Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A thoroughly encrusted rugose coral from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana

April 22nd, 2016

1 Rugosan Exterior 123015It doesn’t look like much, this long lump of gray stone. With a close view you might pick up a hint of a bryozoan or two, but mostly we see rather shabby shades of grey. One of the coolest perks of being a geologist, though, is that you get to use a saw to cut rocks in half to see what’s inside. So that’s what I did with this specimen from the Whitewater Formation (Upper Ordovician) of southeastern Indiana at a site we’ve visited often.

2 Rugosan interior 123015In this cross-section we see first a long, cone-shaped fossil made of white calcite. It is the rugose coral Grewingkia canadensis, one of the most common fossils in the upper part of the Upper Ordovician. This coral in life would have stood upright like an ice cream cone, spreading the tentacles of its polyp to catch very small swimming prey (and maybe to do a bit of symbiotic photosynthesis). The polyp sat in the cup-like cavity on the expanded end of the cone. The coral evidently died on the Ordovician seafloor and toppled over to be encrusted on one side, presumably the one that faced upwards.

3 Coral Bryo Sed BryoThis is a closer view of the cross-section showing the encrustations on the rugose coral skeleton. The image is annotated below.

4 Coral Bryo Sed Bryo annotatedThe coral skeleton in the lower right was first encrusted by a trepostome bryozoan, which you can recognize by the tubes (zooecia) extending perpendicular from the substrate. This bryozoan is thickest on the upwards-facing surface of the coral, and it thins as it wraps around and then colonizes the cryptic space beneath (but not too far). This bryozoan is covered with a layer of sediment which appears to have rapidly cemented in place (a function of Calcite Sea geochemistry). The sediment then is encrusted by a another trepostome bryozoan with long zooecia and several layers.

5 Bryo Sed 123015In this closer view of the second bryozoan you can see that its base is irregular as it grew across the rough cemented sediment surface. In the middle of this view some of the bryozoan zooecia are occupied by dark spots known as brown bodies. These are likely the remains of bryozoan polypides (main parts of the individual zooids) that were sealed into their zooecia by some disturbance. In this case the whitish bit of sediment above the cluster may represent something that settled on the colony, stopping the growth of the zooecia below, and forcing those nearby to grow around it.

6 Borings 123015Moving down the coral skeleton away from its opening we come across borings drilled down through the coral skeleton (the white mass at the bottom of the image). The conical, large boring is filled with golden crystals of the mineral dolomite, which were formed long after burial. The shape of this boring is unusual. Typical borings in these corals have straight parallel sides, but this boring is cone-shaped. We’ll see if we can find more like it to get a better idea of its shape and distribution.

This week’s fossil, then, is a demonstration of the hidden wonders sometimes found in even the dullest of grey rocks!

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: An encrusted and bored coral (maybe) from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana (Part II)

April 1st, 2016

6 Tetradium cavernLast week we looked at a dull gray rock found in a roadcut in southeastern Indiana near the town of Liberty. It is from the Saluda Formation (Upper Ordovician), a thin unit that was likely deposited in very shallow, lagoonal waters along the Cincinnati Arch. We know that it is primarily a platter formed by the mysterious fossil Tetradium, and that it is encrusted with a trepostome bryozoan that was infested by some sort of soft-bodied encruster on its surface, forming the trace fossil Catellocaula vallata. Now we’re examining the wonders revealed by cutting this rock in half. Above we see the surprising and spectacular geode that it is, with calcite crystals surrounding a dark cavity. Let’s see what the fossils look like when polished and magnified.

7 LongitudinalCrossTetraThe orangish, irregular patch in the lower half of the section above is the crystalline calcite near the center of the rock. The sediment-filled tubes in the top half are of the Tetradium specimen. Note that the walls of the tubes are blurry and indistinct, and that they fade and disappear into the calcite crystals below. This is apparently because the skeleton of Tetradium was made of aragonite, an unstable form of calcium carbonate. It is likely that the aragonitc, tubular skeleton of Tetradium dissolved away in the center of this encrusted mass, forming the cavity that later filled with secondary calcite crystals. The remaining tubes were apparently preserved as ghostly molds by infillings of calcitic mud that didn’t dissolve.

8 TetracrossIn this section we are cutting the Tetradium tubes perpendicularly, rather than the longitudinal cuts we saw before. The cross-sections of the tubes show a four-part symmetry, which adds to the mystery of this group. (This is where the name “Tetradium” comes from.) It has been called a chaetetid sponge (as in Termier and Termier, 1980); a “calcareous filamentous florideophyte [red] alga” (Steele-Petrovich 2009a, 2009b, 2011; she renamed it Prismostylus), and most commonly a coral of some sort (as in Wendt, 1989). I now know enough about chaetetids to say that it is not in that group. Chaetetid tubes are not aragonitic, do not show tetrameral symmetry, and have diaphragms (horizontal floors). The corals of the Ordovician are decidedly calcitic, not aragonitic, and they too have internal features in their tubes not seen here. The four-part symmetry, though, is something you see in the coral’s phylum, Cnidaria, so there is that vague resemblance. The red algal affinity strongly urged by Steele-Petrovich may be our best diagnosis for the place of Tetradium.

9 BryoTetra1On top of the tubes of Tetradium is the encrusting trepostome bryozoan. Its tubes (zooecia) are made of stable calcite, so they are well preserved compared to the aragonite tubes of Tetradium below it. Note that the bryozoan is made of two layers. One colony died or went into some sort of remission, and another of the same species grew across it. The second colony could have budded somewhere from the first colony.

10 BrownBodies122915This closer view of the bryozoan section shows details of the zooecia, including the horizontal diaphragms inside. The dark spots at the tops of the zooecia are brown bodies, the remains of polypides preserved here in clear calcite cement. (We’ve seen brown bodies before in this blog.) They likely represent some sort of traumatic event in the life of this bryozoan when this part of the colony essentially shut down and was covered with sediment.

11 Gypsumflower122915Finally, there is a mineralogy story here too! Attached to the dog-tooth calcite spar in the center of this geode is this tiny gypsum flower. The gypsum crystals are white and very delicate. The dark needles among them are mysterious. Dr. Meagen Pollock and her students will subject them to x-ray diffraction in her lab later this semester. I’ll report the results here.

It is a simple tool, the rock saw. For geologists and paleontologists, it is one of our essential instruments for discovery.

References:

Hatfield, C.B. 1968. Stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Saluda Formation (Cincinnatian) in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Geological Society of America Special Papers 95: 1-30.

Li, Q., Li, Y. and Kiessling, W. 2015. The first sphinctozoan-bearing reef from an Ordovician back-arc basin. Facies 61: 1-9.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939-949.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009a. The biological reconstruction of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 297-311.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009b. Biological affinity, phenotypic variation and palaeoecology of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 383-392.

Steele-Petrovich, H.M. 2011. Replacement name for Tetradium DANA, 1846. Journal of Paleontology 85: 802–803.

Termier, G. and Termier, H. 1980. Functional morphology and systematic position of tabulatomorphs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 25: 419-428.

Wendt, J. 1989. Tetradiidae — first evidence of aragonitic mineralogy in tabulate corals. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 63: 177–181.

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: An encrusted and bored coral (maybe) from the Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana (Part I)

March 25th, 2016

1 TopEncrustedTetradiumI found this lump of a gray rock in southeastern Indiana along a highway near the town of Liberty. It is from the Saluda Formation (Upper Ordovician), a thin unit that was likely deposited in very shallow, lagoonal waters along the Cincinnati Arch. It is not especially notable in this view. I intend to show you the wonders that can be revealed in such dull rocks by simply sawing them in half. First, though, let’s have a look at the outside. Inn the view above you can see on the left side a large trepostome bryozoan with some irregular holes in it. We’ll come back to that.

2 BaseEncrustedTetradiumFlipping the rock over we find that most of it is a fibrous fossil shaped like a dinner plate with limestone matrix and encrusting bryozoans covering most of the center.

3 CloserTubesTetraA closer view of the fibrous part shows thousands of thin tubes radiating out from the center of the plate. This is the Ordovician fossil known as Tetradium. It is strange and mysterious enough that we will use the next Fossil of the Week blog post to describe it. It has been called a chaetetid sponge (as in Termier and Termier, 1980); a “calcareous filamentous florideophyte alga” (Steele-Petrovich 2009a, 2009b, 2011; she renamed it Prismostylus), and most commonly a coral of some sort (Wendt, 1989). Interesting range of options! We’ll explore later.

4 Catellocaula122915Now, back to the trepostome bryozoan visible on the top surface. There are three kinds of holes on this specimen. The smallest are the zooecia of the bryozoan itself, each of which would have hosted a zooid (a bryozoan individual). They are the background texture of the fossil. The large holes above are a bioclaustration structure that Time Palmer and I named in 1988 as Catellocaula vallata (little chain of walled  pits). It is explained thoroughly in one of the early Fossil of the Week posts. Basically they are pits formed when the bryozoan grew up and around some sort of soft-bodied colonial organism sitting on top of the surface, forming these embedment structures connected together by tunnels at their bases.

5 Trypanites122915A third kind of hole in this bryozoan is a boring cut down into its skeleton. These are the trace fossil Trypanites, formed when some kind of filter-feeding worm bored straight into the calcite zoarium (colonial skeleton) to make a protective home, as many polychaete worms do today.

Now let’s cut this stone in half —

6 Tetradium cavernInside we find a wonderful cavern of crystals — a geode! The crystals are mostly calcite, with dog-tooth spar lining the cavity and blocky spar replacing large parts of the Tetradium skeleton. There’s a story here, and it will be told in the next Fossil of the Week post!

References:

Hatfield, C.B. 1968. Stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Saluda Formation (Cincinnatian) in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Geological Society of America Special Papers 95: 1-30.

Li, Q., Li, Y. and Kiessling, W. 2015. The first sphinctozoan-bearing reef from an Ordovician back-arc basin. Facies 61: 1-9.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939-949.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009a. The biological reconstruction of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 297-311.

Steele‐Petrovich, H M. 2009b. Biological affinity, phenotypic variation and palaeoecology of Tetradium Dana, 1846. Lethaia 42: 383-392.

Steele-Petrovich, H.M. 2011. Replacement name for Tetradium DANA, 1846. Journal of Paleontology 85: 802–803.

Termier, G. and Termier, H. 1980. Functional morphology and systematic position of tabulatomorphs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 25: 419-428.

Wendt, J. 1989. Tetradiidae — first evidence of aragonitic mineralogy in tabulate corals. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 63: 177–181.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bitten brachiopod (Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana)

February 5th, 2016

1 Best bitten Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)This brachiopod, identified as Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847), was shared with me by its collector, Diane from New York State. She found it in a muddy horizon of the Bull Fork Formation (Upper Ordovician) in southeastern Indiana. She immediately noted the distorted plicae (radiating ribs) on the left side of this dorsal valve, along with the invagination along the corresponding margin. (Thanks for showing this to me, Diane, and allowing me to include it in this blog.)
2 Best closer Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)Above  is a closer view of the unusual plicae. Note that they radiate from the top center of the brachiopod, extending as the shell grew outward along its margins. Something happened, though, when the brachiopod was growing. The shell was seriously damaged by a puncturing object. The brachiopod repaired the hole by closing it up with additional shell material coming from either side. The inwardly-curved plicae show the pattern of shell regrowth.
3 Reverse of best Glyptorthis insculpta (Hall, 1847)This is a view of the same brachiopod from the other side, showing that the ventral valve was damaged in the same event, but with slightly less destruction.

So how did such damage occur on that Ordovician seafloor? Some predator likely took a bite out of the brachiopod as it lay in its living position with the valves extended upwards into the seawater. Most brachiopods do not survive such events, but this one did.

Who was the probable predator? For that we turn to the work of the late Richard Alexander (1946-2006). He did the definitive study of pre mortem damage to brachiopods in the Cincinnatian Group in 1986, concluding that the most likely predators on these brachiopods were nautiloid cephalopods. Some of this figures show nearly identical healed scars on similar orthid brachiopods.
4. Richard AlexanderRichard Alexander was an accomplished paleontologist who lost his life in a swimming accident off the coast of St. Lucia just over nine years ago. He was born in Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. As is so common with children in that part of the world, he developed a passion for fossils. He attended the University of Cincinnati, majoring in geology, He then went to Indiana University, completing a PhD dissertation titled: “Autecological Studies of the Brachiopod Rafinesquina (Upper Ordovician), the Bivalve Anadara (Pliocene), and the Echinoid Dendraster (Pliocene).” (We don’t see such diverse projects very much these days.) He taught at Utah State University from 1972 to 1980, and then at Rider University in New Jersey from 1981 until his death. He served as an administrator at several levels at Rider, and was known as an excellent teacher. His research interests changed when he moved to the East Coast, becoming increasingly focused on modern mollusks. No doubt he would still be contributing to paleontology but for the randomness of a freak wave in the Caribbean.

References:

Alexander, R.R. 1981. Predation scars preserved in Chesterian brachiopods: probable culprits and evolutionary consequences for the articulates. Journal of Paleontology 55: 192-203.

Alexander, R.R. 1986. Resistance to and repair of shell breakage induced by durophages in Late Ordovician brachiopods. Journal of Paleontology 60: 273-285.

Dodd, J.R. 2008. Memorial to Richard Alexander (1946-2006). Geological Society of America Memorials 37: 5-7.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A brachiopod with a heavy burden (Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana)

January 29th, 2016

1 Trepostome on Hebertella richmondensisYes, the above image doesn’t look much like a brachiopod, but just wait. We see a trepostome bryozoan with extended knobs and a few borings. Flip it over, though …
2 Hebertella richmondensis ventral view 585… and we see that the bryozoan almost entirely covers a brachiopod. So far, so common among Ordovician fossils. However, look closely at the margin of the brachiopod valve and how clearly it is delineated from the bryozoan. It is apparent that the bryozoan had encrusted a living brachiopod, and the brachiopod stayed alive, keeping the essential commissure (the gap between the valves) open for feeding. We are looking at the valve that was in contact with the substrate (the underside of the living brachiopod). The bryozoan occupied the upper exposed surface, growing across that valve (which is invisible to us now), past its edge, but not closing the gap with the other valve. The same bryozoan species is found on the above visible valve, but only as two thin films unconnected to the colony on the upper side.
3 Hebertella richmondensis bryo close annotatedA closer view of the brachiopod hinge shows additional evidence that the bryozoan and brachiopod were living together. The red arrow on the left points to where the fleshy pedicle (attaching stalk) of the brachiopod extended from the shell to meet the substrate. The bryozoan here curves around the now-vanished pedicle. The yellow arrow on the right shows how the bryozoan growth surface folded to accommodate the opening valves at the hinge. Pretty cool.

I can’t identify the bryozoan beyond Order Trepostomata without cutting it open. The brachiopod, though, appears to be Hebertella richmondensis Foerste, 1909. This specimen is from the Whitewater Formation (Upper Ordovician, upper Katian) exposed near Richmond, Indiana. It was collected on one of my field trips in 2003.
4 Hebertella richmondensis ventral view 585 annotatedWhat do we learn from this little assemblage? We first see a relatively uncommon example of a clear living relationship between a sclerobiont and its host. We also learn that the brachiopod could continue to open its valves for feeding despite the heavy calcitic bryozoan weighing it down. We even can see that this brachiopod was not living on a soft muddy substrate because only a small triangular-shaped area (see above) in the center was clear of encrusters; the thin bryozoan (and maybe a bit of the stromatoporid sponge Dermatostroma) had enough space between the valve and the substrate to feed and respire. None of this is surprising, but it is nice to see our models of how these organisms lived are congruent with the evidence.

References:

Alexander, R.R. and Scharpf, C.D. 1990. Epizoans on Late Ordovician brachiopods from southeastern Indiana. Historical Biology 4: 179-202.

Foerste, A.F. 1909. Preliminary notes on Cincinnati fossils. Bulletin of the Scientific Laboratory of Denison University 14: 208–232.

Walker, L.G. 1982. The brachiopod genera Hebertella, Dalmanella, and Heterorthina from the Ordovician of Kentucky. USGS Professional Paper 1066-M.

Wright, D.F. and Stigall, A.L. 2013. Phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician orthid brachiopod genera Plaesiomys and Hebertella from Laurentia. Journal of Paleontology 87: 1107-1128.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Atrypid brachiopods attached to a trepostome bryozoan from the Upper Ordovician of southern Indiana

January 8th, 2016

Zygospira Attached 585This is a follow-up post to our entry on Christmas Day two weeks ago. Above is a trepostome bryozoan (the long porous piece) with specimens of the atrypid brachiopod Zygospira modesta clustered around it. They are positioned with their ventral valves outward because in life they were attached to this bryozoan with tiny fleshy stalks called pedicles. They were buried quickly enough that this spatial relationship was preserved. Cool. This assemblage was found in the Liberty Formation (Upper Ordovician) exposed in a roadcut in southern Indiana.
Zygospira modesta dorsal annotatedThis is a view of the dorsal side of Zygospira modesta showing the pedicle opening in the ventral valve at the apex of the shell.

References:

Copper, P. 1977. Zygospira and some related Ordovician and Silurian atrypoid brachiopods. Palaeontology 20: 295-335.

Sandy, M.R. 1996. Oldest record of peduncular attachment of brachiopods to crinoid stems, Upper Ordovician, Ohio, USA (Brachiopoda; Atrypida: Echinodermata; Crinoidea). Journal of Paleontology 70: 532-534.

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!

References:

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 Fossils of the Week: An encrusted bivalve external mold from the Upper Ordovician of Indiana

June 26th, 2015

1 Anomalodonta gigantea Waynesville Franklin Co IN 585I love this kind of fossil, which explains why you’ve seen so many examples on this blog. We are looking at an encrusted external mold of the bivalve Anomalodonta gigantea found in the Waynesville Formation exposed in Franklin County, Indiana. I collected it many years ago as part of an ongoing study of this kind of preservation and encrustation.
2 Anomalodonta gigantea Waynesville Franklin Co IN 585 annotatedTo tell this story, I’ve lettered the primary interest areas on image above. First, an external mold is an impression of the exterior of an organism. In this case we have a triangular clam with radiating ribs in its shell. The exterior of the shell with its ribs was buried in sediment and the shell dissolved, leaving the basic impression above. It is a negative relief. Please now refer to the letters for the close-up images below.

3 Bryo Anomalodonta gigantea Waynesville Franklin Co INA. At the distal end of the bivalve mold is what looks at first to be the original shell. It is calcitic, though, and we know this bivalve had an aragonitic shell. A closer look shows that this is actually the attaching surface of an encrusting bryozoan that bioimmured the original bivalve shell, which has since dissolved away. This smooth surface is the bryozoan underside; we see the characteristic zooecia (tubes holding the individual zooids) only when this surface is weathered away.

4 Borings Anomalodonta gigantea Waynesville Franklin Co INB. These tubular objects are infillings of borings (maybe Trypanites)that were cut into the original aragonitic shell of the bivalve. The tunnels of the borings were filled with fine sediment, and then the shell dissolved away, leaving these casts of the borings.

5 Inarticulate scar Anomalodonta gigantea Waynesville Franklin Co INC and D. In the middle of the external mold is this curious circular feature (C) mostly surrounded by a bryozoan (D). There was at one time a circular encruster, likely an inarticulate brachiopod like Petrocrania, that sat directly on the external mold surface. The bryozoan colony grew around but not over it because it was alive and still opening and closing its valves for feeding. The bryozoan built a vertical sheet of skeleton around it as a kind of sanitary wall. You may be able to see the other three or four structures in the top image showing brachiopod encrusters that left the building. This is an example of fossils showing us a living relationship, even if one is not longer preserved.

This fossil and its sclerobionts (hard substrate dwellers) show us that soon after the bivalve died its aragonitic shell dissolved away, leaving as evidence the external mold in the sediment, the bioimmuring bryozoan, and the boring casts. Very soon thereafter bryozoans and brachiopods encrusted the available hard substrate. This is a typical example of early aragonite dissolution on the sea floor during a Calcite Sea interval.

References:

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 2004. Calcite precipitation and dissolution of biogenic aragonite in shallow Ordovician calcite seas. Lethaia 37: 417-427.

Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration—a review. Palaeontology 33: 1-17.

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

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269-270.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bored and formerly encrusting trepostome bryozoan from the Upper Ordovician of Indiana

March 20th, 2015

1 Trep Upper 030115The lump above looks like your average trepostome bryozoan from the Upper Ordovician. I collected it from the Whitewater Formation of the Cincinnatian Group at one of my favorite collecting sites near Richmond, Indiana. In this view you can just barely make out the tiny, regular holes that are the zooecia (calcitic tubes that held the bryozoan individuals — the zooids). There are bits of other fossils stuck to the outside, so it’s not particularly attractive as fossils go. (Except that all fossils are fascinating messengers in time.)

2 Trep Upper CloseWith this closer view you can see my initial interest in this particular bryozoan. Again, the regular, tiny holes are the zooecia. The larger pits are borings by worm-like, filter-feeding organisms. These borings are either in the ichnogenus Trypanites (if they are cylindrical) or Palaeosabella (if they are clavate, meaning clubbed at their distal ends). Such borings are common in all types of skeletal fossils in the Upper Ordovician — so common that they are part of the evidence for the Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution. So, let’s flip this ordinary, bored bryozoan over and see what’s underneath:

3 Trep Under 030115Here’s the main scientific beauty! We’re looking at the underside of the bryozoan. Ordinarily we’d expect to see a shell here that the bryozoan was encrusting, but the shell is gone. We’re gazing directly at the attachment surface of the bryozoan. It’s as if the colony had encrusted a sheet of glass and we’re looking right through it. The shell it was originally attached to has been removed either through dissolution (it might have been an aragonitic bivalve) or physical removal (it may have been a calcitic brachiopod). The borings are now much more prominent. They penetrated through the bryozoan into the mysterious missing shelly substrate. Some are small pits that just intersected the shell, others are horizontal as the boring organism turned at a right angle when it reached the shell and drilled along the bryozoan-shell interface. Removing the shell exposed the distal parts of these borings — parts that ordinarily would have been hidden by the encrusted shell.

4 Trep Under labeledHere is a closer, labeled view of this bryozoan basal surface. A is the earliest encruster recorded in this scenario; it is a small encrusting bryozoan that was first on the shelly substrate and then completely overgrown (or bioimmured) by the large trepostome. B shows that the trepostome was growing on a shell that already had borings from a previous encruster-borings combination that must have fallen off; these are grooves in the substrate that the trepostome filled in as it covered the shell. C is one of the many later borings that cut perpendicularly through the bryozoan and worked along the shell-bryozoan interface; as described above, only when that shelly substrate was removed would these be visible. In this surprisingly complex story, B represents an earlier version of C. We thus know that the shell was encrusted by one bryozoan, bored, and then that bryozoan was freed at its attachment (and not found in our collection). The same shell was then encrusted by this second bryozoan, which recorded the groove (or “half-borings”) made during the first encrustation.

These half-borings were first described in 2006 when my students Cordy Dennison-Budak and Jeff Bowen worked with me on them and we had a GSA abstract. Coleman Fitch is presently completing his Senior Independent Study enlarging the database for these features and developing detailed interpretations. The main implication from this work is that thick trepostome bryozoan encrusters often “popped off” shells, leaving no signs of their presence unless there were these half-borings in the shell surfaces and bryozoan undersides. Paleoecology and taphonomy on a very small scale!

References:

Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration—a review. Palaeontology 33: 1-17.

Wilson, M.A., Dennison-Budak, W.C., and Bowen, J.C. 2006. Half-borings and missing encrusters on brachiopods in the Upper Ordovician: Implications for the paleoecological analysis of sclerobionts. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 38, No. 7, p. 514.

Wilson, M.A. and Palmer, T.J. 2006. Patterns and processes in the Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution. Ichnos 13: 109-112.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269-270.

 

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Upper Ordovician bivalve bioimmured by a bryozoan

November 7th, 2014

DSC_4503This week’s fossil is a simple and common form in the Cincinnatian Series (Upper Ordovician) of the Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky tri-state area. We are looking above at the base of a trepostome bryozoan that encrusted the outside of an aragonite bivalve shell. The bivalve shell (probably a species of Ambonychia) dissolved away, leaving its impression in the base of the calcitic bryozoan. This fossil is from the Upper Whitewater Formation (Richmondian) in eastern Indiana near Richmond itself.
DSC_4516In this closer view you can see the plications (“ribs”) of the bivalve preserved in negative relief on the attachment surface of the bryozoan. Close examination shows the individual zooecia of the bryozoan exquisitely molding the bivalve topography.

This is a kind of substrate bioimmuration, a preservational mode in which a skeletal organism (the bryozoan here) overgrows another organism (with a soft body or hard skeleton), making an impression of it in its base. The overgrown organisms is rots or dissolves away, leaving the exposed mold. You can also think of it as a kind of external mold produced by a living organism (the encruster). Such “vital immuration” was first described by Vialov (1961), and it is thoroughly covered by Paul Taylor in his 1990 paper cited below.

Again, these fossils are common in the Cincinnatian, and this one is far from being the fanciest. It is the Fossil of the Week because of its very ordinary nature, yet it provides extraordinary information. The aragonitic shell the bryozoan encrusted would have been lost forever after it dissolved if this bryozoan hadn’t occupied it and built a calcitic memorial. I’ve collected now hundreds of these substrate bioimmurations, and they have been critical in many studies, from the preservation of soft-bodied sclerobionts (see Wilson et al., 1994) to the revelation of boring interiors (and thus the behavior of the borers) and skeletal sclerobiont paleoecology. I’m also convinced there are many aragonitic mollusk taxa in the Cincinnatian that are known only through this bioimmuration process. These are fascinating fossils my students and I will continue to collect and study.

References:

Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration—a review. Palaeontology 33: 1-17.

Vialov, O.S. 1961. Phenomena of vital immuration in nature. Dopovidi Akademi Nauk Ukrayin’ skoi RSR 11: 1510-1512.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269-270.

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