schulbert. It is a portrait made of 7000 carbonate thin-sections!


Beuck, L., Wisshak, M., Munnecke, A. and Freiwald, A. 2008. A giant boring in a Silurian stromatoporoid analysed by computer tomography. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 53: 149-160.

Flügel, E. 1959. Die Gattung Actinostroma Nicholson und ihre Arten (Stromatoporoidea). Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien 63: 90-273.

Freiwald, A. 2004. Erik Flügel: 1934–2004. Facies 50: 149-159.

Vinn, O., Wilson, M.A. and Mõtus, M.-A. 2014. The earliest giant Osprioneides borings from the Sandbian (Late Ordovician) of Estonia. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99455. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099455.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A predatory gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

January 23rd, 2015

Naticarius millepunctatus Pliocene CyprusThis week we have another fossil from the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) of the Mesaoria Plain in central Cyprus. It is again from a Keck Geology Consortium project in 1996 with Steve Dornbos (’97). This time, though, instead of our Coral Reef locality, our featured creature is from a sandy marl outcrop we called “Exploration”. We have above an aperture view of Naticarius millepunctatus Risso, 1826, a species still alive today and known as the “many-spotted moon shell”. It is a naticid gastropod, heir to a predatory tradition that strikes fear in the tiny hearts of bivalves.
Naticarius millepunctatus Pliocene Cyprus View 2Naticid gastropods, like our Naticarius, have a well-muscled foot that they use to essentially swim through loose sand to capture infaunal bivalves and other shelled prey. They then use their specialized radula to drill into the shell, kill the unfortunate animal, and then consume the soft goodies. Naticids leave distinct drill holes in the shells of their victims, as shown in a previous Fossil of the Week post. We found a few drilled bivalve shells with our Naticarius millepunctatus at the Exploration site.
André_Marie_Constant_DumérilNaticarius was named as a genus in 1806 by André Marie Constant Duméril (1774-1860). Duméril was another member of that marvelous group of French zoologists that lived through the French Revolution. He was a professor of anatomy, herpetology and ichthyology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, corresponding and collaborating with such eminents as Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart. His most prominent work was Zoologie analytique, published in 1806. In this massive treatise he compiled descriptions of all the known genera of animals in an effort to sort them out in a repeatable way.
Dumeril KeyThis is a page from Duméril’s Zoologie analytique. We immediately recognize this as a binary taxonomic key, even if we can’t read the French. Starting from the left we make yes or no decisions about the anatomy of the animal we’re trying to identify, eventually ending on the right with a genus. (Naticarius is at number 10.)

André Marie Constant Duméril did prodigious work with reptiles as well, describing in detail 1393 “species” over nine volumes. (Oddly, in defiance of his fellow zoologists, he insisted that amphibians should be counted among the reptiles, thus the quotes around his number of “reptiles”.) Duméril also had major works on insects. His son, Auguste Duméril, was also a zoologist. As the elder Duméril retired, Auguste gradually took over his scientific projects.


Cowper Reed, F.R. 1935. LII.—Notes on the Neogene Faunas of Cyprus.—III. The Pliocene Faunas. Journal of Natural History 16: 489-524.

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Duméril, C. 1806. Zoologie analytique, ou Méthode naturelle de classification des animaux, rendue plus facile à l’aide de tableaux synoptiques. Allais, Paris. 344 pp.

Tyler, C.L. and Schiffbauer, J.D. 2012. The fidelity of microstructural drilling predation traces to gastropod radula morphology: paleoecological applications. Palaios 27: 658–666.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Another vermetid gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

January 16th, 2015

Petaloconchus intortus (Lamarck, 1818)Why another one of those strange twisty gastropods from the Pliocene of Cyprus for our Fossil of the Week? Because this one fooled me for years. Above is a pair of images of a specimen of the vermetid gastropod Petaloconchus intortus (Lamarck, 1818) from the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) of central Cyprus. It is encrusting a branch of the coral Cladocora. Ever since 1996 I’ve cataloged this and other such Cypriot specimens as serpulids, a type of polychaete worm that constructs adherent calcareous tubes like these. In fact, I placed on Wikipedia an image of the specimen below as a serpulid example.
Petaloconchus Cyprus Pliocene 585Last week an anonymous editor on Wikipedia changed the caption on my image from “serpulid worm tube” to “Petaloconchus“. I did some research and yes, he or she was correct. I’ve since remade the image and updated all the Wikipedia pages where it appeared. This is not the first time I’ve posted a fossil image online and been corrected, and I hope it’s not the last. Such feedback and criticism is a major advantage of online science, and I learn a great deal.

In my research on Petaloconchus, I found a delightful Journal of Paleontology paper by Stephen Jay Gould in which he defines a new subspecies of Petaloconchus sculpturatus and discusses the genus and its evolution in classic Gouldian ways (Gould, 1994). He, for example, found this quote by Myra Keen (1961, p. 183):

The Vermetidae (worm gastropods) probably hold a record among molluscs for the degree of confusion they have promoted, both in collections, and in the literature; for they have been misconstrued at every level from subspecies to phylum.

I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who has had trouble with vermetid gastropods. Even in Gould’s (1994, p. 1035) taxonomy of his new subspecies we see some of the issues with Petaloconchus:

Etymology.–alaminatus to recognize key feature of the absent internal laminae. The Linnean name is a paradox, as Petaloconchus means laminate shell (the supposed, but inadequate, definition of the genus), while the subspecific name alaminatus negates this characteristic feature. But who ever denied either nature’s complexity or evolution’s capacity to eliminate structures?

HCLeaPetaloconchus was named in 1843 by Henry Charles Lea (1825-1909), an American historian and political activist — an unexpected description of someone who named a snail. Lea came from a family deeply embedded in early American politics, and his father, Isaac Lea (1792-1886) was a prominent naturalist. Henry was clearly a prodigy in many endeavors. Note that his paper describing Petaloconchus and other fossils was completed when he was just 18 years old. In 1847, as a young man of 22, he suffered a mysterious nervous breakdown. During his long convalescence he read French medieval history, which turned his interests to the humanities. He eventually became a renowned historian of the Spanish Inquisition. (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.)
LeaPetaloconchusOriginal image of Petaloconchus sculpturatus by Lea (1843).

Serpulids Cyprus PlioceneAbove are some real serpulid worm tubes from the Pliocene of Cyprus, although I’m open to corrections!


Aguirre, J., Belaústegui, Z., Domènech, R., de Gibert, J.M., and Martinell, J. 2014. Snapshot of a lower Pliocene Dendropoma reef from Sant Onofre (Baix Ebre Basin, Tarragona, NE Spain). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 395: 9-20.

Bradley, E.S. 1931. Henry Charles Lea. A Biography. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 418 pages.

Carpenter P. 1857. First steps toward a monograph of the recent species of Petaloconchus, a genus of Vermetidae. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 24: 313-317.

Gould, S.J. 1994. Petaloconchus sculpturatus alaminatus, a new Pliocene subspecies of vermetid gastropods lacking its defining generic character, with comments on vermetid systematics in general. Journal of Paleontology 68: 1025-1036.

Keen, A.M. 1961. A proposed reclassification of the gastropod family Vermetidae. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoology, 7:183-213.

Lea, H.C. 1843. Descriptions of some new fossil shells, from the Tertiary of Petersburg, Virginia. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 9: 229-274. [The volume was actually published in 1846.]

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A worm-like gastropod from the Pliocene of Cyprus

January 9th, 2015

Vermetus Pliocene Cyprus aperture viewThis week we continue with fossils from the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) of the Mesaoria Plain in central Cyprus. These fossils are from a Keck Geology Consortium project in 1996 with Steve Dornbos (’97). Above we have one of the most distinctive forms at the Coral Reef locality: the gastropod Vermetus Daudin, 1800. It doesn’t look much like a snail with its irregular, twisty tube of a shell, but the animal within was very snaily indeed.
Vermetus Pliocene CyprusVermetus and its relatives are still alive today, so we know a lot about their biology. They are sessile benthic, cemented, filter-feeding marine organisms, meaning they are stationary on some hard oceanic substrate sorting out organic materials from the water. They gather their food in one of two ways: capturing plankton in their gills (much like most bivalves) or making a net of mucus threads that is gathered occasionally with their radulae, with the food passed to the mouth. They have separate sexes. The male broadcasts sperm into the water column. The female catches some of this sperm in her mucus feeding net. She then broods the fertilized eggs in her mantle cavity. Vermetids are common enough that they are even used today to determine tectonic movements in the Mediterranean (Sivan et al., 2010).

The genus Vermetus was named in 1800 by François Marie Daudin (1774-1804). Daudin was a French zoologist with a hard, short but very productive life. He contracted a disease in childhood that left his legs paralyzed, and thereafter devoted his time to natural history. He started (but did not complete) one of the first modern books on ornithology, combining description with Linnean taxonomy. His work on amphibians and reptiles was epic, finishing eight volumes that described 517 species. In all his research he was helped by his wife Adèle, who drew his hundreds of illustrations, including those below. She died of tuberculosis in 1804, and he died soon after only 29 years old. They both lived in poverty in Paris during the dislocations of the French Revolution.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31There are no portraits of François Marie Daudin, so the best I can do in his memory is reproduce some of the illustrations of modern Vermetus (drawn by Adèle Daudin) in his 1800 book titled (in translation) “Collection of memories and notes on new or little-known species of molluscs, worms and zoophytes”. Here’s to our memory of the Daudins.


Cowper Reed, F.R. 1935. LII.—Notes on the Neogene Faunas of Cyprus.—III. The Pliocene Faunas. Journal of Natural History 16: 489-524.

Daudin, F.M. 1800. Recueil de Mémoires et de Notes sur des espèces inédites ou peu connues de Mollusques, de Vers et de Zoophytes, orné de gravures. Chez Fuchs, Libraire, rue des Mathurins. Treuttel et Wurtz, quai Voltaire; 50 pp.

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Sivan, D., Schattner, U., Morhange, C. and Boaretto, E. 2010. What can a sessile mollusk tell about neotectonics? Earth and Planetary Science Letters 296: 451-458.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An encrusted scallop from the Pliocene of Cyprus

January 2nd, 2015

Chlamys Pliocene CyprusOne of the very best paleontological sites I had the pleasure of collecting was on the hot Mesaoria Plain near the center of the island of Cyprus. It was the summer of 1996 and Steve Dornbos (’97) and I were pursuing research as part of a Keck Geology Consortium project. We were exploring the Nicosia Formation, a Pliocene series of thick marls with occasional fossiliferous beds. We stumbled across a remarkable fossil coral reef preserved in a hillside. This deposit and its fossils became the basis of Steve’s Independent Study project and a paper (Dornbos and Wilson, 1999). One of the most prominent (and beautiful) fossil types we found was the pectinid clam Chlamys. The specimen above fell into our category of “Chlamys sp. 1″ because we couldn’t further identify it. Note that it has near the hinge on the left a juvenile Chlamys attached to it, as well as a circular serpulid tube near the top center. The details of the shell are very well preserved.
Chlamys interior Pliocene CyprusThis is the interior view of the same specimen of Chlamys. Visible at the hinge is the isodont dentition and, extending to the left, the distinctive auricle of the genus. On the right side of the hinge is a bit of the young Chlamys.

This species of Chlamys likely nestled between the branches of the coral in our reef, opening its valves to filter-feed. It was not a swimmer like some of its thin-valved, symmetrical pectinid cousins living in the same reef.
Peter Friedrich RödingChlamys was named in 1798 by Peter Friedrich Röding (1767–1846), a German naturalist who lived in Hamburg. He chose the name from the Greek chlamys (χλαμύς) because he thought it looked like the folds of this ancient Greek cloak. In 1798 Röding published a sale catalogue of mollusk shells (fossil and modern). The descriptions of specimens were minimal, but he had long lists of new taxonomic names, making him the official author of dozens of molluscan genera. Strangely, Röding didn’t put his name on the catalogue. He was only officially recognized as its author by a ruling of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 1956, thus ensuring the perpetuation of his name in our taxonomic system.

We’ll see more gorgeous fossils from the Pliocene of Cyprus in the coming weeks.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week feature is four years old today. There have been 208 posts in this series, starting with the first posted on January 2, 2011. I hope there are many more to come!


Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Röding, P.F. 1798. Museum Boltenianum sive catalogus cimeliorum e tribus regnis naturæ quæ olim collegerat Joa. Fried Bolten, M.D. p. d. per XL. annos proto physicus Hamburgensis. Pars secunda continens conchylia sive testacea univalvia, bivalvia & multivalvia. – pp. [1-3], [1-8], 1-199. Hamburgi, Trapp.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A Cretaceous oyster with borings and bryozoans from Mississippi

December 26th, 2014

Exogyra costata Prairie Bluff Fm Maastrichtian 585
As winter closes in on Ohio, I start dreaming about past field trips in warm places. This week’s fossil takes me back to fieldwork in Alabama and Mississippi during May of 2010. Paul Taylor (The Natural History Museum, London) and I studied the Upper Cretaceous and Lower Paleogene sections there with our students Caroline Sogot and Megan Innis (Wooster ’11). We had a most excellent and productive time.

The above fossil was very common in our Maastrichtian (Upper Cretaceous) outcrops. It is a left valve of Exogyra costata Say, 1820, from the Prairie Bluff Chalk Formation exposed in Starkville, Mississippi (locality C/W-395). It is a large oyster with a very thick calcitic shell. It has a distinctive spiral, making it look a bit like a snail. Oysters are sessile benthic filter-feeders that usually sit on their large left valves with a flatter and smaller right valve on top. Exogyra stayed stable on the seafloor because of its massive weight.
Interior left 111914This is a view of the inside of the left valve at the top of this entry. You can see the large, dark adductor muscle scar in the center. (The adductors closed the valves.) Note the many evenly-spaced holes in the oyster shell interior, with a closer view below.
Entobia 111914These holes were excavated by a clionaid sponge, producing the trace fossil Entobia. The sponge used the oyster shell as a protective substrate. It infested the valve after the death of the oyster made that particular piece of hard real estate available.
Interior close view 111914In the very center are some tiny encrusting cyclostome cheilostome bryozoans. Caroline, Paul and Liz Harper studied encrusting bryozoans like these from this field area as part of biogeographical and paleoecological investigation of the Cretaceous extinctions (see Sogot et al., 2013). I imagine Paul can even identify this species shown here. I wouldn’t dare! [Update from Paul: “I think these examples are cheilostomes, quite possibly Tricephalopora …” See comments.]
Thomas_Say_1818The genus Exogyra, along with the species E. costata, was named by Thomas Say (1787-1834) in 1820 (pictured above in 1818). Say was a brilliant American natural historian. Among his many accomplishments in his short career, in 1812 he helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the New World. He is best known for his descriptive entomology in the new United States, becoming one of the country’s best known taxonomists. he was the zoologists on two famous expeditions led by Major Stephen Harriman Long. The first, in 1819-1820, was to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains; the other (in 1823) was to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Along with his passion for insects, Say also studied mollusk shells, both recent and fossil. He was a bit of an ascetic, moving to the utopian socialist New Harmony Settlement in Indiana for the last eight years of his life. It is said his simple habits and refusal to earn money caused problems for his family. Say succumbed to what appeared to by typhoid fever when he was just 47.


Harris, G.D. 1896. A reprint of the paleontological writings of Thomas Say. Bulletins of American Paleontology, v. 1, number 5, 84 pp.

Say, T.G., 1820. Observations on some species of Zoophytes, shells, etc., principally fossils. American Journal of Science, 1st series, vol. 2, p. 34-45.

Sogot, C.E., Harper, E.M. and Taylor, P.D. 2013. Biogeographical and ecological patterns in bryozoans across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary: Implications for the phytoplankton collapse hypothesis. Geology 41, 631-634.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Beautiful trace fossils from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

December 19th, 2014

Trace fossils Bull Fork Ordovician OH 585Every year we highlight at least one of the fossils found and studied by Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology class as part of their field and laboratory exercises. This year it is this nice slab of trace fossils collected by Curtis Davies (’15) on our August 31 field trip to the emergency spillway in Caesar Creek State Park. I didn’t even notice it at the time Curtis picked it up. I only saw its full glory when he photographed the rock as part of a paleontological essay.
CurtisGalen083114aCurtis Davies is the smiling, bearded guy in the back (with Galen Schwartzberg) at the Caesar Creek outcrop. The rain had finally stopped and everyone was happy.

The traces are exposed here on the bottom of a bed of argillaceous limestone. They are preserved in what trace fossil workers (ichnologists) call convex hyporelief, which means simply that they stick out on the base (or sole) of the rock slab. These were tunnels originally excavated in soft mud by worm-like animals. The tunnels were filled with sediment that cemented up more resistant than the surrounding matrix, and thus were weathered in this relief.
Taenidium serpentinum Heer, 1877Most of the trace fossils here are the simple unlined burrow called Planolites, one of the most common traces in the Ordovician of the Cincinnati area. The trace labelled with the red “T” above, though, is rare here. Note that it is formed by a series of pulse-like movements that produced segments in the sediment infill. My estimate is that this trace can be classified as Taenidium serpentinum Heer, 1877. It is not common in the Ordovician.
Heer, Oswald, 1809-1883Oswald Heer (1809-1883), the scientist who named Taenidium serpentinum, was a Swiss geologist and botanist. As was the case for many educated Europeans, he started as a clergyman, even signing up for holy orders. The natural world captivated him, though, and starting with insects he worked his way up to become a naturalist and professor of botany at the University of Zürich. He was one of the key figures in the establishment of paleobotany (the study of fossil plants).
Taenidium serpentinum Heer, 1877 image 585Here is Heer’s figure of Taenidium serpentinum from Plate XLV in his 1877 book, Flora fossilis Helvetiae (Fossils Plants of Switzerland). You see the irony already. Heer described this trace fossil as a plant, inadvertently becoming one of the early figures in ichnology, the study of trace fossils.

Oswald Heer published many books and papers, becoming well known for his geological and paleontological explorations and descriptions. He was awarded the prestigious Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London in 1874. He was an earlier advocate of using fossils to sort on problems of paleogeography. He knew, for example, that Miocene fossils in Europe and North America were very similar, so he suggested in those days before Plate Tectonic Theory that the two continents were connected by a “land bridge“. This was called the “Atlantis Hypothesis”, and you can imagine the confusion that name caused among various cranks and pseudoscientists looking for Plato’s mythical continent. Heer died in Switzerland in 1883.


D’Alessandro, A. and Bromley, R.G. 1987. Meniscate trace fossils and the Muensteria-Taenidium problem. Palaeontology 30: 743-763.

Heer, O. 1877. Flora fossilis Helvetiae: Die vorweltliche flora der Schweiz. Zürich, J. Wurster & Company. 182 p.

Keighley, D.G. and Pickerill, R.K. 1994. The ichnogenus Beaconites and its distinction from Ancorichnus and Taenidium. Palaeontology 37: 305-338.

Keighley, D.G. and Pickerill, R.K. 1995. Commentary: The ichnotaxa Palaeophycus and Planolites: Historical perspectives and recommendations. Ichnos 3: 301-309.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: New tropical Jurassic bryozoan species from southern Israel

December 12th, 2014

1 Hyporosopora nanaWe are pleased to introduce to the world four new species of Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans. In a paper that has just appeared in the Bulletin of Geosciences, Steph Bosch (’14), Paul Taylor and I describe the first tropical Jurassic bryozoan fauna (see Wilson et al., 2015, below; it is open access and a free download). This work was the basis of Steph’s excellent Senior Independent Study thesis, and it could not have been done without Paul’s bryozoan mastery and his scanning electron microscopy skills. We found six bryozoan species in the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) exposed in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel, four of which are new to science and shown in this post. The image above is a colony of Hyporosopora nana n. sp. attached to a crinoid ossicle.
2 Gonozooid Hyporosopora nanaIdentifying and classifying Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans almost always involves finding the specialized reproductive gonozooids. Here we see a close-up of the gonozooid on H. nana. The ooeciopore (an opening for communication with the water outside) is at the distal end on the right. The species name “nana” means “small” in Latin and refers to the small size of the autozooids (feeding zooids).
3 Hyporosopora negevensisThis is Hyporosopora negevensis n. sp., named after its type location in the Negev. On the right side of the colony you can see its characteristic boomerang-shaped gonozooid.
4 Idmonea snehiIdmonea snehi n. sp. is named after my good friend and superb geologist Amihai Sneh of the Geological Survey of Israel. Amihai has now “retired” officially after a distinguished career, but continues to work. He is the lead author of the new Geological Map of Israel. Turns out I have no images of him with his face to the camera.
5 Idmonea snehi colorThis is a color optical image of I. snehi to show what these fossils look like outside the SEM. The wiggly lines you see in the background are where the host crinoid columnals articulate in the stem. (The crinoid is Apiocrinites negevensis.) I. snehi has the earliest example of lateral branching in a post-Paleozoic cyclostome, and is now the only published example of lateral branching in any Jurassic bryozoan.
6 Microeciella yoaviMicroeciella yoavi n. sp. (above) has a gonozooid with a spherical brood chamber, visible near the center of the image. It is named after another good friend and colleague, Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel. Yoav has been my field companion for over a decade now and is most responsible for the logistical and scientific success of our expeditions into the Negev. Yoav even accompanied the Wooster Geologists on our last departmental field trip to the Mojave Desert.
7 MatmorBryoField070513Team Israel 2013 worked hard to find the bulk of the bryozoans used in this study. They are shown above at one of our most productive sites in Hamakhtesh Hagadol.
8 2013 team IsraelWe took a group photo in Jerusalem in July 2013. On the left is Steph Bosch (’14; bryozoan expert); next to her is Lizzie Reinthal (’14; crinoid specialist); then Oscar Mmari (’14; he worked on Cretaceous phosphates but also valiantly collected Jurassic bryozoans); then me; and on the far right Yoav Avni.

Please download and read the paper for more information and context on this study. The Matmor bryozoans are most similar to their counterparts in the Callovian of Poland. The low diversity of the Matmor bryozoan fauna is not unusual for the Jurassic, but they are less abundant than contemporaneous bryozoan faunas from higher paleolatitudes in Europe and North America. The unusually small zooids of the Matmor bryozoans may be a function of the “temperature-size rule” because this fauna developed in shallow, warm, tropical waters.


Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea, Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051–1055.

Feldman, H.R. and Brett, C.E. 1998. Epi- and endobiontic organisms on Late Jurassic crinoid columns from the Negev Desert, Israel: Implications for co-evolution. Lethaia 31: 57–71.

Wilson, M.A., Bosch, S. and Taylor, P.D. 2015. Middle Jurassic (Callovian) cyclostome bryozoans from the Tethyan tropics (Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Bulletin of Geosciences 90: 51–63.

Wilson, M.A., Reinthal, E.A. and Ausich, W.I. 2014. Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel. Journal of Paleontology 88: 1212-1221.

Zatoń, M. and Taylor, P.D. 2009. Middle Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans from the Polish Jura. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54: 267–288.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Fish-bitten echinoid spines from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel

December 5th, 2014

BittenSpine585110214This week we revisit a group of fossils covered in an earlier blog post. It is now the subject of a paper that has just appeared in the journal Lethaia entitled, “Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids“. My co-authors are my good Polish colleagues Tomasz Borszcz and Michał Zatoń. Above is one of these bitten echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, the Negev, southern Israel. Many Independent Study students who worked in Israel over the past several years helped me collect hundreds like it. Now we have at last sorted through them systematically, collected the data, and published our analysis as a Lethaia Focus paper.
Figure 1 110214This is Figure 1 from the paper, with the caption: Selected examples of bitten rhabdocidaroid echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel. All scale bars are 5 mm. All specimens are from locality C/W-370 (N 30.94952°, E 34.98725°). A-I, various flabellate spines showing bite marks. J, spine with a double tooth impression. K-L, closer views of bite marks on flabellate spines. M, closer view of spine illustrated as A showing multiple tooth marks caused by a series of teeth. (Tomasz Borszcz constructed this great composite image.)
SpineCollectionMatmor585We have here the earliest direct evidence of fish predation on echinoids (“sea urchins” in this case) through these numerous bite marks. The echinoid was a species of Rhabdocidaris, which was very spiny. As you can see in the above image, the spines are diverse in shape and size. The large, flat ones easily preserve encrusters and bite marks. We collected and assessed 1266 spines; 57 of them (4.5%) are bitten.
RhabdocidaridTestPlateA test fragment from Rhabdocidaris found with the spines. Bits of the test (the main skeleton surrounding the body) are not nearly as common as the spines. The central elevation (the boss) is where a single spine was attached.

Camelbed 110214My Israeli geologist friend Yoav Avni is here collecting echinoderm fragments from one of my favorite (if least photogenic sites). It is an area used by camels for sleeping and mucking about in the soft sediments. Their activity brings fossil fragments to the surface in a most efficient way. (Finally something positive to say about the camels in Hamakhtesh Hagadol.)

Echinoderm bits 110214Here is a collection of fossil echinoderm fragments from this site. Most are from crinoids, but I’m sure you’ve noted the two echinoid spines there.

The variability of bite marks on the spines suggests that the predator manipulated the echinoids for some period, as shown by the sheephead fish (Semicossyphus pulcher) that feeds on sea urchins today. This YouTube video (expertly filmed by Joseph See and used with permission) shows a sheephead biting and tossing about an echinoid before forcing it open. Imagine what the spines would look like that are scattered about on the seafloor. This is the scenario we imagine for our Jurassic echinoids.

Predation is an important selective force in the evolution of communities, so this first evidence of direct predation on echinoids is an important data point in the explanation of how Mesozoic invertebrate marine communities changed in structure and composition after the Permian mass extinctions. Geerat Vermeij began the modern discussion of predation’s role in evolution with his 1977 paper on the Mesozoic Marine Revolution. We’re proud to have our work in this tradition.

If you want a pdf of our new Lethaia paper, please contact me.


Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2013. The oldest record of predation on echinoids: evidence from the Middle Jurassic of Poland. Lethaia 46, 141–145.

Vermeij, G.J. 1977. The Mesozoic marine revolution; evidence from snails, predators and grazers. Paleobiology 3, 245–258.

Wilson, M.A., Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2014. Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids. Lethaia (DOI: 10.1111/let.12110).

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R., Bowen, J.C. and Avni, Y.  2008. A new equatorial, very shallow marine sclerozoan fauna from the Middle Jurassic (late Callovian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 263, 24–29.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289, 93–101.

Zatoń, M., Villier, L. and Salamon, M.A. 2007. Signs of predation in the Middle Jurassic of south-central Poland: evidence from echinoderm taphonomy. Lethaia 40, 139–151.

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