Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An echinoid from the Eocene of France

July 7th, 2013

newEchinolampas_ovalis_aboralThe above is a specimen of the echinoid Echinolampas ovalis (Bory de St Vincent, 1824) from the Eocene of Civrac-en-Médoc, France. We are looking at what is called the aboral surface — that part of the organism on the other side of its mouth. (I’m sure by now you recognize the little barnacle boring near the bottom of the skeleton.) Below is the oral view of the same specimen.

newEchinolampas_ovalis_oralEchinoids are a kind of echinoderm with a very long evolutionary history from the Ordovician to today. They include sea urchins, heart urchins and sad dollars, along with a few others. All echinoids are covered in life with numerous spines. These spines almost always fall off after the death of the organism, leaving the smooth test we see here. The tiny circles covering the surfaces of this specimen are spine attachments. In life this would have looked like a spiky ball.

In the center of the oral view is a large hole where the mouth was. The plates surrounding this are called the peristome (around-mouth). At the bottom on the oral view are two holes. The larger is where the anus was located (within the periproct of plates); the smaller is a circular boring, likely from a gastropod predator. Since the periproct is not in the center of the aboral surface, this is what is known as an irregular echinoid.
Echinolampas_ovalis_Eocene_Civrac-en-Médoc_France_CloseUp052013Above is a close-up of the center of the aboral surface. The radiating rows of holes were where tubefeet extended. These soft structures at the end of the water vascular system were used for locomotion, moving bits of food towards the mouth, and even respiration. The very center is a finely-porous plate called the madreporite (the opening for the water vascular system). The four holes around it are genital pores for releasing gametes into the water during reproduction. For a simple, globular organism, the echinoid is amazingly complex.
450px-Bory_Saint-Vincent_1778-1846Echinolampas ovalis was named by a scientist with a complex life story of his own. The dashing Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent (1778-1846) was one of a remarkable generation of French zoologists. He began his career as a naturalist, studying the fauna on various French possessions in the Indian Ocean. He returned to France and became a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, serving in the battles of Ulm (1805) and Austerlitz (1805), and participating in the disastrous French campaign in Spain. He was a Bonapartist to the end, opposing the Bourbon restoration, which resulted in exile from France. After his politics faded, he returned to France in 1820 and resumed his career as a traveling naturalist. He named dozens of living and fossil species of invertebrates after the wars, including our quiet little echinoid in 1824.


Kier, P.M. 1962. Revision of the cassiduloid echinoids. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 144(3), 262 pp.

Roman, J. 1965. Morphologie et evolution des Echinolampas (Echinides, Cassiduloides). Memoires du Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Nouvelle Serie, C, 15, 1-341.

Thum, A.B. and Allen, J.C. 1976. Reproductive ecology of the lamp urchin Echinolampas crassa (Bell), 1880 from a subtidal biogenous ripple train. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 42: 23-33.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mosasaurid teeth from the Cretaceous of Morocco

June 30th, 2013

PrognathodonTeethKhouribgaCretaceousThese impressive teeth are from the mosasaurid Prognathodon and were found in the Upper Cretaceous phosphorites near Khouribga, Morocco. They are not actually a matching set — I just arranged them to look fearsome.

Prognathodon_lutigini_Dmitry_Bogdanov(Prognathodon lutigi from the Upper Cretaceous of Russia. Reconstruction by Dmitry Gogdanov via Wikipedia.)

Prognathodon (the name means “front-jaw tooth”) was a very large mosasaurid, with some specimens up to 12 meters in length. They were cosmopolitan in extent, being found throughout the world in Campanian to Maastrichtian deposits. They lived in deep waters as shown by some specimens with strengthening bony rings around their eye sockets. They were essentially sea-going lizards, and big ones at that.

Note that the teeth are stout and blunt. They were not adapted for tearing flesh but rather crushing hard-shelled prey they found on the seafloor. One skeleton was found with some stomach contents intact, including a sea turtle, a variety of fishes, and an ammonite. This is not the usual diet of other mosasaurid genera which were nektic (swimming) predators.
Louis_DolloPrognathodon was named in 1889 by the famous Belgian paleontologist Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo (1857-1931). Paleontology and History of Life students will immediately recognize that name because of Dollo’s Law: “evolution is not reversible”. (Or its corollary: extinction is forever!) He started his career as an engineer, graduating at the top of his class in 1877 from the École Centrale de Lille. He worked as a mining engineer and, as luck would have it, quickly discovered an extraordinary mass burial of the dinosaur Iguanodon. Studying this genus and other fossil reptiles became his passion. In 1882 he became an assistant naturalist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. One of his many remarkable contributions was to begin to think of fossils as once living organisms in ecological networks. In this sense he essentially founded paleobiology. In 1912 he received the Murchison Medal from the Geological Society of London. Not too shabby for an engineer.


Buffetaut, E. and Bardet, N. 2012. The mosasaurid (Squamata) Prognathodon in the Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) of the Cotentin Peninsula (Normandy, northwestern France). Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183: 111-115.

Schulp, A.S., Polcyn, M.J., Mateus, O.,  Jacobs, L.L., Morais, M.L. and Silva Tavares, T. 2006. New mosasaur material from the Maastrichtian of Angola, with notes on the phylogeny, distribution and palaeoecology of the genus Prognathodon. On Maastricht Mosasaurs 45: 57-67.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A barnacle-bored belemnite from the Jurassic of Spain

June 23rd, 2013

Hibolites_barnacle_borings585Two subjects of previous Fossil of the Week posts are combined together here: a belemnite (the elegant Hibolites hastatus) and barnacle borings (the ichnofossil Rogerella). This specimen is from the Jurassic of Moneva Teruel, Spain.

(Living belemnites reconstructed by Bogdanov on Wikipedia)

(Living belemnites reconstructed by Bogdanov on Wikipedia)

Belemnites are extinct cephalopods, oddly enough. The specimen is the guard or rostrum — a calcitic internal skeleton that gave the squid-like animal rigidity. Because they are made of solid, stable calcite, these guards can be extremely common in the fossil record, especially in the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Some people call these “belemnite battlefields”, probably because the fossils look so much like bullets.

de_BlainvilleHibolites hastatus was named by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville (1777-1850) in 1827. He was a French naturalist with many accomplishments, especially in anatomy and systematics. He spent most of his career in the Faculty of Sciences at Paris, where he was a colleague (and eventual ideological enemy) of the epic Georges Cuvier. In 1830 he took over from the “father of invertebrate zoology” Jean-Baptiste Lamarck as the chair of natural history. Clearly he ran in powerful circles.

The yellow features in this close-up above are holes drilled by acrothoracic barnacles, which were then filled with fine-grained dolomite. The trace fossil thus formed is known as Rogerella. It is found from the Devonian all the way to today. Its presence on these belemnite guards shows that these structures laid for enough time on the seafloor that they could be colonized by barnacles. They are thus an indicator of the taphonomy (or history from death to discovery) of these fossils.


Doyle, P. and MacDonald, D.I.M. 1993. Belemnite battlefields. Lethaia 26: 65-80.

Lambers, P. and Boekschoten, G.J. 1986. On fossil and recent borings produced by acrothoracic cirripeds. Geologie en Mijnbouw 65: 257–268.

Mariotti, N. 2002. Systematics and taphonomy of an Early Kimmeridgian belemnite fauna from the Mediterranean Tethys (Monte Nerone, Central Apennines, Italy). Geobios 35: 213-232.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A sawfish rostral tooth from the Upper Cretaceous of Morocco

June 16th, 2013

Onchopristis_numidus_052013_585More fossil fish teeth this week. This impressive, barbed tooth is from the ancient chondrichthyan sawfish Onchopristis numidus (Haug, 1905). It was found in the Tegana Formation (Cenomanian, Upper Cretaceous) near Kem Kem, Morocco (and is yet another contribution from our alumnus George Chambers).
Onchopristis_numidus_groupThese are all rostral teeth, meaning they are the sideways teeth on each side of the snout (rostrum) of the sawfish. They each have a barb for entangling prey. Like modern sawfish, O. numidus would have lived along the bottom and occasionally thrashed about, wounding smaller fish and crustaceans so that it could catch and eat them.

onchopristis_size_guideOnchopristis numidus was the largest sawfish known, making it a formidable predator.


Of course, seeing it against a human profile makes it more real!

Spinosaurus_OnchopristisDespite its size, O. pristis had a famous nemesis: the dinosaur Spinosaurus. Barbed teeth of the sawfish have been found embedded in the jaws of this beast. The above image is from the show Dinosaur Planet, as is this Youtube clip of the two struggling (with one clearly losing).

And yes, Spinosaurus is coming as a future Fossil of the Week!


Martill, D.M. and Ibrahim, N. 2012. Aberrant rostral teeth of the sawfish Onchopristis numidus from the Kem Kem beds (? early Late Cretaceous) of Morocco and a reappraisal of Onchopristis in New Zealand. Journal of African Earth Sciences 64: 71-76.

Slaughter, B.H. and Steiner, M. 1968. Notes on rostral teeth of ganopristine sawfishes, with special reference to Texas material. Journal of Paleontology 42: 233-239.

Slaughter, B.H. and Thurmond, J.T. 1974. A lower Cenomanian (Cretaceous) ichthyofauna from the Bahariya Formation of Egypt. Annals of the Geological Survey of Egypt 4: 25-40.

Wooster’s Fossil (and Mineral) of the Week: Marcasite worm burrows from Bolivia

June 9th, 2013

MarcasiteBurrowsBoliviaFixedHere’s a type of fossil I’ve never seen: worm burrow casts made entirely of the mineral marcasite. These come from the George Chambers (’79) gift collection, so we know only that they were found in Bolivia. Despite the lack of information about them, they’re curious enough to be featured in our series.

As best as I can figure out, these started as tunnels burrowed into a muddy substrate by worms of some kind. Iron sulfide, in the form of the mineral marcasite, precipitated within the abandoned tunnels, eventually filling them completely. Later the mud matrix was eroded away, leaving these intertwined tubes of silvery marcasite.

The tunnel walls were probably coated with an organic slime from the original worms or later bacteria. Sulfate-reducing bacteria may have then colonized the organic material, precipitating the pyrite in a manner described by Schieber (2002) and Virtasalo et al. (2010). The marcasite would ordinarily have converted to the more common (and stable) form of iron sulfide, pyrite (see Murowchick, 1992), but for some reason this did not happen here.

A cool combination of mineralogy and paleontology!


Murowchick, J.B. 1992. Marcasite inversion and the petrographic determination of pyrite ancestry. Economic Geology 87: 1141–1152.

Schieber, J. 2002. The role of an organic slime matrix in the formation of pyritized burrow trails and pyrite concretions. Palaios 17: 104–109.

Virtasalo, J.J., Löwemark, L., Papunen, H., Kotilainen, A.T. and Whitehouse, M.J. 2010. Pyritic and baritic burrows and microbial filaments in postglacial lacustrine clays in the northern Baltic Sea. Journal of the Geological Society 167: 1185-1198.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A shrimp from the Upper Jurassic of Bavaria, Germany

June 2nd, 2013

Aeger_tipularis_SolnhofenThe beautiful fossil shrimp above is Aeger tipularis (Schlotheim, 1822), and it comes from one of the most famous rock units: the Solnhofen Plattenkalk (Tithonian, Upper Jurassic) of Germany. (The Solnhofen is well known for its extraordinary fossils, including the fossil bird Archaeopteryx.) This shrimp is yet another generous gift to the Department of Geology from George Chambers (’79).

The shrimp in the Solnhofen are very well preserved. Note the long, long antennae and the tiny spines on the carapace. (I suspect, though, that parts of this specimen have been enhanced with ink by a commercial collector, especially the legs.)


Aeger tipularis was described in 1822 by Ernst Friedrich, Baron von Schlotheim (1764-1832), a prolific German paleontologist we profiled earlier. The drawing above is the original reconstruction by Schlotheim (1822, pl. 2, fig. 1; Solnhofen Lithographic Limestone, Solnhofen area; Lower Tithonian, Hybonotum Zone; width of figure 23.7 cm.)


Garassino, A. and Teruzzi, G. 1990. The genus Aeger MÜNSTER, 1839 in the Sinemurian of Osteno in Lombardy (Crustacea, Decapoda). Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano 131: 105-136.

Schlotheim, E.F. von. 1822. Nachträge zur Petrefactenkunde (Addenda al Petrefactenkunde). Gotha, Beckersche Buchhandlung.

Schweigert, G. 2001. The late Jurassic decapod species Aeger tipularius (Schlotheim, 1822) (Crustacea: Decapoda: Aegeridae). Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde, Series B, 309: 1-10.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mackerel shark teeth from the Eocene of the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

May 26th, 2013

OtodusCombined_585This week we highlight another gift to the Wooster Geology Department from George Chambers (’79). Among the many fossils that arrived in three delightful boxes were these shark teeth. They are from the extinct Mackerel Shark Otodus obliquus Agassiz, 1843. They were collected from the Eocene of the Khouribga Plateau in Morocco.
Otodus obliquus multiple 021313_585These shark teeth are rather common, although they are not often available in such fine preservation as these. What intrigues me is how they are collected and placed on the market. The Khouribga Plateau, west of the Middle Atlas Mountains, has some of the largest phosphate deposits in the world. These phosphorites (phosphate-bearing rocks) are mined in open pits by dynamite. After a blast, local commercial collectors rush in to gather fossils in the rubble before large processing machines arrive to process the ore. That can be a matter of minutes. They find many, many fossils in this phosphatic debris, mostly of reptiles and fish.
mackerelsharkThe lamnoid shark Otodus obliquus, a reconstruction of which is above, was a very large animal with some teeth over 10 centimeters in length. It may have been up to 9 meters long. Otodus obliquus was a “macro-predator”, meaning it was at the top of the food chain with a likely diet of marine mammals, fish, and other sharks. Its remains are found throughout the world in Paleocene and Eocene sediments. The fossil evidence suggests that this shark is an ancestor of the massive Carcharocles (“Megalodon”).

Thank you again, George, for these beautiful fossils!


Agassiz, L. 1843. Recherches Sur Les Poissons Fossiles. Tome III (livr. 15-16). Imprimérie de Petitpierre, Neuchatel, p. 157-390.

Arambourg C. 1952. Les vertébrés fossiles des gisements de phosphates (Maroc-Algérie-Tunisie). Notes et Mémoires du Service Géologique du Maroc (Rabat) 92: 1-372.

MacFadden, B.J., Labs-Hochstein, J., Quitmyer, I. and Jones, D.S. 2004. Incremental growth and diagenesis of skeletal parts of the lamnoid shark Otodus obliquus from the early Eocene (Ypres) of Morocco. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 206: 179- 192.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An amphibian from the Permian of Germany

May 19th, 2013

Apateon_pedestris_Odernhelm_Germany_fixedThe above skeleton is of the salamander-like Apateon pedestris von Meyer 1840 from the Lower Permian of Odernhelm, Germany. There are just enough of these tiny little bones to show the ghostly outline of this freshwater amphibian. It is our only amphibian fossil at Wooster, and it is another gift from the George Chambers collection.

Apateon pedestris is in the Order Temnospondyli, a group thought to be ancestral to the modern salamanders. They would have lived much like their descendants today, spending most of their time in creeks and streams and wet leaf litter. It grew to a maximum length of about nine centimeters. Its head was wide and flat, presumably to aid in swimming. Some specimens are preserved with soft tissues intact showing that this species had external gills as an adult, a classic example of paedomorphosis (as my History of Life students will tell you).

homo diluvii testis-1The skull of our tiny specimen reminds me of a younger, larger and much more famous Miocene amphibian that went for a time under the surprising name Homo diluvii testis, meaning “evidence of a human at the time of the Noah’s Flood”. A drawing of the skeleton is shown above.

Johann Jacob Scheuchzer (1672-1733)

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (above) described and interpreted Homo diluvii testis in Lithographia Helvetica (1726). He was convinced it represented a person (more likely a child) who was drowned in the Flood of Noah and then entombed in the sediments. The critical page from his book is shown below.

HdtJohann Jacob Scheuchzer (1672-1733) was a Swiss medical doctor and somewhat of a naturalist. He certainly had a gift for seeing a human pattern in these bones that is lost on us today — the skeleton is obviously not that of any kind of mammal. It is likely he was far too enthusiastic about finding what he considered solid proof of the Flood and a member of the wicked generation nearly killed off by it. Here is a bit of poetry he included in his fossil description:

Afflicted skeleton of old, doomed to damnation,
Soften, thou stone, the heart of this wicked generation!

homo diluvii testis

Much later the famous French scientist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) had at Scheuchzer’s fossil (above). He showed that it was, of course, an amphibian. The name for it now is Andrias scheuchzeri — a perpetual honor for its sincere but deluded discoverer.


Fröbisch, N.B., Carroll, R.L. and Schoch, R.R. 2007. Limb ossification in the Paleozoic branchiosaurid Apateon (Temnospondyli) and the early evolution of preaxial dominance in tetrapod limb development. Evolution and Development 9: 69-75.

Fröbisch, N.B. and Schoch, R.R. 2009. The largest specimen of Apateon and the life history pathway of neoteny in the Paleozoic temnospondyl family Branchiosauridae. Fossil Record 12: 83-90.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Embedded cornulitids from the Lower Silurian of Estonia

May 12th, 2013

Cornulitids_Strom_051113At first specimen this looks like a series of holes drilled into a small, smooth substrate (like Trypanites), but then you notice that the substrate has grown up around the holes, and on the far left you can make out two cones. These are cornulitid tubes that lived on and then inside a living stromatoporoid sponge. Jonah Novek (’13), a Wooster geologist graduating tomorrow, found these in the Hilliste Formation (Rhuddanian, Llandovery) during his Independent Study work on Hiiumaa Island in Estonia.

My Estonian paleontologist friend Olev Vinn is the expert in bioclaustrated (embedded in a living substrate) cornulitids, as you can see from the papers listed below. These fossils are an excellent example of endosymbiosis, or the living relationship of one organism embedded within the skeleton of another (see Tapanila and Holmer, 2006). We can’t tell yet without a thin-section, but the cornulitid here is probably very similar to the Sheinwoodian (Wenlock) Cornulites stromatoporoides Vinn and Wilson, 2010. The specimen shown above is already in the mail to Estonia for further analysis. This specimen is the earliest example of cornulitid endosymbiosis in the Silurian.
Closer_Cornulitids_Strom_051113A closer view of the embedded cornulitid tubes. The tubes in these holes appear to have dissolved away, at least in their distal parts. Some of the details of the stromatoporoid substrate are just visible.

Jonah_MW_Richa_071213Fond memories of the 2012 Wooster-Ohio State University expedition to Estonia. Jonah Novek (’13), me, and Richa Ekka (’13) on the top of the Kõpu Lighthouse, Hiiumaa Island, Estonia. Photo by our friend Bill Ausich (OSU).

Congratulations to Jonah on his find, and best wishes to all the senior Wooster Geologists on this graduation weekend.


Tapanila, L. and Holmer, L.E. 2006. Endosymbiosis in Ordovician-Silurian corals and stromatoporoids: A new lingulid and its trace from eastern Canada. Journal of Paleontology 80: 750-759.

Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2010. Abundant endosymbiotic Cornulites in the Sheinwoodian (Early Silurian) stromatoporoids of Saaremaa, Estonia. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie 257:13-22.

Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2012a. Encrustation and bioerosion on late Sheinwoodian (Wenlock, Silurian) stromatoporoids from Saaremaa, Estonia. Carnets de Géologie [Notebooks on Geology], Brest, Article 2012/07 (CG2012_A07).

Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2012b. Epi- and endobionts on the Late Silurian (early Pridoli) stromatoporoids from Saaremaa Island, Estonia. Annales Societatis Geologorum Poloniae 82: 195-200.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An asaphid trilobite from the Middle Ordovician of the Leningrad Region, Russia

May 5th, 2013

Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859aThis weathered trilobite is nothing like the gorgeous specimens of this genus you can buy at various rock shops around the world and on the web, but it has sentimental value to me. I collected it on an epic field trip in Russia in 2009. We hacked our way through the woods to an exposure of the Frizy Limestone (Volkhov Regional Stage, Darriwilian Stage, Middle Ordovician) where the local people had a side industry of quarrying out these trilobites for international trade. This specimen was the best I found, and it was probably abandoned by other collectors as too damaged. Still, it makes a nice reminder of my Russian experience and I keep it on a cabinet in my office. (By the way, I did not make a Cold War mistake in referring to the “Leningrad Region“. This oblast retains the old name of the city now known as St. Petersburg. Apparently the residents voted to keep it that way after the Soviet Union collapsed.)
Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859bThis is the asaphid trilobite Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859. This group is known for having fantastic eyes, some on long stalks and others with calcareous “eyeshades” above them. This species has more conventional eyes, but they’re still cool.
Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859cA. lepidurus studies us with a cold, dead eye. From this perspective the facial suture is visible as the curved, raised line running from the near eye to the periphery of the cephalon (head). This is a line of weakness the trilobite used to split its exoskeleton for molting (ecdysis). These sutures often have diagnostic value for distinguishing trilobites, especially at the species level.

A. lepidurus was first described and named by Jan Nieszkowski (1833-1866), a Polish paleontologist (and naturalist and medical doctor). He was born in Lublin, Poland, son of an army captain. He studied at the University of Dorpat (now the University of Tartu in Estonia) and soon became an avid and productive paleontologist. He then participated in the January Uprising of Poles against the occupying Russians in 1863. He was captured and exiled to the Russian city of Orenburg, where he died at a young age of typhus.

This little trilobite brings back memories of my Russian adventure, and it is also a reminder that science is never done in a political vacuum. Here’s to the Polish patriot and scientist Dr. Jan Nieszkowski.


Dronov, A., Tolmacheva, T., Raevskaya, E., and Nestell, M. 2005. Cambrian and Ordovician of St. Petersburg region. 6th Baltic Stratigraphical Conference, IGCP 503 Meeting; St. Petersburg, Russia: St. Petersburg State University.

Ivantsov, A.Y. 2003. Ordovician trilobites of the Subfamily Asaphinae of the Ladoga Glint. Paleontological Journal 37, supplement 3: S229-S337.

Nieszkowski, J. 1859. Zusätze zur Monographie der Trilobiten der Ostseeprovinzen, nebst der Beschreibung einiger neuen obersilurischen Crustaceen. Archiv für die Naturkunde Liv-, Ehst-, und Kurland, Serie 1: 345-384.

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