A paleontology field trip into the Upper Ordovician of Ohio

September 8th, 2013

DSC_2515The 2013 Invertebrate Paleontology class at Wooster had its first field trip today. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the usual boatload of fossils was collected. We traveled this year to Caesar Creek State Park and worked in the emergency spillway created and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the Caesar Creek Lake dam. Exposed here are the Arnheim, Waynesville, Liberty and Whitewater Formations of the Richmondian Stage in the Cincinnatian Series of the Ordovician System. These units are enormously rich with fossils, especially brachiopods, bryozoans, trilobites, clams, snails, nautiloids, corals and crinoids. There is no better place to get students started on paleontological fieldwork, and to follow up with lab preparation, identification and interpretation throughout the semester.

Spillway090813The Caesar Creek Lake emergency spillway is at N 39.480069°, W 84.056832° along Clarksville Road just south of the dam. The authorities keep it clear of vegetation, and so it is an extensive exposure of bare rock and sediment. The sharp southern boundary is the rock wall shown in the top image (with the intrepid Willy Nelson and Zach Downes). Students quickly fanned out along the entire exposure, so I never did get an image of the whole class of 22 students in one place.

DSC_2505This is the bedding plane of a slab of micritic limestone with numerous worm burrows. Trace fossils are very abundant here. These units, in fact, have some of the first trace fossils to be specifically described in North America.

DSC_2506On some limestone slabs are internal and external molds of straight orthocerid nautiloids. They are often paired like this, with both facing in the same direction. This is an effect of seafloor currents that oriented the shells. The current here was flowing from the left to the right.

DSC_2508Many of the limestones are extremely rich in shelly fossils. Here you can see several types of brachiopods, an isotelid trilobite genal spine, and some molluscan internal molds.

DSC_2511I always check in here with my favorite borings: Petroxestes pera. These are bivalve incisions on a cemented seafloor (a carbonate hardground). This is the type area for this ichnogenus and ichnospecies.

DSC_2512Two of our sophomore paleo students, Michael Williams and Adam Silverstein, are here happily filling their sample bags with fossils. I wanted to get a photo of them in the field because they had such a geologically adventurous summer in both cool and wet Iceland and hot, dry Utah. Not many sophomores have these opportunities!

DSC_2520Here is another pair of nautiloids, this time showing the characteristic internal mold features of curved septal walls. Again they are nestled together and oriented because of seafloor currents.

For the rest of the semester the paleo students will be studying the fossils they collected today, each eventually constructing a paleoecological interpretation based on their identifications and growing knowledge of marine invertebrate life habits and history. Now we’re really doing paleontology!

Sed/Strat goes local with its field trip: the Meadville Shale and the Logan Formation (Lower Carboniferous)

April 27th, 2013

MeadvilleB042713WOOSTER, OHIO–The traditional spring field trip in the Sedimentology & Stratigraphy course at Wooster is taken several hours south, usually in Jackson County or, as last year, in a soggy quarry outside of Dayton. This time, though, we stayed nearby, measuring and describing the local bedrock: the Meadville Shale Member and the Logan Formation, both in the Lower Carboniferous. We had a spectacular day with the best weather Ohio can offer.

Our first location, shown above, was in Lodi Community Park about 20 miles north of Wooster. A tributary of the Black River (the East Fork Black River) flows through a small valley, exposing the Meadville Shale in its steep sides. The Meadville is a member of the Cuyahoga Formation and is late Kinderhookian in age. The students above are beginning to measure the unit with their Jacob’s staffs.

MeadvilleA042713Candy Thornton and William Harrison are here at the exposed base of the Meadville. They’re taking a break from geology to examine a salamander they found on this fine spring morning.

Spiriferid042713 The Meadville is in part very fossiliferous. We found crinoids, bryozoans, bivalves and brachiopods like this nice spiriferid above.

FluteMarks042713 An interesting feature on the soles of some thin siltstones are these long, parallel grooves called flute marks. They were made when shells were dragged across a muddy substrate, leaving scour marks. We think they represent the basal unit of thin turbidites formed by sediment slurries that flowed across the seafloor.

SarahF042713Sarah Frederick climbed high on the outcrop with a measuring staff to describe the transition from a silty shale to a very fine sandstone.

PicnicTable042713Here a group of Wooster geologists compares notes as they construct their stratigraphic columns. Yes, this sunlight felt very good to us.

Logan042713Our afternoon stop was in southeastern Wooster along the onramp from north Route 83 to east Route 30. The Logan Formation exposed here is a Lower Carboniferous (early Osagean) very fine sandstone and conglomerate. This site is near what was once known as “Little Arizona” to older Wooster geologists. That exposure was mostly removed when this new onramp was constructed.

Conglomerate042713The base of the Logan has an extensive conglomerate sometimes referred to as the Berne Member. As you can see, it mostly consists of rounded quartz and chert pebbles, making it a very mature sediment.

Dewatering042713One of the distinctive features of this Logan outcrop are these large dewatering structures. These form when a water-rich slurry of sediment is forced upwards through the sediment above. Vertical channels are made between the rounded bases of sandstone bodies. One interpretation of these structures is that they were produced an earthquake shaking the water-saturated sediment. If this was the case, we would call these seismites.

LoganGroup042713Here a happy group of geologists is returning to the vans with various fossil and rock specimens. Now it’s time to write the reports!



Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A camerate crinoid from the Lower Carboniferous of north-central Ohio

April 7th, 2013

Cusacrinus_daphne033013Visitors often bring rocks and fossils to the Geology Department for identification. We love to solve the puzzles (or at least make the attempt), and our new friends appreciate names and ages for their treasures. (Usually. We’ve disappointed more than a few finders of “meteorites”.) Last week a home-schooling group came in from nearby Ashland with a tray of stones they found in a stream bed eroding an exposure of the Lower Carboniferous (Kinderhookian) Meadville Shale Member of the Cuyahoga Formation. One of the objects was the spectacular fossil shown above.

This is a calyx and the attached arms (essentially the “head”) of a camerate crinoid known as Cusacrinus daphne (Hall, 1863). (Our friend Bill Ausich of Ohio State University provided the identification — these crinoids are his speciality.) It is preserved as an external mold, meaning that the actual skeleton was covered in sediment (or in this case a concretion) and then dissolved away, leaving a cavity showing a mold of its exterior details. It is a rare fossil to find in our part of the world.

CrinoidCalyx033013Above is a close-up of the calyx of Cusacrinus daphne (Hall, 1863). Note the radiating ridges on the exteriors of each thecal plate. They are characteristic of this species.

CrinoidArms033013These are some of the arms of the crinoid. They are complex because each arm is lined with tiny branches called pinnules, making feather-like extensions for filter-feeding.

Thank you to our new Ashland friends for sharing such a beauty with us!


Ausich, W.I. and Roeser, E.W. 2012. Camerate and disparid crinoids from the Late Kinderhookian Meadville Shale, Cuyahoga Formation of Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 86: 488-507.

Kammer, T.W. and Roeser, E.W. 2012. Cladid crinoids from the Late Kinderhookian Meadville Shale, Cuyahoga Formation of Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 86: 470-487.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A glass sponge from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

January 13th, 2013

Pattersonia ulrichi Rauff, 1894_585Like all those who teach, I learn plenty from my students, sometimes with a simple question. Richa Ekka (’13) asked me last semester during a paleontology lab if the above specimen was really a trace fossil as I had labeled it. I collected this curious fossil many years ago and had assumed then and ever since that it was an odd burrow system preserved on the base of a bed of limestone. That I had no idea what kind of trace fossil it was didn’t seem to bother me. When Richa questioned the specimen, I picked it up and looked closely and saw that, indeed, it had a reticulate structure (shown below) that demonstrated it was certainly no fossil burrow. Richa was right.
Pattersonia ulrichi closerI began to search the paleontological literature for Ordovician sponges and quickly found the genus Pattersonia Miller, 1889, in the Family Pattersoniidae Miller, 1889, of the Class Hexactinellida (below). The lobes on this specimen match those of our fossil very closely, as does the more detailed reticulate structure.
Pattersonia aurita (Beecher)Pattersonia aurita (Beecher), Brannon, A.M. Peter farm, northern Fayette  County, Kentucky (from McFarlan, 1931).

After reviewing more articles, it is clear that the Wooster sponge is Pattersonia ulrichi Rauff, 1894. It has doubled our collection of Ordovician sponges. Thanks, Richa!


Finks, R.M. 1967. S.A. Miller’s Paleozoic sponge families of 1889. Journal of Paleontology 41: 803-807.

McFarlan, A.C. 1931. The Ordovician fauna of Kentucky, p. 49-165, in: Jillson, W.R., ed., Paleontology of Kentucky, Kentucky Geological Survey, Frankfort, Kentucky.

Rauff, H. 1894. Palaeospongiologie. E. Schweizer-bartśche Verlagsbuchhandlung (E. Koch.).

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bivalve boring from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

December 16th, 2012

This week’s fossil is from close to home. In fact, it sit in my office. The above is a trace fossil named Petroxestes pera. It was produced on a carbonate hardground by a mytilacean bivalve known as Modiolopsis (shown below). Apparently the clam rocked back and forth on this substrate to make a small trench to hold it in place for its filter-feeding. This particular specimen of Petroxestes was found in the Liberty Formation (Upper Ordovician) of Caesar Creek State Park in southern Ohio. This is a place many Wooster paleontology students know well from field trips.
The original Petroxestes was at first known only from the Cincinnatian Group, but now it is known from many other places and time intervals, even including the Cretaceous and Miocene. It is a good lesson about trace fossils. They are defined by their morphology, not what organisms made them. It turns out that this slot-shaped trace can be made by other animals besides Modiolopsis, which went extinct in the Permian.


Jagt, J.W.M., Neumann, C. and Donovan, S.K. 2009. Petroxestes altera, a new bioerosional trace fossil from the upper Maastrichtian (Cretaceous) of northeast Belgium. Bulletin de l’Institut royal des Sciences naturelles de Belgique, Sciences de la Terre 79: 137-145.

Pickerill, R.K., Donovan, S.K. and Portell, R.W. 2001. The bioerosional ichnofossil Petroxestes pera Wilson and Palmer from the Middle Miocene of Carriacou, Lesser Antilles. Caribbean Journal of Science 37: 130-131.

Pojeta Jr., J. and Palmer, T.J. 1976. The origin of rock boring in mytilacean pelecypods. Alcheringa 1: 167-179.

Tapanila, L. and Copper, P. 2002. Endolithic trace fossils in Ordovician-Silurian corals and stromatoporoids, Anticosti Island, eastern Canada. Acta Geologica Hispanica 37: 15–20.

Wilson, M.A. and Palmer, T.J. 1988. Nomenclature of a bivalve boring from the Upper Ordovician of the midwestern United States. Journal of Paleontology 62: 306-308.

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 spiriferid brachiopod (Middle Devonian of northwestern Ohio)

October 14th, 2012

I begin my Invertebrate Paleontology course by giving each student a common fossil to identify “by any means necessary”. This year I gave everyone a gray little brachiopod, one of which is shown above. They did pretty well. Kevin Silver (’13) got it down to the genus quickly. Turns out a Google image search on “common fossil” is very effective!

This is Mucrospirifer mucronatus (Conrad, 1841), a beautiful spiriferid brachiopod from the Silica Shale Formation (Middle Devonian) of Paulding County, northwestern Ohio. I collected it and many others at a quarry on a crisp October day with my friend and amateur paleontological colleague Brian Bade.

The image at the head of this page is a view of the dorsal valve exterior of Mucrospirifer mucronatus; the image immediately above is the ventral valve exterior. Spiriferid brachiopods like this are characterized by extended “wings” and a long hingeline. Inside was their defining feature: a spiral brachidium that held a delicate tentacular feeding device known as the lophophore.

This is the anterior of our brachiopod. The fold in the middle helped keep incurrent and excurrent flows separate, enabling more efficient filter-feeding. (By the way, have you noted the quirky asymmetry of this specimen?)

A view of the quarry that yielded our Fossil of the Week. Note the happy amateurs picking through blast piles of the Silica Shale Formation (Middle Devonian).

A pond in the quarry. It has an unexpected beauty, muddy as it is.

Timothy Abbott Conrad (1803-1877) described Mucrospirifer mucronatus in 1841. We met him before when discussing a siliquariid gastropod. He was a paleontologist in New York and New Jersey, and a paleontological consultant to the Smithsonian Institution.


Tillman, J.R. 1964. Variation in species of Mucrospirifer from Middle Devonian rocks of Michigan, Ontario, and Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 38: 952-964.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Beautiful molds on a concretion (Lower Carboniferous of Ohio)

September 30th, 2012

Kit Price (’13) was exploring a local creek on a Geomorphology course field trip north of Wooster led by Dr. Greg Wiles. Like the excellent paleontologist Kit is, her eyes continually searched the pebbles, cobbles, slabs and outcrops for that distinctive outline of something fossilian. This particular place has been in the blog before, so we know the stratigraphic and geological context of the rocks. Kit saw the curious golden brown, rounded rock above and immediately noted the presence of several fossils on its exterior. She collected it, cleaned it up, and the two of us examined the treasures.

Here is the key to what we found: A = trilobite pygidium external mold (more on this below); B = productid brachiopod dorsal valve internal mold; C = replaced bivalve shell fragment; D = productid brachiopod ventral valve external mold; E = nautiloid external mold. There are also external molds of twiggy bryozoans on the surface, but they are too small to distinguish in this view.

This rock is an ironstone concretion formed within the Meadville Member of the Cuyahoga Formation (Kinderhookian; Lower Carboniferous). It weathered out of the softer shale matrix and lay free on the creek bed. The original shells of the various fossils were dissolved away after burial, either being replaced with iron oxides (like the bivalve) or just remaining as open cavities (the molds). They represent a little survey of some of the animals that lived in this shallow, muddy seaway. Most of these fossils would have been lost to the dissolution, but the hard concretion preserved them.

The most interesting fossil here is the external mold of the trilobite pygidium (or tail piece). We don’t see these very often in Carboniferous and later rocks. The group is dwindling in advance of their final extinction at the end of the Permian period. I suspect this is the pygidium of Brachymetopus nodosus Wilson, 1979. I can only guess this, though, because only the cephalon (or head) of B. nodosus was described originally from the Meadville Member. This may be the long-missing pygidium of that species. It certainly has the little bumps that we would expect. (By the way, if you stare at the above image long enough, it appears in positive relief rather than the actual negative relief (or hole) that it is. It “pops out”, giving a view of what it may have looked like in life.)

Thanks, Kit, for such a nice view of a local Carboniferous community! It also brought back fond memories of my own local explorations as a Wooster student long, long ago.


Corbett, R.G. and Manner, B.G. 1988. Geology and habitats of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, Ohio. Ohio Journal of Science 88: 40-47.

Wilson, M.A. 1979. A new species of the trilobite Brachymetopus from the Cuyahoga Formation (Lower Mississippian) of northeastern Ohio. Journal of Paleontology 53: 221-223.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: a beautiful phacopid trilobite (Middle Devonian of Ohio, USA)

August 5th, 2012

Trilobites are always favorite fossils, especially big bug-eyed ones like Phacops rana (Green, 1832) shown above. It is, in fact, the state fossil of Pennsylvania after a petition from schoolchildren in 1988. This specimen is from the Middle Devonian of northwestern Ohio. Trilobites were Paleozoic arthropods with a hard dorsal skeleton divided into numerous segments. They look rather cute and brainy because of a swelling between the eyes (the glabella), but that space prosaically contained the stomach. Many trilobites, like this one, could roll up into balls when stressed, much like pill bugs today.

Phacops was studied by paleontologist Niles Eldredge in the early 1970s as the start of what became the theory of punctuated equilibria. The arrangement of lenses in the eyes show rapid changes in short intervals of geological time, which provided evidence for the theory he presented with colleague Stephen Jay Gould.

Phacops rana was named by Jacob Green in 1832. He called it Calymene bufo rana. Hall (1861) renamed it Phacops rana, which was confirmed by Eldedge (1972). Struve (1990) placed it in the new genus Eldredgeops (named after you know who), but I prefer the older name.
Jacob Green (1790-1841) was one of those early 19th Century American polymaths. He was a lawyer, a chemist, a physician, an astronomer, and a paleontologist. He came from a religious family, with both his father and grandfather being theologians. His father, in fact, was at one time president of Princeton University. Jacob graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at the young age of 16, and he published a treatise on electricity when he was 19. He did lawyering for a few years before becoming a professor at (you guessed it) Princeton (and later Jefferson Medical College). He published an amazing array of diverse scientific papers in his career. A trip to England introduced him to trilobites. He then spent a decade putting together a monograph on the trilobites of North America — the first ever.


Eldredge, N. 1972. Systematics and evolution of Phacops rana (Green, 1832) and Phacops iowensis Delo, 1935 (Trilobita) for the Middle Devonian of North America. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 147:45-114.

Eldredge, N. 1973. Systematics of Lower and Lower Middle Devonian species of the trilobite Phacops Emmrich in North America. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 151:285-338.

Green, J. 1832. A Monograph of the Trilobites of North America. Philadelphia.

Hall, J. 1861. Descriptions of new species of fossils from the Upper Helderberg, Hamilton, and Chemung Groups. N.Y. State Cab. Nat. Hist., Ann. Rept. No. 14.

Struve, W. 1990. Paläozoologie III (1986-1990). Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 127: 251-279.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mastodon tusk (Late Pleistocene of Holmes County, Ohio)

June 24th, 2012

This long and weathered tusk sits in a display case outside my office. It is from the American Mastodon (Mammut americanum) and was found many decades ago in Holmes County, just south of Wooster. A tooth found with it was a previous Fossil of the Week. Such tusks are rather rare because the ivory tends to disintegrate faster than tooth and bone. Our specimen is, in fact, hollow and held together by wires.
Above is a closer view of the proximal end of the tusk (the part closest to the face). You can see the hollowness and, curiously, that the ivory is charred. I used to tell students that the mastodon must have been hit by lightning, but I stopped when they took me too seriously!

This gives me a chance to mention a mastodon specimen I recently saw in a visit earlier this month to this famous place:
Monticello is, of course, the home of Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and the third president of the United States. Jefferson was a science enthusiast, and paleontology was one of his passions. He was fascinated with ancient life, and some have considered him the first American paleontologist. One room of the White House, for example, appears to have been devoted to his fossil bone collection.

Mastodons were particularly interesting to Jefferson because of an odd idea that was in vogue in France at the time. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a famous French naturalist, wrote that “a niggardly sky and an unprolific land” caused life in the New World to be weak, small and degenerate. Life in North America was considered by the French to be quite inferior to that in Europe. Jefferson knew, of course, this was nuts. Having the bones of a North American elephant, as large or larger than any other elephants, would show the Frenchies how wrong they were. And Buffon eventually agreed, although he died before he could correct his books.
Above is a lower jawbone of Mammut americanum in Monticello. I wish I could have taken my own photograph, but this was not allowed. I’ve had to make do with one of their images online.

Curiously, Jefferson had one serious deficit when it comes to calling him a paleontologist. He apparently did not believe that species ever go extinct. When he dispatched Lewis and Clark on their expedition, for example, he expected them to find living mastodons deep in the American interior. Too bad they didn’t!


Conniff, R. 2010. Mammoths and Mastodons: All American Monsters. Smithsonian Magazine, April 2010.

Semonin, P. 2000. American Monster: How the Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity. New York University Press, New York, 502 pages.

Thomson, K.S. 2008. The Legacy of the Mastodon: the Golden Age of Fossils in America. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: a trilobite burrow (Upper Ordovician of Ohio)

May 27th, 2012

This is one of my favorite trace fossils. Rusophycus pudicum Hall, 1852, is its formal name. It was made by a trilobite digging down into the seafloor sediment back during the Ordovician Period in what is now southern Ohio. It may have been hiding from a passing predator (maybe a eurypterid!), just taking a “rest” (what I learned in college), or maybe looking for worms to eat. (There is another example on this blog from the Cambrian of western Canada.)

Rusophycus is always the first trace fossil I introduce in the Invertebrate Paleontology course because it is simple in form and complex in interpretation. It shows that a relatively straightforward process (digging down with its two rows of legs) can have had several motivations. Rusophycus even shows that more than one kind of organism can make the same type of trace. Rusophycus is also found in the Triassic, long after trilobites went extinct. (These were likely made by horseshoe crabs.) It is also good for explaining the preservation of trace fossils. The specimen above is “convex hyporelief”, meaning it is on the bottom of the sedimentary bed and convex (sticking out rather than in). This is thus sediment that filled the open trilobite excavation.

Trilobites making Rusophycus (from http://www.geodz.com/deu/d/Trilobita).

James Hall (1811–1898) named Rusophycus pudicum in 1852. The image of him above is from shortly before his death (photograph credit: The American Monthly Review of Reviews, v. 18, 1898, by Albert Shaw). He was a legendary geologist, and the most prominent paleontologist of his time. He became the first state paleontologist of New York in 1841, and in 1893 he was appointed the New York state geologist. His most impressive legacy is the large number of fossil taxa he named and described, most in his Palaeontology of New York series.

James Hall is in my academic heritage. His advisor was Amos Eaton (1776-1842), a self-educated geologist (he learned it by reading in prison!). One of James Hall’s students was Charles Schuchert (1856-1942), a prominent invertebrate paleontologist. Schuchert had a student named Carl Owen Dunbar (1891-1979) — Schuchert and Dunbar were coauthors of a famous geology textbook. Dunbar had a student at Yale named William B.N. Berry (1931-2011), my doctoral advisor. Thus I feel an intellectual link to old man Hall above.


Baldwin, C.T. 1977. Rusophycus morgati: an asaphid produced trace fossil from the Cambro-Ordovician of Brittany and Northwest Spain. Palaeontology 51: 411–425.

Donovan, S.K. 2010. Cruziana and Rusophycus: trace fossils produced by trilobites … in some cases? Lethaia 43: 283–284.

Hall, J., Simpson, G.B. and Clarke, J.M. 1852. Palaeontology of New York: Organic remains of the Lower Middle Division of the New-York System. C. Van Benthuysen, New York, 792 pages.

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