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

April 17th, 2015

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.

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 Scarborough, England, this summer to work in Jurassic sections. One well-known trace fossil there is Gyrochorte (see Powell, 1992).
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.

Powell, J.H. 1992. Gyrochorte burrows from the Scarborough Formation (Middle Jurassic) of the Cleveland Basin, and their sedimentological setting. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society 49: 41-47.

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.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A disturbingly familiar coral from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

April 3rd, 2015

Single Axosmilia side 585Our fossil this week is one I don’t share with my Invertebrate Paleontology classes until they’re ready for it. Those of us who grew up with Paleozoic fossils think we recognize it right away. Surely this is a solitary rugose coral? It has the right shape and the fine growth lines we call rugae (think “wrinkles”). This view below of the oral surface is not surprising either, unless you’re an enthusiast of septal arrangements.
Axosmilia oral view 585Instead of a rugose coral, though, this is a scleractinian coral from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Israel. It is part of the collection of Matmor corals Annette Hilton (’17) and I are working through. This coral belongs to the genus Axosmilia Milne Edwards, 1848.
Axosmilia group 031815 585These corals are excellent examples of evolutionary convergence. The scleractinians are only very distantly related to the rugosans. They do not share a common ancestor with a calcareous skeleton, let alone a cone-shaped one like this. Instead the scleractinians like Axosmilia developed a skeleton very similar to that of the solitary rugosans, probably because they had similar life modes in similar environments, and thus similar selective forces. The rugosans, though, built their skeletons out of the mineral calcite, whereas the scleractinians use aragonite. (This specimens are calcite-replaced, like our specimen last week.) The vertical septa inside the cone are also arranged in different manners. Rugosans insert them in cycles of four (more or less), giving them a common name “tetracorals”; scleractinians have septal insertions in cycles of six, hence they are “hexacorals”. Rugose corals went extinct in the Permian; scleractinians are still with us today. Our friend Axosmillia appeared in the Jurassic and went extinct in the Cretaceous.

Rugose coral skeletons in the Paleozoic are commonly encrusted with a variety of skeletal organisms, and many are bored to some degree. I expected to see the same sclerobionts with these Jurassic equivalents, but they are clean and unbored. I suspect this means they lived semi-infaunally (meaning partially buried in the sediment).
Henri Milne-Edwards (1800–1885)Axosmilia was named by the English-French zoologist Henri Milne-Edwards (1800-1885) in the politically complex year of 1848. Henri was the twenty-seventh (!) child of an English planter from Jamaica and a Frenchwoman. He was born in Bruges, which is now part of Belgium but was then under the control of revolutionary France. Like many early 19th century scientists, Milne Edwards earned an MD degree but was seduced away from medicine by the wonders of natural history. He was a student of the most accomplished scientist of his time, Georges Cuvier, and quickly became a published expert on an amazing range of organisms, from crustaceans to lizards. The bulk of his career was spent at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. When he was 42 he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society, receiving from them the prestigious Copley Medal in 1856. He died in Paris at the age of 85.


Fürsich, F.T. and Werner, W. 1991. Palaeoecology of coralline sponge-coral meadows from the Upper Jurassic of Portugal. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 65: 35-69.

Martin-Garin, B., Lathuilière, B. and Geister, J. 2012. The shifting biogeography of reef corals during the Oxfordian (Late Jurassic). A climatic control?. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 365: 136-153.

Pandey, D.K., Ahmad, F. and Fürsich, F.T. 2000. Middle Jurassic scleractinian corals from northwestern Jordan. Beringeria 27: 3-29.

Pandey, D.K. and Fürsich, F.T. 2005. Jurassic corals from southern Tunisia. Zitteliana 45: 3-34.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An encrusted scleractinian coral from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

March 27th, 2015

Amphiastrea Etallon 1859 Matmor Formation 585This week’s fossil is in honor of Annette Hilton (’17), who is my Sophomore Research Assistant this year. She has been diligently working through a large and difficult collection of scleractinian corals from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Israel. These specimens were collected as parts of many paleoecological studies in our Wooster paleontology lab, so I thought it was time they received some systematic attention on their own. I knew it would be difficult, but Annette was up to the task and has done a splendid job.

The above specimen is a scleractinian coral of the genus Amphiastrea Étallon, 1859. It was collected from locality C/W-227 in the makhtesh. Considering the original was aragonite, it is remarkably preserved in a calcitized version. The large disks stuck to it are encrusting bivalves, probably of the genus Atreta.
Amphiastrea reverseHere we see the reverse with more encrusters. It is apparent that this cylindrical specimen was encrusted on all sides while it was in its erect living position, or this piece rolled around loose on the seafloor for an extended interval.
Amphiastrea serpulidOne of the encrusting bivalves was itself encrusted by a serpulid worm, which left part of its twisty calcitic tube behind.
Amphiastrea plicatulidThis thin, ghostly encruster is probably the bivalve Plicatula.
Amphiastrea close viewA close view of the corallites shows how well preserved they are on the surface of the coral. Each of these pits shows the vertical septa (walls of a sort) that were underneath the coral polyps in life. Despite this beautiful outer preservation, the interior of the specimen is mostly occupied by blocky calcite crystals.

This coral was found in a marly sediment, which explains why it is not locked into a solid piece of limestone as many Jurassic corals are. Amphiastrea apparently preferred environments with a significant amount of siliciclastic sediment (see Pandey and Fürsich, 2001, and other references below). I hope my students and I can further study this diverse and abundant coral fauna in the Matmor Formation. Annette Hilton has prepared the way.

Claude Auguste Étallon (1826-1862) named the genus Amphiastrea in 1859. He was a prominent paleontologist and geologist in his time. He was only 35 years old when he died, though, and has almost completely dropped out of the literature in English, except for the numerous invertebrate taxa he named. (There is a kind of immortality in our system of adding author’s names to taxa.) Using my Google Translator skills, I can read in the French literature that he was born to “an honest merchant family” in Luxeuil, France. He was a mathematics teacher first at collège Paul Féval à Dol-de-Bretagne and then later several other institutions. He developed a specialty in the rocks and fossils of the local Jurassic. Étallon created and published a geological map (“Carte géologique des Environs de St. Claude”), which was quite advanced for the time. The Late Jurassic turtle Plesiochelys etalloni was named after him in 1857. Auguste Étallon died suddenly of “the rupture of an aneurysm after two days of a slight indisposition” in February 1862.

Here’s to the memory of the energetic, productive and too short-lived Auguste Étallon.


d’Amat, R. 1975. Étallon, Claude Auguste. Dictionnaire de Biographie Française 13: 163-164.

Löser, H. 2012. Revision of the Amphiastraeidae from the Monti D’Ocre area (Scleractinia; Early Cretaceous). Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 118: 461-469.

Pandey, D.K., Ahmad, F. and Fürsich, F.T. 2000. Middle Jurassic scleractinian corals from northwestern Jordan. Beringeria 27: 3-29.

Pandey, D.K. and Fürsich, F.T. 2001. Environmental distribution of scleractinian corals in the Jurassic of Kachchh, western India. Journal Geological Society of India 57: 479-495.

Pandey, D.K. and Fürsich, F.T. 2005. Jurassic corals from southern Tunisia. Zitteliana 45: 3-34.

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.

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

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

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A lucinid bivalve from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

March 6th, 2015

Fimbria CW265 2007 585Above is a specimen of the lucinid bivalve Fimbria sp. from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. I collected it in 2007 while working with Meredith Sharpe (Wooster ’08) as she pursued the fieldwork for her Independent Study project. It is a nice specimen in part because of its preservation. A closer look (below) shows very fine detail of the shell exterior.
Fimbria closeThe shell is no longer present, though. It was originally composed of the mineral aragonite, which was dissolved away, leaving an external mold that later filled in with very fine crystals of calcite. The sculpture of the shell is exquisitely reproduced; in some places even so well as to show growth lines. Many aragonitic bivalves and gastropods are preserved this way near the top of the Matmor Formation.
F fimbriata Solomon IslandsLucinid bivalves are still common today in the sea. The shell shown above is a modern Fimbria fimbriata from the Solomon Islands. They are infaunal, meaning they live burrowed in the sediment. Since they were not genetically endowed with long siphons, they use the foot to create mucus-lined tubes to the surface for access to seawater. Lucinids have an endosymbiotic relationship with sulfide-oxidizing bacteria in their gill tissues. They have a hemoglobin type that transports hydrogen sulfide to autotrophic bacteria, which in turn provide the bivalves with nutrition and enable them to survive in a variety of environments, from near deep-sea hydrothermal vents to shallow seagrass meadows.

Johann Karl Megerle von Mühlfeld (1765-1842) named Fimbria in 1811. I very much wish I had a portrait to go with that magnificent name. Megerle von Mühlfeld worked at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna through the eventful Napoleonic years. He is best known for his pioneering work with insects, but he also curated the mollusk collections, which led to his description of the new Fimbria.


Anderson, L.C. 2014. Relationships of internal shell features to chemosymbiosis, life position, and geometric constraints within the Lucinidae (Bivalvia), p. 49-72. In: Experimental Approaches to Understanding Fossil Organisms. Springer Netherlands.

Megerle von Mühlfeld, J.K. 1811. Entwurf eines neuen System’s der Schalthiergehäuse. Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin, Magazin 5: 38-72.

Monari, S. 2003. A new genus and species of fimbriid bivalve from the Kimmeridgian of the western Pontides, Turkey, and the phylogeny of the Jurassic Fimbriidae. Palaeontology 46: 857-884.

Morton, B. 1979. The biology and functional morphology of the coral-sand bivalve Fimbria fimbriata (Linnaeus, 1758). Records of the Australian Museum 32: 389-420.

Taylor, J.D. and Glover, E.A. 2006. Lucinidae (Bivalvia)–the most diverse group of chemosymbiotic molluscs. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 148: 421-438.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Star-shaped crinoid columnals from the Middle Jurassic of southern Utah

February 27th, 2015

Isocrinus nicoleti Kane County 585Just a quick Fossil of the Week post. Above we see isolated columnals (stem units) of the crinoid Isocrinus nicoleti (Desor, 1845) found in the Co-Op Creek Member of the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic), Kane County, southern Utah. Greg Wiles recently received them as part of a donation to our department collections. They have such perfect star shapes that I had to share them here. For the full analysis, see my previous entry on columnals like these preserved in a limestone from the same location.


Baumiller, T.K., Llewellyn, G., Messing, C.G. and Ausich, W.I. 1995. Taphonomy of isocrinid stalks: influence of decay and autotomy. Palaios 10: 87-95.

Tang, C.M., Bottjer, D.J. and Simms, M.J. 2000. Stalked crinoids from a Jurassic tidal deposit in western North America. Lethaia 33: 46-54.

Wooster Geologist in Yorkshire

December 19th, 2014

1 Spaunton Quarry 121814LEEDS, ENGLAND–It was my good fortune to attend this week the 58th Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association in Leeds, Yorkshire, this week. I very much enjoy these meetings because of the high quality of the talks and posters, the collegiality, the field trips, and my chance to meet new colleagues and learn more about fossils and the history of life. This year I was here as a representative of the Paleontological Society and one of the Palaeontological Association’s North American Representatives. The last such meeting I attended was in Dublin in 2012.

One of the main attractions of any geological meeting are the associated field trips. Today a busload of hardy paleontologists had a field trip to the moors of northeastern Yorkshire to see Upper Jurassic limestones and fossils. The image above is from Spaunton Quarry (see below). It is no accident that this scene looks a bit stark — there was a cold wind blowing all day. Yorkshire in December is not surprisingly a bit chilly. We avoided the usual rain, though, and had a splendid day.

Betton Farm South QuarryAll our outcrops were in the Cleveland Basin, a depositional center in northeastern Yorkshire during the Late Jurassic (Oxfordian Stage). Our first stop was in the disused South Quarry at Betton Farm, where the Betton Farm Coral Bed and Malton Oolite Member is exposed (N54.25517°, W000.46503° — that cool “W000” means we are almost on the Prime Meridian). Above you see the old quarried walls in this small excavation.

Western Face SQ 121814This is the western face of the quarry showing flat bedding of a coral-rich carbonate sand facies. To the right, out of view, is a contemporaneous coral reef (see below).

Coral Few Borings 121814This is the upper surface of the scleractinian coral Thamnasteria concinna, with a few bivalve borings (Gastrochaenolites). I would not be a happy paleontologist if I had to study these poorly-preserved corals. For contrast, you might remember the Jurassic corals of southern Israel. There’s a lot to be said for desert weathering and protective layers of marl.

BBQ 121814We had a wonderful lunchtime barbecue set up for us in the quarry. Who would guess we’d have an outdoor feast in December in northern England?

Ravenswick Quarry 121814Our second stop was at another abandoned quarry, Ravenswick (N54.25517°, W000.46500°). The Malton Oolite, which was exploited as a building stone, is exposed here. You can see the flat bedding and jointing of this rock that made it good for construction materials.

Ravenswick Rhabdophyliia phillipsiAbove the Malton Oolite is the Coral Rag Member. The branching corals shown above are Rhabdophyllia phillipsi. Since they were originally aragonitic skeletons, their later recrystallization into calcite has reduced the amount of fine detail preserved.

Sheep Spaunton 121814Our final stop was in the sheepiferous Spaunton Quarry (N54.27846°, W000.89128°). The Coralline Oolite Formation is shown above. You may again note the structural features that make this a good building stone.

Tomasz Spaunton 121814My Polish friend Tomasz Borszcz is shown above with the Coralline Oolite Formation and, immediately above, the Upper Calcareous Grit Formation. Fossils were not common here, but we did see an ammonite in the grit and some echinoid fragments in the Oolite.

Thank you very much to Dr. Crispin Little of the University of Leeds for leading this great field trip. I enjoy seeing Jurassic rocks anywhere, but they were especially attractive on the rolling moors of Yorkshire.



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

December 12th, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A new crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel (with a bonus parasitic infection)

November 14th, 2014

1 PitBelowCalyxThese fossils are a joy to present this week. Lizzie Reinthal (’14), Bill Ausich (Ohio State University) and I have a new paper out in the latest issue of the Journal of Paleontology. It is titled: “Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel”. Allow me to introduce Apiocrinites feldmani, a new articulate crinoid species. In the image above we have fused columnals (the “buttons” that make up a crinoid stem) upwards through two radial plates (from the calyx) with two pits and associated swollen columnals (due to a nasty little parasite; see below). A gnarly beast it is, and that’s what makes this creature interesting. I posted another even more twisted specimen earlier.

This new species is named after my friend Howard Feldman of Touro College and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was a pathfinder with the Matmor Formation and its fossils in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Negev, southern Israel.
2 Extracted holdfast 2Apiocrinites feldmani is a small crinoid that lived in a brachiopod-coral-sponge community with a larger cousin named Apiocrinites negevensis (named earlier by Bill Ausich and me). Above we see a pluricolumnal (range of articulated columnals) with the holdfast of another A. feldmani wrapped around them. (I’m also showing off my mad skills at extracting an image from its background.)
3 Gnarly pluricolumnalThis pluricolumnal shows how bad the parasitic infection could get for many A. feldmani specimens. These gall-like growths are responses to some soft-bodied parasite that became embedded within the crinoid skeleton. The crinoid stems were deformed and likely lost considerable flexibility because of these parasites.
4 PitThis is a cross-section through one of the pits in an A. feldmani stem. Note that the narrow end of the pit begins at the articulation between two columnals. The parasite apparently wedged into that space, forcing the crinoid to grow around it as it grew itself. The result was a conical pit with swollen columnals surrounding it.
5 PitPluricolumnalHere we’re looking straight into one of the conical pits with a magnificent swelling around it. You can barely make out the articulation lines of the swollen columnals. Sometimes these cone-shaped pits were closed off by crinoid skeletal growth, presumably because the parasite inside died or otherwise left the premises. We don’t know the identity of this parasite, but we can surmise that it was a soft-bodied filter-feeder that probably gained an advantage from living high above the seafloor on these crinoid stems. Oddly, the larger A. negevensis crinoids in the same community did not have these parasites.

Living crinoids are afflicted by a variety of parasites. There are none today that have this sort of effect on the stems, but there are reports of fossil crinoids with similar pathologies all the way back to the Silurian (Brett, 1978).
6 BivalveBoringCrinoidEven after death these Jurassic crinoid stems provided homes for other organisms. Above is another cross-section through a stem of A. feldmani. “A” is one of the columnals, “B” is a section through an articulated bivalve filled with a relatively coarse sediment, and “C” is a fine sediment that filled in around the bivalve. The bivalve bored into the crinoid stem after death to make a crypt from which it could conduct its filter-feeding with some safety and seclusion.
7 Apiocrinites feldmani specimens 585Finally, here are the type specimens of Apiocrinites feldmani all packed up to be delivered to the Orton Geological Museum at Ohio State University. This museum has a large collection of echinoderms from around the world and so is an appropriate place for our treasures to reside awaiting further study.

This was a fun study that was part of Lizzie Reinthal’s 2013-2014 Independent Study project at Wooster. She concentrated on the taphonomy and sclerobiont successions as we both worked up the parasite and systematic story with our echinoderm expert friend Bill Ausich. There aren’t that many accounts of parasite-host relationships in the fossil record, so we’re proud to add one.

So many beautiful fossils in the Jurassic of southern Israel. More papers to come!


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

Brett, C.E. 1978. Host-specific pit-forming epizoans on Silurian crinoids. Lethaia 11: 217–232.

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

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

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

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Remanié fossils in the Lower Cretaceous of south-central England

August 22nd, 2014

Faringdon ammonite smThe last two editions were about a bryozoan and borings from the Faringdon Sponge Gravels (Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian) of south-central England. This week we have some Jurassic fossils from the same unit. That sounds a bit daft at first — Jurassic fossils in a Cretaceous unit? — until it becomes obvious that these are older fossils reworked into a younger deposit. In this case underlying Jurassic ammonites have been unearthed and tossed around with sediment in Cretaceous high-energy tidal channels. These older fossils in a younger context are called remanié, meaning they have been “rehandled” in a fancy French way.

The above image is an example of remanié in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It is a partial internal mold of a Jurassic ammonite. Drilled into it are several holes attributed to Early Cretaceous bivalves and called by the trace fossil name Gastrochaenolites. The ammonite fossil was eroded out of an outcrop of Jurassic rock and then bored while rolling around in what would become the Faringdon Sponge Gravels.
Ammonite frag 2 072014This is another Jurassic ammonite internal mold. The jagged lines are the sutures of the ammonite (remnants of the septal walls). This mold was phosphatized (partially replaced with phosphate) before it was reworked into the Cretaceous gravels. Many remanié fossils are phosphatized because of long exposure on the seafloor.
Ammonite frag 1 072014Finally, this is a fragment of another Jurassic ammonite internal mold in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It has an odd shape because it has disarticulated along the sutures. We are looking at the face of one of the septa, or at least where this septum would have been if it hadn’t dissolved. You can see some tiny borings that were made by Cretaceous polychaete worms.

In one of the cobbles in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels I found an identifiable ammonite. It was Prorasenia bowerbanki, which indicated that the cobble was derived from the Lower Kimmeridge Clay or Upper Oxfordian clays. The above ammonites are likely from the same Jurassic sequence. This means these fossils were roughly 45 million years old when they were reworked into the sponge gravels. Today it would be as if Eocene fossils were eroding out of a cliff and being incorporated within a modern sediment. When you think about it, this is a relatively common occurrence.


Murray-Wallace, C V. and Belperio, A.P. 1994. Identification of remanié fossils using amino acid racemisation. Alcheringa 18: 219-227.

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 Series, 46: 61–152.

Wells, M.R., Allison, P.A., Piggott, M.D., Hampson, G.J., Pain, C.C. and Gorman, G.J. 2010. Tidal modeling of an ancient tide-dominated seaway, part 2: the Aptian Lower Greensand Seaway of Northwest Europe. Journal of Sedimentary Research 80: 411-439.

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

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