Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A barnacle and sponge symbiosis from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

July 4th, 2014

Barnacle boring bioclaustration 1

[Programing note: Wooster's Fossil of the Week is now being released on Fridays to correspond with the popular Fossil Friday on Twitter and other platforms.]

This week’s fossil is again from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of southern Israel. (What can I say? We have a lot of them!) We are looking above at a crinoid pluricolumnal (a section of the stem made of several columnals) almost completely encrusted by a calcareous sponge (the sheet-like form with tiny pores). A round oyster is attached to the sponge in the lower center. In the left half you see the items of our interest this week: ovoid holes produced by barnacles. This specimen was studied by Lizzie Reinthal (’14) as part of her Senior Independent Study on the taphonomy of the Matmor crinoids.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 2These barnacle holes are interesting because we can see in this closer view that the sponge grew around them. There is thickened sponge wall at the margins of the holes, and the feature in the middle is a thick mound built around one of these holes. The barnacles in the holes and the sponge were living together. If they weren’t either the sponge would have overgrown the empty holes or the barnacle would have cut through the dead sponge skeleton. This is an example of symbiosis. It would be a facultative relationship because the sponge and barnacle did not need each other to survive; each does just fine without the other. It could be considered parasitic if the barnacles acquired nutrients the sponge would have ordinarily received, or vice versa.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 3This third view is of the edge of the sponge skeleton as it partially overlaps the barnacle holes. Now we see the nature of the intergrowth. The barnacle holes are actually borings into the crinoid pluricolumnal below. They are the trace fossil called Rogerella, which we have seen before in this blog. The sponge grew along the crinoid substrate covering all sorts of small holes, cracks and crevices, but when it reached these borings living barnacles were still in them filter-feeding away with their filamentous legs. The sponge thus laid its skeleton right up to the hole edges, eventually surrounding them with their spongy matrix.

The holes are borings, a kind of trace fossil. The structure created when the sponge surrounds a living boring barnacle like this is more difficult to name. It is not technically a bioimmuration (see Taylor, 1990) because the barnacles were not passively subsumed within the sponge skeleton. It may be a bioclaustration (Palmer and Wilson, 1988) because the sponge adapted its skeleton to isolate and surround the barnacle. I think we can at least say these are trace fossils in the ethological (behavioral) group called Impedichnia (Tapanila, 2005) because the barnacles acted as impediments, or limiting factors, to the growth of the sponge.

I love these examples of symbiosis in the fossil record, and the interesting debates about their interpretations.


Cónsole‐Gonella, C. and Marquillas, R.A. 2014. Bioclaustration trace fossils in epeiric shallow marine stromatolites: the Cretaceous‐Palaeogene Yacoraite Formation, northwestern Argentina. Lethaia 47: 107-119.

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

Tapanila, L. 2005. Palaeoecology and diversity of endosymbionts in Palaeozoic marine invertebrates: Trace fossil evidence. Lethaia 38: 89–99.

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

Vinn, O. and Mõtus, M.A. 2014. Symbiotic worms in biostromal stromatoporoids from the Ludfordian (Late Silurian) of Saaremaa, Estonia. GFF (in press).

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 geopetal structure in a boring from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

June 15th, 2014

Geopetal Structure 585We have a very simple trace and body fossil combination this week that provides a stratigraphic and structural geologic tool. Above is a bit of scleractinian coral from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. The coral skeleton was originally made of aragonite. It has been since recrystallized into a coarse sparry calcite, so we can no longer see the internal skeletal details of the coral. In the middle of this polished cross-section is an elliptical hole. This is a boring made by a bivalve (the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites). Inside the boring you see a separate elliptical object: a cross-section of a bivalve shell. This could be the bivalve that made the boring or, more likely, a bivalve that later occupied the boring for a living refuge. This, then, is the trace fossil (Gastrochaenolites) and body fossil (the bivalve shell) juxtaposition.

That stratigraphic and structural interest is that the boring and the bivalve shell are partially filled with a yellow sediment. This sediment has gravitationally settled to the bottom of these cavities (at slightly different levels). These holes have thus acted as natural builders’ levels showing is which way was down and which was up at the time of deposition. We can tell without any clues from the recrystallized coral the “way up” before any later structural deformation (or in this case rolling around on the outcrop) changed the orientation of the coral. Pretty cool and simple, eh? The name for this feature is a geopetal structure. There are some faulted and folded sedimentary rock exposures in the world where we search diligently for these little clues to original orientation (see, for example, Klompmaker et al., 2013). Not all geopetal structures have fossil origins (i.e., Mozhen et al., 2010), but most do. A little gift from paleontology to its sister disciplines.


Klompmaker, A.A., Ortiz, J.D. and Wells, N.A. 2013. How to explain a decapod crustacean diversity hotspot in a mid-Cretaceous coral reef. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 374: 256-273.
Mozhen, G., Chuanjiang, W., Guohui, Y., Xueqiang, S., Guohua, Z. and Xin, W. 2010. Features, origin and geological significance of geopetal structures in Carboniferous volcanic rocks in Niudong Block, Santanghu Basin. Marine Origin Petroleum Geology 3: 15.
Wieczorek, J. 1979. Geopetal structures as indicators of top and bottom. Annales de la Societé géologique de Pologne 49: 215-221.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A fragment of an asteroid (the sea star kind) from the Upper Cretaceous of Israel

June 8th, 2014

zichor asteroid aboral 585This is not an important fossil — there is not enough preserved to put a name on it beyond Family Goniasteridae Forbes, 1841 (thanks, Dan Blake) — but it was a fun one to find. It also photographs well. This is a ray fragment of an asteroid (from the group commonly known as the sea stars or starfish) I picked up from the top meter of the Zichor Formation (Coniacian, Upper Cretaceous) in southern Israel (Locality C/W-051) on my field trip there in April 2014. We are looking at the aboral (or top) surface; below is the oral view.
zichor asteroid oral surface 585In this oral perspective you can see a group of tiny, jumbled plates running down the center. This is the ambulacrum, which in life had a row of tube feet extending out for locomotion and grasping prey.
asteroid 2004Above is a sea star held by my son Ted on Long Island, The Bahamas, back in 2004. You can see a bit of resemblance between this modern species and the Cretaceous fossil, mainly the  large knobby ossicles running down the periphery of the rays.

The asteroids have a poor fossil record, at least when compared to other echinoderms like crinoids and echinoids. It appears that all post-Paleozoic asteroids derive from a single ancestral group that squeaked through the Permian extinctions (Gale, 2013). There is a significant debate about the evolution of the asteroids (see Blake and Mah, 2014, for the latest). Unfortunately our little critter is not going to help much in its resolution.

Recently it has been discovered that some living asteroids have microlenses in their ossicles to provide a kind of all-surface photoreception ability. Gorzelak et al. (2014) have found evidence that some Cretaceous asteroids had similar photoreceptors. Maybe our fossil goniasterid fragment could yield this kind of secret property with closer examination.


Blake, D.B. and Mah, C.L. 2014. Comments on “The phylogeny of post-Palaeozoic Asteroidea (Neoasteroidea, Echinodermata)” by AS Gale and perspectives on the systematics of the Asteroidea. Zootaxa 3779: 177-194.

Gale, A.S. 2011. The phylogeny of post-Paleozoic Asteroidea (Neoasteroidea, Echinodermata). Special Papers in Palaeontology 38, 112 pp.

Gale, A.S. 2013. Phylogeny of the Asteroidea, p. 3-14. In: Lawrence, J.M. (ed.), Starfish: Biology and Ecology of the Asteroidea. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Gorzelak, P., Salamon, M.A., Lach, R., Loba, M. and Ferré, B. 2014. Microlens arrays in the complex visual system of Cretaceous echinoderms. Nature Communications 5, Article 3576, doi:10.1038/ncomms4576.

Loriol, P. de. 1908. Note sur quelques stellérides du Santonien d’Abou-Roach. Bulletin de l’Institut égyptien 2: 169-184.

Mah, C.L. and Blake, D.B. 2012. Global diversity and phylogeny of the Asteroidea (Echinodermata). PLOS ONE 7(4), e35644.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: One sick crinoid from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

May 11th, 2014

IsocrinidAMy first thought on seeing this distorted fossil was how much it evoked one of those Palaeolithic “Venus figurines“. It is certainly difficult to deduce that this is actually a crinoid column (or stem). It was found during my last expedition to the Middle Jurassic Matmor Formation in Makhtesh Gadol, southern Israel (location C/W-506). This particular crinoid was infected by parasites that caused the grotesque swellings of the skeletal calcite in the individual columnals (button-like sections of the column). The infection of a species of Apiocrinites in the Matmor is the subject of a paper now in press by me, Lizzie Reinthal (’14) and the pride of Ohio State University, Dr. Bill Ausich. That story will be a later Fossil of the Week entry. The specimen above, though, is different. To my surprise, it is a parasitic infection in an entirely different crinoid order.

IsocrinidBHere’s another view of the crinoid column. The top third shows some of the original star-shaped columnals in side view. This tells us that the crinoid was an isocrinid, possibly the cosmopolitan Isocrinus nicoleti. This group contains the famous and somewhat creepy crawling crinoids. We have just a handful of isocrinid stem fragments in the Matmor despite a decade of searching for a distinctive calyx (the head of the little beast). Note that the gall-like swellings have holes in them. This will be important in a later analysis of the parasitic system here.

IsocrinidCAnd now the other side of the fossil. Again, in the top part you can make out star-shaped columnals, but that distinctive outline is lost in the swollen column below. The stem must have been seriously hindered from flexing and bending with such a debilitating infection.


Salamon, M.A. 2008. The Callovian (Middle Jurassic) crinoids from northern Lithuania. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 82: 269-278.

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.

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 (in press).

Last work of Team Israel, Matmor Division

May 5th, 2014

Team Israel 050514WOOSTER, OHIO–Steph Bosch (’14) and Lizzie Reinthal (’14) volunteered to examine the Matmor Formation fossils I collected last month in Israel. Each fossil, most of which are crinoid ossicles, must be scanned under a microscope for tiny encrusters (especially bryozoans), borings, and bite marks. In the image above you can see the collection bags on the left and our three ‘scopes arranged so that we can exchange interesting bits that we find. I had planned to do this work all by my lonesome, and it would have taken a full day. With Steph and Lizzie, though, we were done in an hour and a half. No wonder — they’ve spent the last year doing this kind of analysis!

Israel specimens 050514And here are the results. Each paper tray has a particular category of fossil from a specific location. We found many little (and I mean little) treasures that my future students and I can now study. I’m grateful for the expert help.

Team Israel 2013 will be graduated a week from today. Congratulations to them!

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A helpful echinoid from the Upper Cretaceous of Israel

April 27th, 2014

Echinoids a 042214These beaten-up fossils have served me well in the field this month. They are the regular echinoid Heterodiadema lybicum (Agassiz & Desor, 1846). They are common in the Cenomanian throughout northern Africa and the Middle East. These particular specimens, the other sides of which are shown below, are from the En Yorqe’am Formation we’ve been studying here on the rim of Makhtesh Ramon, southern Israel. When I find them in abundance I know I’m in the top half of that formation. They’ve previously been featured indirectly as a Fossil of the Week for the bites they made into the shells of oysters, producing the trace fossil Gnathichnus.
Echinoids b 042214The species Heterodiadema lybicum was named by Pierre Jean Édouard Desor (1811-1882) in 1846. We’ll meet him in a later entry. The genus Heterodiadema was erected in 1862 by Gustave Honoré Cotteau (1818-1894), who is pictured below. There is not much at all about Cotteau in the English literature, but with Google Translate I was able to sort out a bit of his story from the French. He was one of those glorious amateurs who make such important contributions to the science of paleontology. (I like the new term “citizen scientists” for this group, although I emphasize I’m a citizen too!) Cotteau was a judge in Auxerre, Burgundy, France. In his spare time he had a passion for living and fossil echinoids, eventually amassing a collection of over 500 species. He was also, as you might guess, a volunteer curator of the city museum in Auxerre. In 1889 he was President of the Société zoologique de France, a highly prestigious position. He was an important force in the early understanding of echinoderms.
Cotteau GustaveAgain, these specimen photos were taken under “field conditions” in Israel with a cleaner’s cloth for a background. As you read this, though, I am with luck back in my cozy home in Wooster.


Agassiz, L. and Desor, P.J.E. 1846. Catalogue raisonné des familles, des genres, et des espèces de la classe des échinodermes. Annales des Sciences Naturelles, Troisième Série, Zoologie 6: 305-374.

Geys, J.F. 1980. Heterodiadema libycum (Agassiz & Desor, 1846), a hemicidaroid echinoid from the Campanian of Belgium.  Anales de la Societe geologique du Nord 99: 449-451.

Smith, A.B., Simmons, M.D. and Racey, A. 1990. Cenomanian echinoids, larger foraminifera and calcareous algae from the Natih Formation, central Oman Mountains. Cretaceous Research 11: 29-69.

Among citizen scientists in southern Israel

April 24th, 2014

Zichor M2 M3 042414MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Today Yoav Avni and I drove south to meet an enthusiastic group of naturalists in Arava of the Jordan Rift Valley. The group is led by Dr. Hanan Ginat and consisted of a micropaleontologist and three amateur collectors who have all added considerably to scientific knowledge. We did fieldwork together in the magnificent Menuha Formation (Upper Cretaceous). The outcrop above is the boundary between a middle unit of the Menuha (“M-2″) and the upper chalks (“M-3″) in Wadi Zichor.

Gidon and fossils 042414Here is Gidon and a fraction of his collection, which is mostly from the local Cretaceous. There were fossil types here I’ve never seen before. Like all good citizen scientists, he knows how to collect and observe with location and stratigraphic control, and he has learned an immense amount about fossils and the organisms they represent.

Winny home 042414We had tea in Winny’s desert house. The interior (and exterior) is dominated by delightful fossils (and many other objects). It is a classic desert-dweller’s home. The micropaleontologist Sarit is in the foreground. (I have only phonetic first names. I’ll collect last names later!)

Stratodus Winny 042414Winny collected this four-meter long Cretaceous fish named Stratodus. She must now be the world’s expert on its complex anatomy. It is just a taste of her other fossils, including a bryozoan-encrusted ammonite from the Ora Formation (Turonian) she freely and eagerly gave me for research.

Field party 042414The field party is here assembled to study a site where they helped find and excavate an Elasmosaurus plesiosaur — the first in Israel.

Menuha view 042414A view of the Menuha Formation in the Arava. This is an extraordinary outcrop, and you can tell by the minimal vegetation that this is the driest part of the Negev.

I very much enjoyed my time with this fun and dedicated crew. They reminded me so much of the naturalists I grew up with in my own desert home of Barstow, California. I made many connections here that will benefit future research programs and Independent Study projects for Wooster students. It was inspiring to see what joy these people have in pursuing their scientific passions, like all other citizen scientists I work with.

This was my last day of fieldwork on this expedition. Tomorrow the long trip home begins!

Where sedimentology meets structural geology

April 21st, 2014

A seismite? 042114MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–”Like a hot dog in a bun.” Late this afternoon, while exploring the Eocene (Lutetian) Horsha Formation near the Nabatean/Roman/Byzantine city of Avdat, Yoav Avni and I ran across these odd features in a limestone layer within the chalks (near N 30.79119°, E 34.75494°). They consist of an elongate core of coarse, bioclastic sediment (the hot dog) in chalky sediments folded around them (the bun). They are all oriented in the same direction.

Another seismite type 042114Some are as big as canoes; others like gravy boats. We suspect that these are seismites — sedimentary sturctures formed by seismic shaking. The chalky, water-saturated sediment would have responded plastically as the slightly denser bioclastic sediments above collected in troughs and then began to descend down into the chalk. This is just an idea. If someone else has seen structures like these, please let us know!

Byzantine Cistern 042114Just below these funny structures is this nice Byzantine cistern filled with water. It is on the edge of a wadi, with about a half-meter step above the wadi base. It has this narrow doorway that leads into an interior cavern, all hand-carved. During a flood, the water reaches a level in the wadi where it begins to decant into the cistern, reducing the amount of sediment that would otherwise fill the cavity quickly. A couple of years ago Yoav organized a team to excavate centuries of silt from this cistern. Now it is full from the winter rains, providing a water hole for the local Bedouin children. It also shows that the Byzantine water storage and conservation techniques of 1500 years ago still work fine today.

A 10K run into the Eocene of the Negev

April 20th, 2014

Horsha view 042014MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Yoav and I had a long hike today into the Eocene succession of rock units in the northern Negev. We wanted to look especially at the Horsha Formation (Eocene, Lutetian) because it has some cool trace fossils and massively large oysters. Along the way there are also interesting features like submarine debris flows, thick chalk deposits, unconformities and faulting.

rainstorm 042014Despite the sunshine in the top image, we started the day with a thunderstorm at our back. It was the first time I’d heard thunder in Israel, and for awhile we contemplated in which rocky crevice we should take cover. (It’s not like we carry raingear with us here.) We did get rained upon, but not seriously.

Yoav and layer 042014Yoav is here looking at a thin limestone unit near the base of the Horsha Formation (at GPS 072; N 30.32537°, E 35.00653°). Note the sharp base and yellowish mineralization of the chalk.

Horsha traces 042014There are fantastic trace fossils in convex hyporelief on the base of this limestone layer.

Trace nummulitids 042014The small disks near this trace are nummulitid foraminifera. They are a major component of this limestone.

Horsha algae 042014There are also many broken bits of calcareous algae.

Giant oysters 042014These giant oysters are common in this unit. Some are bored, which you might be able to see in the specimen on the far left. We will return to this area tomorrow for continued exploration.

Negev Berry shrub large 042014On the long way back to the car we encountered this shrub. I wish I knew the name. Yoav said it was called “Bread of the Monks”, but that has led me nowhere. It may be Ochradenus baccatus, also known as sweet mignonette.

Negev Berry shrub close 042014I’m not one to eat wild plants I don’t know, but Yoav assured me the berries on this shrub were tasty. Indeed. Sweet like blueberries. Worth the risk!

Stratigraphy day at Makhtesh Ramon

April 19th, 2014

Labled cliff 041914MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Usually on Saturdays Yoav Avni and I do something “touristic”, like visit an archaeological site or museum. Since it is the Passover holiday, though, and we are both averse to crowds, we decided to do a little stratigraphy outside Mitzpe Ramon instead. Our challenge from Amihai Sneh was to sort out the lower boundary of the En Yorqe’am Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Cenomanian), so we added another section to our argument.

The above image is taken from N 30.62947°, E 34.82085°, about three kilometers northeast of town along the rim of Makhtesh Ramon. (Check those coordinates out on Google Maps. Very cool, especially if you tilt the Earth image to show the cliff edge.) The three critical formations are labelled above with our new concept. The top boundary of the En Yorqe’am with the Zafit Formation is not controversial; it’s the base of the En Yorqe’am that is at issue. Presently it is defined as the top of the cemented carbonates shown just above the “Y” of En Yorqe’am. With this definition the unit is about 20 meters thick — less than half its thickness elsewhere. This has led to some tectonic arguments about uplifts, erosion and unconformities that are not supported by the record in the rocks, other than this anomalously thin section. From our studies of the boundary to the south, we believe we have good evidence to put it here between the massive and bedded limestones as shown. The fossils support this (especially oysters) and the thickness of the En Yorqe’am goes back to an expected 50 meters or so. That’s the argument we’re going to make to Amihai, at least. I will see more of this unit with Amihai further north next week.

H-E contact 041914Here Yoav is standing on what we consider the top of the Hevyon Formation, with the En Yorqe’am behind him.

Yoav cliff 041914Let me emphasize to Gloria and my Mother: that is not me on that precipice! Yoav is here checking the lithology and paleontology of the top Hevyon. It all ended well.

storm 041914We got back just as a massive wind and dust storm swept into town. A front is moving through from north Africa. They say it could rain, but I don’t believe it.

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