Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: calcareous sponges from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

September 18th, 2015

1 Four Matmor SpongesThis post is in honor of Yael Leshno, a graduate student at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who is beginning her dissertation on the Middle Jurassic marine fossils of Israel. I’m proud to be on her committee. She will have some fascinating material to work with, and she has great ideas to test. This will be a fun and productive project.

Among the Jurassic groups Yael will concentrate on are the calcareous sponges. This is ambitious because they are poorly known and the literature is replete with outdated names and concepts. Her work will be of great value, though, because sponges can tell us a lot about the environments in which they flourished. They may also give us much needed information on the biogeographical context of the Jurassic faunas of the Middle East.

Above are four sponges from the Matmor Formation (Callovian, Middle Jurassic) of Makhtesh Gadol, southern Israel. These types of sponge are fun because they actually look like sponges with their porous exteriors and central osculum (excurrent hole). They are the least complicated type of fossil sponge. (Yael will see plenty of the challenging ones!)
2 Matmor calcisponge Peronidella 585In this closer view of one of the Matmor sponges you can see the complex spicular network of the exterior (the structure that held the living cells). You will also note near the base the coiled tube of a sabellid worm named Glomerula gordialis (Schlotheim, 1820).
3 Matmor Peronidella osculum 585Here is a top view looking into the osculum of the largest specimen. Sponges are filter-feeders, sucking in water through their exterior pores, filtering the organic material out, and then sending the used water out an osculum like this.

This sponge type is traditionally named Peronidella Hinde, 1893; it would be then placed within the Family Peronidellidae WU, 1991. I’m suspicious of this name because it used for sponges from the Devonian through the Cretaceous, so it is likely a form-genus (meaning a named form that may not have particular systematic value). Yael will no doubt section these common Matmor sponges and find enough internal detail to come up with a more useful name.
4 GJ Hinde imageGeorge Jennings Hinde (1839-1918; image from Woodward, 1918) named the fossil sponge genus Peronidella in 1893. Hinde grew up in a farming family in Norwich, England. He was clearly a self-starter, studying classical languages and science on his own as a boy. When he was about 16 he listened to a lecture given by a clergyman on the Scottish geological polymath Hugh Miller (1802-1856), who had recently died tragically. Hinde was intrigued and began to explore geology. In 1862, after beginning his own farming, Hinde visited the geological collection at the British Museum in London. He began an acquaintance there with a family relative, the famous geologist and paleontologist Henry Woodward (1832-1921). In that same year Hinde sold his farm and moved to Argentina to raise sheep. A few years later he traveled to North America and began an epic seven years studying geology, traveling across the eastern half of the continent. (He must have had a considerable source of income for this!) He enrolled as a student in Toronto University under the paleontologist H.A. Nicholson (1844–1899) and began to produce his first geological papers. When he returned to England in 1874 he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He continued to travel, this time over much of Europe and the Middle East. In 1880 he finished his PhD under Professor Karl Alfred Ritter von Zittel (1839-1904). He had a long career after that with numerous papers and scientific awards. Long et al. (2003) adds to this biography that Hinde very much wanted women to be allowed membership in the Geological Society of London, a point neglected in the obituary by Henry Woodward (1918). Hinde did not, alas, live to see the success of his progressive quest. The first woman was elected a Fellow of the GSL on May 21, 1919, a little more than a year after his death.


Hinde, G.J. 1893. A monograph of the British fossil sponges, Part III. Sponges of the Jurassic strata, p. 189-254. The Palaeontographical Society, London.

Hurcewicz, H. 1975. Calcispongea from the Jurassic of Poland. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 20: 223-291.

Long, S.L., Taylor, P.D., Baker, S. and Cooper, J. 2003. Some early collectors and collections of fossil sponges represented in The Natural History Museum, London. The Geological Curator 7: 353-362.

Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2010. Sabellid-dominated shallow water calcareous polychaete tubeworm association from the equatorial Tethys Ocean (Matmor Formation, Middle Jurassic, Israel). Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie 258: 31-38.

Woodward, H. 1918. Obituary: George Jennings Hinde, Ph.D.(Munich), FRS, FGS, VP Pal. Soc. Geological Magazine (Decade VI) 5: 233-240.

Zittel, K.A. 1879. Studien über fossile Spongien, Teil 3. — Bayer. Akad. d. Wiss., math. naturwiss Cl. Abb. 13: 91-138.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A starry bryozoan from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

September 11th, 2015

Constellaria polystomella Liberty Formation 585At this time of the year I pick out one interesting specimen from the fossils my Invertebrate Paleontology class collected on their first field trip into the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio. They did so well this week that I may be choosing a few more later! Our Fossil of the Week is the above bryozoan given the beautiful name Constellaria polystomella Nicholson, 1875. It was found by Jacob Nowell at the Caesar Creek Emergency Spillway in the Liberty Formation.
Constellaria Liberty closerConstellaria is a beautiful form, and one of the easiest bryozoans to recognize. Like all bryozooans, it was a colonial invertebrate with hundreds of filter-feeding individuals (zooids) housed in tiny tubes called zooecia. In Constellaria some of the zooecia are regularly grouped together and raised into star-shaped bumps called monticules. (The name Constellaria is clever.) This genus is a cystoporate bryozoan in the Family  Constellariidae.
JD Dana by Daniel Huntington 1858I was surprised to learn that Constellaria was named in 1846 by James Dwight Dana (1813-1895), one of the most accomplished American scientists of the 19th Century. He is best known for his Manual of Mineralogy (1848) which is still in print (greatly revised) and known as “Dana’s Mineralogy”. Dana (shown above in 1858) studied geology on scales from crystal structures to continents, with volcanoes and mountain-building in between. He had an affinity for “Zoophytes” (animals that appear to be plants), thus entangled him briefly with bryozoan systematics. Dana was born in Utica, New York, and attended Yale College, working under Benjamin Silliman, a famous chemist and mineralogist. After graduating from college he had a cool job teaching midshipmen in the US Navy, sailing through the Mediterranean in the process. For four years he served in the United States Exploring Expedition in the Pacific region. He made numerous important geological observations in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest that he later published in books and papers. He even dabbled in theology with books like Science and the Bible: A Review of the Six Days of Creation (1856). Dana died in 1895 having received numerous accolades and awards for his research and writing.


Brown, G.D., Jr., and Daly, E.J. 1985. Trepostome bryozoa from the Dillsboro Formation (Cincinnatian Series) of southeastern Indiana. Indiana Geological Survey Special Report 33: 1-95.

Cutler, J.F. 1973. Nature of “acanthopores” and related structures in the Ordovician bryozoan Constellaria. Living and Fossil Bryozoa. Academic Press, London, 257-260.

Dana J.D. 1846. Structure and classification of zoophytes. U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842, 7: 1-740.

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

September 4th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An encrusted and bored oyster from the Upper Jurassic of northern England

August 28th, 2015

1 Passage Beds Oyster shell bored 585This week’s fossil is a celebration of classes beginning again at Wooster, and a memory of excellent summer fieldwork. It isn’t especially attractive, but it has paleontological significance. We are looking at a broken surface through a thick oyster from the Passage Beds Member of the Coralline Oolite Formation (Upper Jurassic, Oxfordian) exposed on the north side of Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England. It was collected by Meredith Mann (’16) as part of her Senior Independent Study research in June. One of her project goals is to assess the sclerobionts (encrusters and borers) that lived on and within hard substrates in this interval. This thick shell is a start.
2 Passage Beds borings 585In this closer view we can see three rounded objects penetrating the oyster shell. These are bivalve borings called Gastrochaenolites. They were open holes excavated by drilling bivalves that were later filled with sediment and cement.
3 Passage oyster encrusters 585The outer surface of the oyster shell is covered with encrusting oysters and serpulid worm tubes. These will be more visible later after Meredith prepares the specimens. The first thing she is likely to do is use some bleach to remove the modern marine algae. Our specimens were all collected near the high-water tide level on the rocky north coast of Filey Brigg (N54.21823°, W00.26904°).
4 Meredith Passage Beds  072415Meredith is here standing against the Passage Beds Member on June 14, 2015. Her feet are on the top of the underlying Saintoft Member of the Lower Calcareous Grit Formation. About a meter and a half above her head is the base of the overlying Hambleton Oolite Member (Lower Leaf) of the Coralline Oolite Formation. As we took this photo the sea was pounding behind us on a rising tide.
5 Passage Unit 1 fossils 072415Here is a cluster of oysters preserved in the lowest unit of the Passage Beds. It is a sandstone distinct from the overlying limestones. There is much evidence of high-energy transportation of shelly material.
6 Meredith collection 072315Here are Meredith’s specimens from this site, all cleaned and in stratigraphic order. A critical part of her work will be a petrographic analysis of the Passage Beds Member. We hope to show you these thin-sections next month.
7 Meredith Filey Brigg point 072415Meredith celebrating the end of her fieldwork as she confronts the rising sea on the tip of Filey Brigg (N54.21560°, W00.25842°).

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A blastoid from the Lower Carboniferous of Illinois

August 21st, 2015

Pentremites IL 585It is sometimes hard to believe that exquisite fossils such as the above are sometimes very common. The above is a theca of the blastoid Pentremites godoni (DeFrance, 1819) found in the Lower Carboniferous (Mississippian) of Illinois. (Thanks to expert Colin Sumrall for the identification.) In some places these fossils can be picked up by the hundreds.

Blastoids are stemmed echinoderms that appeared first in the Ordovician and went extinct at the end of the Permian. They were most diverse and abundant in the shallow carbonate seas of the Lower Carboniferous, especially in North America. They are much beloved and studied fossils.
Pentremites IL basal 585The basal side of the above theca shows that blastoids had a small circular stem attachment, much like their cousins the crinoids. They extended numerous feeding appendages (brachioles) from their ambulacra (the five “petals” on the upper surface and sides) for filter-feeding. The theca is made of calcitic plates that are tightly fused together, thus ensuring they survive the vicissitudes of preservation.
Pentremites close 585In this close view of the top of the theca are five holes (spiracles) surrounding a central pit (the mouth) One spiracle (in the upper right) is larger than the others. It contains the anus and is thus called an anispiracle. The spiracles are openings into the interior of the theca, which contained a complexly-folded respiratory system called the hydrospire.

Pentremites godoni has a complicated taxonomic history. The original type specimen of the species (a specimen used as the definition of the species — a Platonic ideal form!) was destroyed in the middle of the 19th Century in a museum fire. The specimen was illustrated and described (although not named) in 1808 by James Parkinson (see below).
Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.55.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.59.30 PMParkinson (1808, pl. 13) referred to this specimen as “an asterial fossil from America; probably of the nature of the encrinus.” Encrinus was a term used at the time for crinoids. Fay (1961) describes the convoluted way Parkinson’s specimen above became the type not only for the species, but also how P. godoni came to define the genus Pentremites as well. That Parkinson (1808) diagram, though, is the only image of the original specimen, and probably the first illustration of a blastoid.


Atwood, J.W. and Sumrall, C.D. 2012. Morphometric investigation of the Pentremites fauna from the Glen Dean Formation, Kentucky. Journal of Paleontology 86: 813-828.

DeFrance, J.M.L. 1819. Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelles 14, EA-EQE, p. 467.

Fay, R.O. 1961. The type of Pentremites Say. Journal of Paleontology 35: 868-873.

Parkinson, J. 1808. Organic remains of a former world. London, Noraville & Fell, v. 2, p. 235-236, pl. 13.

Waters, J.A., Horowitz, A.S. and Macurda, D.B., Jr. 1985. Ontogeny and phylogeny of the Carboniferous blastoid Pentremites. Journal of Paleontology 59: 701-712.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A very large Upper Jurassic ammonite from southern England

August 14th, 2015

1 Titanites fragment Bowers QuarryThe shard above doesn’t look like much. It comes from a specimen far too large for us to excavate, let alone pack onto a plane for the trip home.
2 TitanitesinrockHere’s a view of one of the full specimens still in bedrock.
3 KN&Titanites 2002And here we see a liberated specimen with Katherine Nicholson Marenco (’03) for scale 12 years ago. This is the ammonite Titanites anguiformis Wimbledon and Cope, 1978, from the Portland Freestone (anguiformis Zone, Portlandian, Upper Jurassic) exposed on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England. Katherine and I, with help from Rich Poole (’03), Clive Griffiths, Tim Palmer and Paul Taylor, worked there in the summer of 2002 looking at encrusting faunas on shells for her Independent Study project. We could only take bits home, hence the fragment above. It was a wonderful field season in a spectacular place.

Titanites anguiformis is one of the largest ammonites, with specimens up to a meter in diameter. Our specimens above are all molds made of limestone; the aragonitic shells dissolved away. These lumbering beasts were swimming predators like all ammonoids, feasting on a variety of invertebrates in a shallow Jurassic sea.
4 CoombefieldBlocks2Our team spent most of its time in active building stone quarries like this one (Coombefield) looking at excavated blocks of Portland Freestone. This rock is one of the most comon building stones in England.
5 KNChiselling2The many surfaces of the blocks exposed fossils in a variety of orientations. Here is Katherine doing what she did for three weeks: chiseling bits of shell from the limestone.
6 Titanitesclose-up1Our goal was to collect surfaces like this. We have here an internal mold of Titanites anguiformis. The inner surface of the shell (a cryptic space) was encrusted by bryozoans, serpulid worms and oysters. When the aragonitic shell dissolved, the undersides of the encrusters were exposed like we see here. We then studied the attachment surfaces of the encrusters, looking at their growth patterns and successional overgrowths. Katherine’s work resulted in this GSA presentation.

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon CoolPix2500 2002/06/18 10:24:09 JPEG (8-bit) Normal Image Size:  1600 x 1200 Color ConverterLens: None Focal Length: 5.6mm Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern 1/900.9 sec - f/4.5 Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sensitivity: Auto White Balance: Auto AF Mode: AF-S Tone Comp: Auto Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00 Saturation comp: 0 Sharpening: Auto Noise Reduction: OFF [#End of Shooting Data Section]This fossil bit is thus a reminder of a great field season on the coast of southern England many years ago.


Falcon‐Lang, H. 2011. The Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. Geology Today 27: 34-38.

Wimbledon, W.A. and Cope, J.C.W. 1978. The ammonite faunas of the English Portland Beds and the zones of the Portlandian Stage. Journal of the Geological Society of London 135: 183-190.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Small and common orthid brachiopods from the Upper Ordovician of Ohio

August 7th, 2015

Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 1 585
One of the many benefits of posting a “Fossil of the Week” is that I learn a lot while researching the highlighted specimens. I not only learn new things, I learn that some things I thought I knew must be, shall we say, updated. The above slab contains dozens of brachiopods (and a few crinoid ossicles and bryozoans). I have long called the common brachiopod here Onniella meeki. Now I learn from my colleagues Alycia Stigall and Steve Holland at their great Cincinnatian websites that since 2012 I should be referring to this species as Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875). Jisuo Jin sorted out its taxonomy in a Palaeontology article three years ago:

Phylum: Brachiopoda
Class: Rhynchonellata
Order: Orthida
Family: Dalmanellidae
Genus: Cincinnetina
Species: Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875)
Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 2 585This slab, which resides in our Geology 200 teaching collection, was found at the famous Caesar Creek locality in southern Ohio. It is from the Waynesville/Bull Fork Formation and Richmondian (Late Ordovician) in age.
Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 3 585You may see some bryozoans in this closer view. This bed is a typical storm deposit in the Cincinnatian Group. The shells were tossed about, most landing in current-stable conditions, and finer sediments were mostly washed away, leaving this skeletal lag.


Jin, J. 2012. Cincinnetina, a new Late Ordovician dalmanellid brachiopod from the Cincinnati type area, USA: implications for the evolution and palaeogeography of the epicontinental fauna of Laurentia. Palaeontology 55: 205–228.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A conulariid revisited (Lower Carboniferous of Indiana)

July 31st, 2015

Conulariid03 585

This summer I’ve been updating some of the photos I placed in the Wikipedia system (check them out here, if you like; free to use for any purpose). I was especially anxious to replace a low-resolution image I had made of an impressive conulariid (Paraconularia newberryi) from the Lower Carboniferous of Indiana. The new version is above. Since I used the same specimen as a Fossil of the Week exactly four years ago to the day, I thought I’d take advantage of a slow summer and update that earlier text for this week:

I have some affection for these odd fossils, the conulariids. When I was a student in the Invertebrate Paleontology course taught Dr. Richard Osgood, Jr., I did my research paper on them. I had recently found a specimen in the nearby Lodi City Park that was so different from anything I had seen that I wanted to know much more. I championed the then controversial idea that they were extinct scyphozoans (a type of cnidarian including most of what we call today the jellyfish). That is now the most popular placement for these creatures today, although I arrived at the same place mostly by luck and naïveté.

The specimen above is Paraconularia newberryi (Winchell) found somewhere in Indiana and added to the Wooster fossil collections before 1974. A close view (below) shows the characteristic ridges with a central seam on each side.

Conulariid01 585Conulariids range from the Ediacaran (about 550 million years ago) to the Late Triassic (about 200 million years ago). They survived three major extinctions (end-Ordovician, Late Devonian, end-Permian), which is remarkable considering the company they kept in their shallow marine environments suffered greatly. Why they went extinct in the Triassic is a mystery.

ConulataThe primary oddity about conulariids is their four-fold symmetry. They had four flat sides that came together something like an inverted and extended pyramid. The wide end was opened like an aperture, although sometimes closed by four flaps. Preservation of some soft tissues shows that tentacles extended from this opening. Their exoskeleton was made of a leathery periderm with phosphatic strengthening rods rather than the typical calcite or aragonite. (Some even preserve a kind of pearl in their interiors.) Conulariids may have spent at least part of their life cycle attached to a substrate as shown below, and maybe also later as free-swimming jellyfish-like forms.

It is the four-fold symmetry and preservation of tentacles that most paleontologists see as supporting the case for a scyphozoan placement of the conulariids. Debates continue, though, with some seeing them as belonging to a separate phylum unrelated to any cnidarians. This is what’s fun about extinct and unusual animals — so much room for speculative conversations!


Driscoll, E.G. 1963. Paraconularia newberryi (Winchell) and other Lower Mississippian conulariids from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Contributions from the Museum of Palaeontology, The University of Michigan 18: 33-46.

Hughes, N.C., Gunderson, G.D. and Weedon, M.J. 2000. Late Cambrian conulariids from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Journal of Paleontology 74: 828-838.

Sendino, C., Zagorsek, K. and Taylor, P.D. 2012. Asymmetry in an Ordovician conulariid cnidarian. Lethaia, 45: 423-431.

Van Iten, H.T., Simoes, M.G., Marques, A.C. and Collins, A.G. 2006. Reassessment of the phylogenetic position of conulariids (?Vendian–Triassic) within the subphylum Medusozoa (Phylum Cnidaria). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 4, 109–118.


Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A calcareous sponge from the Lower Cretaceous of England

July 24th, 2015

Raphidonema faringdonense 070715a 585One of my favorite fossil localities is a gravel pit in Oxfordshire, England. Gravel pits are not usually good for fossil collecting given their coarse nature and high-energy deposition, but the Lower Cretaceous (Aptian) Faringdon Sponge Gravels are special. They are tidal gravels sitting unconformably over Jurassic rocks that have an extraordinary diversity and abundance of marine fossils, both from the Cretaceous and reworked from the Jurassic below. I have previously described in this blog bored cobbles, bryozoans, ammonites and a plesiosaur vertebra from this unit. Above is one of the most characteristic fossils from Faringdon, the calcareous sponge Raphidonema faringdonense (Sharpe, 1854).
Raphidonema faringdonense 070715b 585This is a view of the upper surface of this sponge. Like most sponges it was a filter-feeder sitting stationary on the seafloor. This one was probably attached to a cobble in the gravel. It is in the Class Calcarea because it has a fused network of calcitic spicules making up its skeleton. This is why it has remained a very resistant, rigid object long after death. It probably spent some time rolling around in those gravels with the tidal currents.
Sophie Faringdon 2007The Faringdon Sponge Gravels are a member of the Faringdon Sand Formation. They are cross-bedded gravels that have been mined for construction purposes since Roman times. Above is Wooster Geologist Sophie Lehmann (as a student) when she and I visited one of the gravel pits in 2007. For the record, this sponge comes from the Red Gravel, 5.5-8.5 meters above the disconformity with Oxfordian limestones, in the Wicklesham gravel pit on the southeast edge of Faringdon, Oxfordshire (51.647112° N, 1.585094° W).

after Maull & Polyblank, photogravure, circa 1856

Daniel Sharpe FRS (1806-1856) named Raphidonema faringdonense in 1854. He was born in Marylebone, Middlesex, England. His mother died shortly after his birth and he was raised by his uncle Samuel Rogers, a literary figure of some merit. He entered the mercantile business as an apprentice when he was 16, and he stayed connected with trading the rest of his life. His first research as a geologist (and this was very early in the discipline of geology) was examining geological structures around Lisbon, Portugal. He then studied the strata of north Wales and the Lake District of England. Sharpe was an early opponent of Adam Sedgwick in a dispute over the Cambrian, which brought him some notoriety among English geologists. His most prominent geological work was sorting out what rock cleavage meant in regard to stress and strain, using distorted fossils as part of his evidence. He died as the result of a riding accident in 1856, shortly after he had been elected president of the Geological Society of London.

Sorting out the taxonomic history of Raphidonema faringdonense is more complex than I would have expected for such a simple fossil. I’m using the most common version of the name, but we also see “farringdonense“, “faringdonensis” and farringdonensis“. (I know. Who worries about such things?)
Manon farringdonense Sharpe figuresManon farringdonense description 1854Above are Sharpe’s original figures of Raphidonema faringdonense, along with his description (and the nice bryozoan Reptoclausa hagenowi below). We can see that he spelled the species name with a double r in keeping with a common spelling of the village’s name then. I don’t know when we lost one of those letters.

Just to add to the complexity, Raphidonema is also the genus name of a filamentous green alga. Since it is not an animal, though, there is no legal problem with having the name also refer to a sponge. (There should be a rule against such homonymy, but there’s not.)


Austen, R.A.C. 1850. On the age and position of the fossiliferous sands and gravels of Faringdon. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 6: 454-478.

Lhwyd, E. 1699. Lithophylacii Britannici Ichnographia. 139 pp. London.

Pitt, L.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1990. Cretaceous Bryozoa from the Faringdon Sponge Gravel (Aptian) of Oxfordshire. Bulletin of the British Museum, Natural History. Geology 46: 61-152.

Sharpe, D. 1854. On the age of the fossiliferous sands and gravels of Farringdon and its neighbourhood. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 10: 176-198.

Wilson, M. A. (1986). Coelobites and spatial refuges in a Lower Cretaceous cobble-dwelling hardground fauna. Palaeontology, 29(4), 691-703.

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

July 17th, 2015

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

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


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

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

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

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