Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A bored Ordovician hardground from Ohio, and an introduction to a new paper on trace fossils and evolution

June 3rd, 2016

Bull Fork hdgdAbove is an image of a carbonate hardground (cemented seafloor) from the Upper Ordovician of Adams County, Ohio. It comes from the Bull Fork Formation and was recovered along State Route 136 north of Manchester, Ohio (Locality C/W-20). It is distinctive for two reasons: (1) the many external molds (impressions, more or less) of mollusk shells, including bivalves and long, narrow, straight nautiloids, and (2) its many small borings called Trypanites, a type of trace fossil we’ve seen on this blog before.
Bull Fork boringsIn this closer view we can see the shallow external molds of small bivalve shells, especially on the left side, and the many round perforations of the Trypanites borings.

The dissolved mollusk shells (from bivalves and nautiloids) were originally composed of the calcium carbonate mineral aragonite. This aragonite dissolved early on the seafloor, liberating calcium carbonate that quickly precipitated as the mineral calcite in the sediment, cementing it into a rocky seafloor (hardground) that was then bored by the animal that made Trypanites. This all happened because of the distinctive geochemistry of the ocean water at that time. High levels of carbon dioxide and a decreased Mg/Ca ratio dissolved aragonite yet enabled calcite (the more stable polymorph of calcium carbonate) to rapidly precipitate. This geochemical condition is known as a Calcite Sea, which was common in the early to middle Paleozoic, especially in the Ordovician. This is not the case in today’s marine waters in which aragonite is the primary calcium carbonate precipitate (“Aragonite Sea“). See Palmer et al. (1988) for more details on this process and the evidence for it.

I’m using this Ordovician carbonate hardground to introduce a new paper that just appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): “Decoupled evolution of soft and hard substrate communities during the Cambrian Explosion and Ordovician Biodiversification Event“. The authors are the renowned trace fossil experts Luis Buatois and Gabriela Mángano, the ace geostatistician Ricardo Olea, and me. I’m excited about this paper because it adds to the literature new information and ideas about two major evolutionary radiations: the “explosion” of diversity in the Cambrian (which established basic body plans for most animals) and the diversification in the Ordovician (which filled in those body plans with abundant lower taxa). This is one of the few studies to look in detail at the trace fossil record of these events. Trace fossils (records of organism behavior in and on the sediment substrate) give us information about soft-bodied taxa otherwise rare in a fossil record dominated by shells, teeth and skeletons. It is also the first systematic attempt to compare the diversification of trace fossils in soft sediments and on hard substrates (like the hardground pictured above).

As for the paper itself, I hope you can read it. Here is the abstract —

Contrasts between the Cambrian Explosion (CE) and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) have long been recognized. Whereas the vast majority of body plans were established as a result of the CE, taxonomic increases during the GOBE were manifested at lower taxonomic levels. Assessing changes of ichnodiversity and ichnodisparity as a result of these two evolutionary events may shed light on the dynamics of both radiations. The early Cambrian (Series 1 and 2) displayed a dramatic increase in ichnodiversity and ichnodisparity in softground communities. In contrast to this evolutionary explosion in bioturbation structures, only a few Cambrian bioerosion structures are known. After the middle to late Cambrian diversity plateau, ichnodiversity in softground communities shows a continuous increase during the Ordovician in both shallow- and deep-marine environments. This Ordovician increase in bioturbation diversity was not paralleled by an equally significant increase in ichnodisparity as it was during the CE. However, hard substrate communities were significantly different during the GOBE, with an increase in ichnodiversity and ichnodisparity. Innovations in macrobioerosion clearly lagged behind animal–substrate interactions in unconsolidated sediment. The underlying causes of this evolutionary decoupling are unclear but may have involved three interrelated factors: (i) a Middle to Late Ordovician increase in available hard substrates for bioerosion, (ii) increased predation, and (iii) higher energetic requirements for bioerosion compared with bioturbation.

Thank you to Luis Buatois for his leadership on this challenging project. I very much appreciate the way this work has placed the study of trace fossils into a critical evolutionary context.
Fig1_PNASFigure 1 from Buatois et al. (2016): “Ichnodiversity changes during the Ediacaran-Ordovician. Ichnogenera were plotted as range-through data (i.e., recording for each ichnogenus its lower and upper appearances and then extrapolating the ichnogenus presence through any intervening gap in the continuity of its record).”


Buatois, L.A., Mángano, M.G., Olea, R.A. and Wilson, M.A. 2016. Decoupled evolution of soft and hard substrate communities during the Cambrian Explosion and Ordovician Biodiversification Event. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (in press).

Palmer, T.J., Hudson, J.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Palaeoecological evidence for early aragonite dissolution in ancient calcite seas. Nature 335: 809-810.

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

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A crinoid stem internal mold from the Lower Carboniferous of Ohio

April 8th, 2016

crinoid internal mold 1The Biology Department at The College of Wooster is in the midst of a massive move in advance of the construction of the new Ruth Williams Hall of Life Science. The staff has been combing through old specimen collections, giving away items they don’t need for teaching or research. Among the objects are occasional fossils they gave to the Geology Department. The above specimen is one of the most curious: a combination internal and external mold of a crinoid stem from the local Lower Carboniferous rocks.

crinoid internal mold lumen copyThis is a closer view of the fossil. It is a cylindrical cavity with faint rings in a regular distribution. (These are external molds of the individual crinoid columnals.) Suspended down the axis is a segmented pillar with a stellate cross-section. (This is the internal mold of the crinoid stem lumen, a central cavity that runs down the center of the stem.) It appears that an iron-rich cement (probably siderite) filled this lumen after the death of the crinoid. The stem fragment was enveloped in a siderite concretion and the calcite stem columnals dissolved away. This leaves us with both an external mold of the stem and an internal mold of its lumen.

Carb stem 1For comparison, this is a crinoid stem fragment in its original calcite. It was found in a local Carboniferous limestone.

Carb stem 2Here are cross-sections of the same stems showing sediment-filled stellate lumens in their centers.

Wooster’s Pseudofossils of the Week: Shatter cones from southern Ohio

March 4th, 2016

Real shatter cones 585This brief post is a correction of a previous entry. Last year I showed what I thought were shatter cones collected many years ago in Adams County, Ohio, by the late Professor Frank L. Koucky of The College of Wooster. James Chesire commented on the post and said it was more likely the specimens were cone-in-cone structures produced by burial diagenesis not bolide impacts. When he sent me the photo above of real shatter cones from the Serpent Mound impact region in southern Ohio, I knew he was correct. Shatter cones have distinctive radiating, longitudinal fractures not seen in similar conical structures in limestones. The above shatter cones are in an unknown Ordovician limestone.

Both shatter cones and cone-in-cone structures are nevertheless pseudofossils in that they are both sometimes confused with organic structures like corals and chaetetids. I shall never mix them up again! Thanks for the correction, James.


Carlton, R.W., Koeberl, C., Baranoski, M.T. and Schumacher, G.A. 1998. Discovery of microscopic evidence for shock metamorphism at the Serpent Mound structure, south-central Ohio: confirmation of an origin by impact. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 162: 177-185.

Dietz, R.S. 1959. Shatter cones in cryptoexplosion structures (meteorite impact?). The Journal of Geology 67: 496-505.

Sagy, A., Fineberg, J. and Reches, Z. 2004. Shatter cones: Branched, rapid fractures formed by shock impact. Journal of Geophysical Research 109: B10209.

Shaub, B.M. 1937. The origin of cone-in-cone and its bearing on the origin of concretions and septaria. American Journal of Science 203: 331-344.

Five-Year Anniversary Edition of Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A tabulate coral from the Devonian of northwestern Ohio

January 1st, 2016

AuloporaDevonianSilicaShale010211This post of Wooster’s Fossil of the Week marks five years of this feature. If you’re counting, that is 260 entries, with never a week missed. To celebrate, I’m returning to the very first fossil in the series, a beautiful encrusting tabulate coral. The original entry is below, with some updates and added links.

This week’s fossil was collected by Brian Bade of Sullivan, Ohio, and donated to Wooster as part of my hederelloid project.  It is a beautiful specimen of the tabulate coral Aulopora encrusting a brachiopod valve from the Silica Shale (Middle Devonian — about 390 million years old) of northwestern Ohio.  [Update: I now know the species is A. microbuccinata Watkins, 1959.] Auloporid corals are characterized by an encrusting habit, a bifurcating growth pattern, and horn-shaped corallites (individual skeletal containers for the polyps).

What is especially nice about this specimen is that we are looking at a well preserved colony origin.  The corallite marked with the yellow “P” is the protocorallite — the first corallite from which all the others are derived.  You can see that two corallites bud out from the protocorallite 180° from each other.  These two corallites in turn each bud two corallites, but at about 160°.  This pattern continues as the colony develops (a process called astogeny).  The angles of budding begin to vary depending on local obstacles; they never again go below 160°.

The polyps inside the corallites are presumed to have been like other colonial coral polyps.  Each would have had tentacles surrounding a central opening, and all were connecting by soft tissue within the skeleton.  They likely fed on zooplankton in the surrounding seawater.  This type of coral went extinct in the Permian, roughly 260 million years ago.

Again, we thank our amateur geologist friends for such useful donations to the research and educational collections in the Geology Department at Wooster.

Later I began to add information about a notable paleontologist associated with the highlighted fossil. I especially wanted to put a face and brief biography with a name we may often see in our taxonomic pursuits but know little about. We can now add this German gentleman from a previous entry —
August_Goldfuss_1841Aulopora was first described in 1826 by Georg August Goldfuss (1782-1848), a German paleontologist and zoologist. (Goldfuß is the proper spelling, if I can use that fancy Germanic letter.) He earned a PhD from Erlangen in 1804 and later in 1818 assumed a position teaching zoology at the University of Bonn. With Count Georg zu Münster, he wrote Petrefacta Germaniae, an ambitious attempt to catalog all the invertebrate fossils of Germany (but only got through some of the mollusks). The 1841 portrait above is by Adolf Hohneck (1812-1879).

Since the first few entries I began to add a few critical references for the fossils and related stratigraphy. At first these were for me so that I could remember where I got the information used in the text. Later I noted that students and others were finding these entries online and using them as brief introductions to particular taxa. A few references made each entry a starting point for someone else’s paleontological explorations. Here are some added citations for Aulopora


Fenton, M.A. 1937. Species of Aulopora from the Traverse and Hamilton Groups. American Midland Naturalist 18: 115-119.

Fenton, M.A. and Fenton, C.L. 1937. Aulopora: a form-genus of tabulate corals and bryozoans. American Midland Naturalist 18: 109-115.

Goldfuß, G.A. 1826-1844. Petrefacta Germaniae. Tam ea, quae in museo universitatis Regia Borussicae Fridericiae Wilhelmiae Rhenanae servantur, quam alia quaecunque in museis Hoeninghusiano Muensteriano aliisque extant, iconibus et descriptionibus illustrata = Abbildungen und Beschreibungen der Petrefacten Deutschlands und der angränzenden Länder, unter Mitwirkung von Georg Graf zu Münster, Düsseldorf.

Helm, C. 1999. Astogenese von Aulopora cf. enodis Klaamann 1966 (Visby-Mergel, Silur von Gotland). Paläontologische Zeitschrift 73 (3/4): 241–246. [Courtesy of Paul Taylor]

Scrutton, C.T. 1990. Ontogeny and astogeny in Aulopora and its significance, illustrated by a new non‐encrusting species from the Devonian of southwest England. Lethaia 23: 61-75.

Watkins, J.L. 1959. Middle Devonian auloporid corals from the Traverse Group of Michigan. Journal of Paleontology 33: 793-808.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Tiny atrypid brachiopods from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

December 25th, 2015

Zygospira modesta Waynesville 585These exquisite little brachiopods are among the most abundant fossils in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area. My Invertebrate Paleontology students collected dozens of them from the Waynesville Formation on our field trip to Caesar Creek Lake last semester. Their ubiquity, though, doesn’t make them any less precious.
Zygospira modesta dorsalThis is Zygospira modesta (Say in Hall, 1847). Above is a dorsal valve view of a single specimen. At the apex you can see a tiny round hole from which a fleshy pedicle extended to attach the brachiopod to a hard substrate.
Zygospira modesta ventralHere is the ventral valve view. Zygospira is an atrypid brachiopod, meaning that its internal support (brachidium) for the filter-feeding lophophore is looped in a characteristic way, shown below.
Hall diagram ZygospiraThe diagrams above are from Hall (1867) who named the genus Zygospira and wished to further distinguish it from other atrypid brachiopods.

The taxonomy of Zygospira modesta is a bit messy, as many early 19th Century species descriptions tended to be. It was apparently first named Producta modesta by Thomas Say (see below) but not actually published as such. James Hall described it as Atrypa modesta in 1847. Later in 1862 he named Zygospira as a new genus, making Z. modesta its type species but not indicating a type locality.
Thomas_Say_1818We met Thomas Say (1787-1834) earlier in this blog, recognizing him as the scientist who named Exogyra costata in 1820. He is shown above in an 1818 portrait. Say was a brilliant American natural historian. Among his many accomplishments in his short career, he helped found the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812, the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the New World. He is best known for his descriptive entomology in the new United States, becoming one of the country’s best known taxonomists. He was the zoologist on two famous expeditions led by Major Stephen Harriman Long. The first, in 1819-1820, was to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains; the other (in 1823) was to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Along with his passion for insects, Say also studied mollusk shells, both recent and fossil. He was a bit of an ascetic, moving to the utopian socialist New Harmony Settlement in Indiana for the last eight years of his life. It is said his simple habits and refusal to earn money caused problems for his family. Say succumbed to what appeared to by typhoid fever when he was just 47.


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

Hall, J. 1862. Observations upon a new genus of Brachiopoda. Report New York State Museum, Natural History 15: 154-155.

Hall, J. 1867. Note upon the genus Zygospira and its relations to Atrypa. Report New York State Museum, Natural History 20: 267-268.

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 tabulate coral from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

December 18th, 2015

Calapoecia huronensis Billings, 1865 top 585We have here another fossil collected by a Wooster student on the August 2015 College of Wooster Invertebrate Paleontology field trip to Caesar Creek Lake, Ohio. Eduardo Luna picked up this specimen of the tabulate coral Calapoecia huronensis (Billings, 1865) from the Waynesville Formation (Upper Ordovician). For some reason in all my years of working in the Upper Ordovician, I’ve not come across this coral species before. Eduardo had sharp eyes as you can see it is rather small. The circular tubes are corallites, each of which held a coral polyp in life. This particular coral is distinctive for its septal spines along the inside rim of each corallite, giving them a beaded appearance.

Calapoecia huronensis Billings, 1865 bottom 585This is the underside of Eduardo’s coral. The corallites on the left side are eroded, showing the elongated septal spines that run lengthwise down their inside walls.

CNSPhoto-GEOLOGISTWe met the author of C. huronensis, Elkanah Billings (1820-1876), earlier this year, but why not show the handsome Canadian again? He originally described this coral species in 1865. He was Canada’s first government paleontologist, and he very much looked the part. Billings was born on a farm near Ottawa. He went to law school and became a lawyer in 1845, but he gave up stodgy law books for the bracing life of a field paleontologist. In 1856, Billings joined the Geological Survey of Canada, eventually naming over a thousand new species in his career. The Billings Medal is given annually by the Geological Association of Canada to the most outstanding of its paleontologists.


Billings, E. 1865. Notice of some new genera and species of Palaeozoic fossils. Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, New Series 2: 432–452.

Browne, R.G. 1965. Some Upper Cincinnatian (Ordovician) colonial corals of north-central Kentucky. Journal of Paleontology 39: 1177-1191.

Cox, I. 1936. Revision of the genus Calapoecia Billings. Bulletin of the National Museum of Canada 80: 1–48.

Jull, R.K. 1976. Review of some species of Favistina, Nyctopora, and Calapoecia (Ordovician corals from North America). Geological Magazine 113: 457-467.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A common trilobite from the Upper Ordovician of Ohio

December 11th, 2015

Flexicalymene meeki cephalon view 585This beautiful specimen was collected by Wooster student Eve Caudill on this year’s College of Wooster Invertebrate Paleontology field trip to Caesar Creek Lake, Ohio. It is the iconic trilobite Flexicalymene meeki (Foerste, 1910) from a soft, “buttery” shale in the Waynesville Formation (Upper Ordovician). This is one of the most common trilobite species in the world, and it has been photographed thousands of times, so I posed it at an unconventional, rakish angle. We are looking here at the cephalon (head) of the animal. I like the way the remnants of the enclosing sedimentary matrix cling to the low places, highlighting the bumps and ridges. The center of the cephalon shows the distinctive glabella with its side lobes. The stomach of the trilobite was housed underneath it. The two eyes are visible on either side of the glabella, the one on the right split by the slightly-open facial suture used for dividing its exoskeleton during molting (ecdysis).

Flexicalymene meeki pygidium view 585This is a view of the pygidium (tail end) of the same Flexicalymene meeki specimen. It is tucked under the leading edge of the cephalon in the classic enrollment position. Trilobites likely enrolled for several reasons, but the primary one was almost certainly to affect a pill-bug-like defense against predators.

Flexicalymene meeki side view 585This is a side view of the enrolled trilobite. The articulated segments between the cephalon and pygidium constitute the thorax.foerste-1936We met the author of Flexicalymene meeki four years ago in this blog, so let’s visit him again. August F. Foerste (1862-1936) was one of the pioneers of Cincinnatian paleontology and stratigraphy. He grew up and worked in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Foerste went to Denison University where he was a very successful undergraduate, publishing several geological papers. He returned to Dayton after graduation with a PhD from Harvard, teaching high school for 38 years. When he retired he was offered a teaching position at the University of Chicago, but instead went to work at the Smithsonian Institution until the end of his life.

A final note from the Invertebrate Paleontology class this year: We were greatly assisted by two fantastic paleontological websites, one by Alycia Stigall at Ohio University called The Digital Atlas of Ordovician Life, and the other by Steve Holland at the University of Georgia titled The Stratigraphy and Fossils of the Upper Ordovician near Cincinnati, Ohio. Thank you to my most excellent and productive colleagues.


Brandt, D.S. 1993. Ecdysis in Flexicalymene meeki (Trilobita). Journal of Paleontology 67: 999-1005.

Brett, C.E., Thomka, J.R., Schwalbach, C.E., Aucoin, C.D. and Malgieri, T.J. 2015. Faunal epiboles in the Upper Ordovician of north-central Kentucky: Implications for high-resolution sequence and event stratigraphy and recognition of a major unconformity. Palaeoworld 24: 149-159.

Esteve, J., Hughes, N.C. and Zamora, S. 2011. Purujosa trilobite assemblage and the evolution of trilobite enrollment. Geology 39: 575-578.

Evitt, W.R. and Whittington, H.B. 1953. The exoskeleton of Flexicalymene (Trilobita). Journal of Paleontology 27: 49-55.

Foerste, A.F. 1910. Preliminary notes on Cincinnatian and Lexington fossils of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Denison University Science Laboratories Bulletin 16: 17-87.

Frey, R.C. 1987. The paleoecology of a Late Ordovician shale unit from southwest Ohio and southeastern Indiana. Journal of Paleontology 61: 242-267.


Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A fragmentary rostroconch from the Middle Devonian of Ohio

November 27th, 2015

1 Hippocardia 1Not all of our featured fossils are particularly beautiful, or even entire, but they are interesting in some way. Above is the broken cross-section of a rostroconch mollusk known as Hippocardia Brown, 1843. It was found somewhere in Ohio by the late Keith Maneese and kindly donated to the department by his widow Cameron Maneese. From its preservation and the kind of rock making up the matrix inside, we can tell that it almost certainly came from the Columbus Limestone (Middle Devonian, Eifelian).

In the top image it is apparent that this fossil has bilateral symmetry, a heart-shaped cross-section, and a ribbed calcitic shell. This is the dorsal view.
2 Hippocardia 2Flipping the specimen upside-down, we now have a view of the ventral portion. Again we see the ribs and bilateral symmetry.
3 Hippocardia side viewThis side view shows that the ribs extend from the dorsal to the ventral sides and are angled to the axis of the shell. That’s about all we can tell. (And this is the best specimen of a rostroconch we have! Thank you again, Cameron.)
4 CzechVirtualRostroThis diagram of a complete rostroconch (from the Czech Virtual Museum). This is a side view of a species that does not have the dorsal-ventral ribbing. The shell is superficially like that of a bivalve (clam), but the valves are fused together and their is a distinctive tube (rostrum) extending to the posterior. Much study and debate about the rostroconchs has at least confirmed that these are a class of mollusks separate from the bivalves. They lived semi-infaunally with the rostrum extending into the seawater to channel a flow of water into the body chamber for filter-feeding, much like infaunal bivalves today that have siphons. Rostroconchs and cephalopods appear to be sister groups, and some rostroconchs may have evolved into the scaphopods. Plenty of arguments to go around, though, on the evolution and diversification of mollusks
5 Thomas 1843 p 976 Thomas pl 8 fig 10 1843Captain Thomas Brown (1785-1862) named the genus Hippocardia in 1843. He was a Scottish naturalist who studied many topics, including mollusks. Above are the sections of his book The Elements of Fossil Conchology that describe and illustrate Hippocardia (considering it a bivalve). Captain Brown was born in Perth and went to school in Edinburgh. He joined the militia at 20, becoming a captain at 26. When he was transferred to Manchester, England, Brown acquired an interest in nature. He bought a flax mill after leaving the military, but it burned down while still uninsured. He thus turned to nature writing for support. He was became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1818, and in 1840 he was appointed curator of the Manchester Museum. He retained this position for the rest of his life. He was later a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a member, in classic 19th Century fashion, of several other groups, including the Wernerian, Kirwanian and Phrenological Societies. (I love the addition of phrenology to his interests!) The marine gastropod Zebina browniana d’Orbigny, 1842, was named after him. An interesting character, this Captain Brown, but I’ve been unable to find a single portrait of him.


Brown, T. 1843. The elements of fossil conchology according to the arrangement of Lamarck; with the newly established genera of other authors. Houlston & Stoneman, London; 133 pages.

Hoare, R.D. 1989. Taxonomy and paleoecology of Devonian rostroconch mollusks from Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 63: 838-846.

Pojeta, J., Jr., Runnegar, B. 1976. The paleontology of rostroconch mollusks and the early history of the phylum Mollusca. United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 968: 1-88.

Pojeta, J., Jr., Runnegar, B., Morris, N.J. and Newell, N.D. 1972. Rostroconchia: a new class of bivalved mollusks. Science 177: 264-267.

Runnegar, B., Goodhart, C.B. and Yochelson, E.L. 1978. Origin and evolution of the Class Rostroconchia [and discussion]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1001): 319-333.

Wagner, P.J. 1997. Patterns of morphologic diversification among the Rostroconchia. Paleobiology 23: 115-150.

Wooster’s Pseudofossils of the Week: Cone-in-cone structures from southern Ohio

October 30th, 2015

1 ShatterCones 585

Author’s note: James Chesire convinced me through the comments and later correspondence that what we actually have here are cone-in-cone structures, not shatter cones. I’ve thus changed the title but have left the post below in its original form. They are still pseudofossils. I’ll link here later for a full update. Thanks, James!

This complex rock was collected decades ago in Adams County, Ohio, by the late Professor Frank L. Koucky of The College of Wooster. He was at the time studying a strange geological feature in that part of the state known then as the Serpent Mound Cryptoexplosion Structure. He thought that the ring-like disturbance in the bedrock nearly 10 km wide was a place where “mantle gases” explosively erupted from below. The rock shown was going to be a key to deciphering the energy of these cataclysmic events. It is a set of shatter cones formed when enormous, high velocity pressures were applied to a micritic (fine-grained) limestone. Professor Koucky knew what these features represented, but they are still collected in that region and elsewhere as “fossils” by some because of their resemblance to corals. They are thus fine examples of pseudofossils, or inorganic features resembling fossils.

These shatter cones ended up showing conclusively that the event that caused the “bedrock disturbance” in southern Ohio was actually an ancient meteor impact, and the site is now known as the Serpent Mound Crater. This ancient crater (it may be as much as 320 million years old) has a central uplift surrounded by a ring graben (circular down-dropped rocks). It took a lot of clever geology to sort this out because known of it is now visible on the surface.
2 Shatter cones closerThe Serpent Mound shatter cones have a multiple long fractures running parallel to the cones, resembling hair or “horsetails”. The cones have horizontal step-like fractures on their broken surfaces. You can simulate this kind of structure by firing a BB or small rock at thick glass, which produces a conical fracture and perpendicular steps. To do this in a limestone requires between 20 and 200 kbar of pressure, which can only be achieved by a large meteorite impact or a nuclear explosion underground. More likely it was the former!
3 Shatter cones plan viewHere is what these shatter cones look like in plan view. The hole in the upper left is the tip of a cone that is not preserved.

So, shatter cones, despite their fine and repeatable details, are inorganic and not fossils of any kind. They represent enormous shock waves that left their marks as they passed through this limestone many millions of years ago.


Carlton, R.W., Koeberl, C., Baranoski, M.T. and Schumacher, G.A. 1998. Discovery of microscopic evidence for shock metamorphism at the Serpent Mound structure, south-central Ohio: confirmation of an origin by impact. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 162: 177-185.

Kenkmann, T., Poelchau, M.H., Trullenque, G., Hoerth, T., Schäfer, F., Thoma, K. and Deutsch, A. 2012. Shatter cones formed in a MEMIN impact cratering experiment. Meteoritics and Planetary Science Supplement 75: 5092.

Milton, D.J. 1977. Shatter cones – an outstanding problem in shock mechanics. In: Impact and Explosion Cratering: Planetary and Terrestrial Implications 1: 703-714.

Sagy, A., Fineberg, J. and Reches, Z. 2004. Shatter cones: Branched, rapid fractures formed by shock impact. Journal of Geophysical Research 109: B10209.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A starry bryozoan from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

September 11th, 2015

Constellaria polystomella Liberty Formation 585At this time of the year I pick out one interesting specimen from the fossils my Invertebrate Paleontology class collected on their first field trip into the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio. They did so well this week that I may be choosing a few more later! Our Fossil of the Week is the above bryozoan given the beautiful name Constellaria polystomella Nicholson, 1875. It was found by Jacob Nowell at the Caesar Creek Emergency Spillway in the Liberty Formation.
Constellaria Liberty closerConstellaria is a beautiful form, and one of the easiest bryozoans to recognize. Like all bryozooans, it was a colonial invertebrate with hundreds of filter-feeding individuals (zooids) housed in tiny tubes called zooecia. In Constellaria some of the zooecia are regularly grouped together and raised into star-shaped bumps called monticules. (The name Constellaria is clever.) This genus is a cystoporate bryozoan in the Family  Constellariidae.
JD Dana by Daniel Huntington 1858I was surprised to learn that Constellaria was named in 1846 by James Dwight Dana (1813-1895), one of the most accomplished American scientists of the 19th Century. He is best known for his Manual of Mineralogy (1848) which is still in print (greatly revised) and known as “Dana’s Mineralogy”. Dana (shown above in 1858) studied geology on scales from crystal structures to continents, with volcanoes and mountain-building in between. He had an affinity for “Zoophytes” (animals that appear to be plants), thus entangled him briefly with bryozoan systematics. Dana was born in Utica, New York, and attended Yale College, working under Benjamin Silliman, a famous chemist and mineralogist. After graduating from college he had a cool job teaching midshipmen in the US Navy, sailing through the Mediterranean in the process. For four years he served in the United States Exploring Expedition in the Pacific region. He made numerous important geological observations in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest that he later published in books and papers. He even dabbled in theology with books like Science and the Bible: A Review of the Six Days of Creation (1856). Dana died in 1895 having received numerous accolades and awards for his research and writing.


Brown, G.D., Jr., and Daly, E.J. 1985. Trepostome bryozoa from the Dillsboro Formation (Cincinnatian Series) of southeastern Indiana. Indiana Geological Survey Special Report 33: 1-95.

Cutler, J.F. 1973. Nature of “acanthopores” and related structures in the Ordovician bryozoan Constellaria. Living and Fossil Bryozoa. Academic Press, London, 257-260.

Dana J.D. 1846. Structure and classification of zoophytes. U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842, 7: 1-740.

Next »