A Wooster Paleontologist visits the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

April 5th, 2018

Washington, DC — I have the privilege this semester of being on a research leave from teaching, so I thought I’d report on one of my activities. Without classroom responsibilities I can travel for research opportunities, especially now as the weather in the northeastern US marginally improves. (Despite the sunny view above, it was freezing!)

I visited the Paleobiology Department of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington to examine some particular fossils in the collections, and give a departmental seminar. This is typical for paleontological research, and I’m grateful to the generations of museum scientists who make it possible.

The Collections Manager at the NMNH Paleobiology Department is our own Kathy Hollis (’03). She does such a fine job she’s on a poster board in front of the museum, and she was featured in an excellent Wooster Magazine article on museum science.

Kathy sets me up deep in the fossil collections, endless rows of cabinets. The Paleobiology Department, in fact, has more than 10,000 of these, each with multiple drawers of treasures.

My work is pretty simple at this stage. I find fossils of interest in the collections (most of which I’ve identified from publications) and photograph them for future reference. I use this copy stand, which is the best in the business. (I want one, Department Chair.) The paper tray is filled with lead shot which is useful for positioning specimens at any angle under the camera.

Here’s an example specimen: the ambonychid bivalve Claudeonychia from the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnatian region. The scale is in centimeters. The dark color is actually an encrusting bryozoan, a story I’ll tell later.

I meet many cool fossils along the way, including this magnificent specimen of Wilsonoceras from Wyoming. It is a nautiloid cephalopod I’ve always wanted to see purely for its name!

Here is the poster for my presentation to the Paleobiology Department. It is a tradition for visiting researchers to present a talk on their work.

This is the Cooper Room where the talks are held. I love its Old School ambiance, and the paleontological history it represents. It is a superb place to present ideas to colleagues in the discipline.

The field season is about to begin for Wooster Earth Scientists, so expect more posts. Again, it is a privilege to have such opportunities.

A geological and archaeological hike in northeastern Ohio on the last day of winter

March 19th, 2018

It was a beautiful latest-winter day in Wooster. Nick Wiesenberg had the great idea of taking an afternoon to hike through Pee Wee Hollow, a wooded area of ravines, streams and rocky exposures a few miles northwest of Wooster near the village of Congress. Greg Wiles, his faithful dog Arrow, and I went along. We had an excellent time with no agenda but to explore. Above is Dr. Wiles standing at an outcrop of Lower Carboniferous sandstones, shales and conglomerates making up the Logan Formation. The rocks are similar to those exposed in Spangler Park.

Pee Wee Hollow has three small Native American mounds on an upper plateau. Nick and Arrow are standing on one above. They were excavated in the 1950s, and possibly pillaged long before that. Dr. Nick Kardulias, Dr. Wiles and several others wrote a paper on these mounds. I can quote the abstract entirely: “While a great deal is known about the many earthworks of central and southern Ohio, there is a gap in our data about such features in the northern part of the state. The present report is an effort to bring work on one such site in Wayne County into the literature. The Pee Wee Hollow Mound group consists of three small circular earthen structures and a possible fortification trench on a high bluff overlooking the main stream that drains the county. Systematic excavation by avocational archaeologists in the 1950s revealed the structure of the mounds and retrieved a small assemblage of artifacts, some charcoal, and pockets of red ochre. Recent analysis of the artifacts, coupled with radiocarbon dating, indicates that the site was a location of some local importance from the Late Archaic through the Middle to Late Woodland periods.” (Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84(1):62-75; 2014)

Another of the mounds with Greg and Arrow for scale.
The very fine sandstones of the Logan Formation are especially well exposed in the creek beds. Here are a set of joints our structural geologist Dr. Shelley Judge would appreciate.

There are even some nice Bigfoot field structures. Who knew?We spent most of our time walking up Shade Creek. The creek bed is mostly Logan Formation sandstones.

Greg is standing here on a bedding planes of sandstone with nice ancient ripple marks. Note, by the way, the chunk of ice above his head. Still winter, but not for long.

Here’s a closer view of those ripples.Arrow here contemplates a thick exposure of dark gray shale. Greg found some nice crinoid columns in it, and I found several molds of bivalves.

The more resistant units in the Logan have the best fossils. This slab of very fine sandstone cemented with iron carbonates (a type of siderite concretion) has several internal molds of brachiopods and white calcitic crinoid columns. I described the remarkable preservation of similar crinoids in an earlier series of blog posts.

A nice, uncomplicated walk in a beautiful bit of nature.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Echinoid bite marks from the Upper Cretaceous of southwestern France

November 30th, 2017

Above is another beautiful image from Paul Taylor’s paleontological lab at the Natural History Museum, London. It is one of our fossil oysters (Pycnodonte vesicularis) from the French Type Campanian collected in the town of Archiac in southwestern France on our most enjoyable expedition this past summer. The fine crossing short grooves are bite marks produced by grazing regular echinoids (sea urchins). They form the trace fossil Gnathichnus pentax Bromley, 1975. You can learn more about this type of fossil in a previous blog entry describing Cretaceous Gnathichnus from southern Israel.

This is a good time to update our readers on the French Campanian sclerobiont project. Macy Conrad (’17) has done extraordinary work identifying the hundreds of encrusting bryozoans on our oysters. She is using a series of mugshots of Campanian bryozoans produced by our colleague Paul Taylor to name our specimens as accurately as possible. All the pink you see in these trays represents bryozoans that have been identified.

Here is a closer view. Very distinct patterns of diversification of bryozoans and trace fossils upward through the stratigraphic column are emerging. Macy will continue this work next semester as she finishes her Independent Study thesis. I will be doing my parts as well, but from a bit of a distance: I’ll be on a research leave next semester.

Which leads me to this announcement: Wooster’s Fossil of the Week will no longer be weekly. Since I’ll have other writing goals and travel plans over the next several months during my leave, I will contribute blog entries less frequently. The name “Fossil of the Week” has become a bit of a brand, so I’ll keep it, just no longer post every week (which I’ve been doing since January 2, 2011).



Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Barnacle borings from the Cretaceous of southwestern France

November 24th, 2017

Small comma-shaped trace fossils this week in a Cretaceous (Upper Campanian) oyster (Pycnodonte vesicularis) from the Aubeterre Formation of southwestern France. (Locality C/W-747, Plage des Nonnes, to be exact.) These are borings produced by barnacles, which are sedentary crustaceans more typically found in multi-plated shells of their own making. We’ve seen this fine type of boring before in this blog, so some of this information is repeated.

These boring barnacles (yes, I know the joke) are still around today, so we know quite a bit about their biology. (More on how in a minute.) These acrothoracican barnacles drill into shells head-down and then kick their legs up through the opening to filter seawater for food. They’ve been doing it since the Devonian (Seilacher, 1969; Lambers and Boekschoten, 1986).

This particular trace fossil is Rogerella elliptica Codez & Saint-Seine, 1958. It is part of a diverse set of borings collected on our wonderful field trip this past summer to the Bordeaux region with Paul Taylor.

We know so much about boring barnacles because Charles Darwin himself took an almost obsessive interest in them early in his scientific career. While on his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, Darwin noticed small holes in a conch shell, and he dug out from one of them a curious little animal shown in the diagram below.

Cryptophialus Darwin, 1854

He called it “Mr. Arthrobalanus” in his zoological notes. He figured out early that it was a barnacle, but he was astonished at how different it was from others of its kind. He later gave it a scientific name (Cryptophialus Darwin, 1854) and took on the problem of barnacle systematics and ecology. Eight years and four volumes later his young son would ask one of his friends, “Where does your father do his barnacles?” The diversity of barnacles played a large role in Darwin’s intellectual development and, consequently, his revolutionary ideas about evolution (Deutsch, 2009).

Burrowing barnacle diagram from an 1876 issue of Popular Science Monthly.


Codez, J. and Saint-Seine, R. de. 1958. Révision des cirripedes acrothoracique fossiles. Bull. Soc. géol. France 7: 699-719.

Darwin, C.R. 1854. Living Cirripedia, The Balanidae, (or sessile cirripedes); the Verrucidae. Vol. 2. London: The Ray Society.

Deutsch, J.S. 2009. Darwin and the cirripedes: Insights and dreadful blunders. Integrative Zoology 4: 316–322.

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

Seilacher, A. 1969. Paleoecology of boring barnacles. American Zoologist 9: 705–719


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

November 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

5 pdt19578 D7139Paul and I scanned these specimens again and began to put together an analysis. We believe these are fossil cyanobacteria. They are uniserial, unbranching strands of cells that range from 5 to 9 microns in length and width. Some of individual strands are up to 700 microns long and many are sinuous. The cells are uniform in size and shape along the strands; there are no apparent heterocysts. They appear very similar in form to members of the Order Oscillatoriales.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

November 10th, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3rd, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

October 27th, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

October 20th, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

October 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fun mystery!

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


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

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


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