Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: “Ghosts” in the Upper Ordovician of Kentucky

October 13th, 2017

This year Caroline Buttler (Department of Natural Sciences, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and I had a great project describing a cave-dwelling fauna in the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky. We hope that work will appear soon in the Journal of Paleontology. During our lab studies of thin-sections and acetate peels of massive trepostome bryozoans, we found several examples of clear calcite bodies in the middle of sediment-filled borings. These structures were described from the Ordovician of Estonia as “ghosts” of soft-bodied organisms by Wyse Jackson and Key (2007). They appear to be mineralized casts of organisms that were buried when sediment filled the borings that they occupied.

Meanwhile, Luke Kosowatz (’17) has a senior Independent Study project assessing bioerosion in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area. He and I have also found numerous examples of these ghosts in borings, so many that they have become a phenomenon in themselves for study. Above is an acetate peel made tangentially to the bryozoan surface showing the numerous tubular zooecia punctured by a few larger borings. Most of these borings are filled with sediment, but the two indicated by the arrows have these calcitic ghosts. This specimen is from the Corryville Formation near Washington, Mason County, Kentucky (38.609352°N latitude, 83.810973°W longitude; College of Wooster location C/W-10).

Above is one of our many heavily-bored trepostome bryozoans. This one comes from the Bellevue Formation (Katian) exposed on Bullitsville Road near the infamous Creation Museum (C/W-152). The irregular holes are the cylindrical boring Trypanites. The ghosts are not visible without sectioning.

Here is a close view of one of the ghostly calcitic casts in an acetate peel. The boundaries are sharp between the ghosts and the surrounding sediment.

The arrows above show ghosts in longitudinal cross-sections. Note their extended oval shapes. These are clearly organic shapes under these circumstances. (This is a thin-section.)

So what do the ghosts represent? They could be remains of the boring organisms themselves. If they are, they can be used to address a problem we have with bioerosion: What is the temporal relationship between the borings? How many were active in a given substrate at a given time? The percentage of borings with ghosts may give us a minimum amount of contemporary bioerosion. If, again, these are remnants of the borers themselves.

Maybe the ghosts are of later organisms that occupied the borings after the borers died? This happens often, with the secondary inhabitants called nestlers.

I know of no way to sort possible borers from nestlers with this kind of evidence.

The above image shows it’s possible that some of the ghosts are of organisms that had shells. The arrow is pointing to a dark line that may represent the remains of some type of shell. I’ve seen little tiny lingulid brachiopods in some borings before.

A fun mystery!

For technical interest, here is our photomicroscope we use to produce images like those in this post.


Cuffey, R.J. 1998. The Maysville bryozoan reef mounds in the Grant Lake Limestone (Upper Ordovician) of north-central Kentucky, in Davis, A., and Cuffey, R. J., eds., Sampling the layer cake that isn’t: the stratigraphy and paleontology of the type-Cincinnatian. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Guidebook 13: 38-44.

Wyse Jackson, P.N. and Key, M.M. Jr. 2007. Borings in trepostome bryozoans from the Ordovician of Estonia: two ichnogenera produced by a single maker, a case of host morphology control. Lethaia 40: 237-252.


Unknown fossils for the Invertebrate Paleontology class at Wooster

September 1st, 2017

I start my Invertebrate Paleontology classes with an unknown fossil given to each student. I pick something I have enough examples of so that everyone gets the same species. As their first assignment, the students are asked to identify their fossils as specifically as possible using whatever method works, short of asking me or my teaching assistant. Once they’ve identified their specimens, they are then asked to provide an age and likely location of collection. The beautiful fossils above were the unknowns for this semester’s class. Do you know what they are?


These are specimens of the trepostome bryozoan Prasopora falesi (James, 1884) from the Decorah Formation (Katian, Upper Ordovician) of Decorah, Iowa. They were collected by Rachel Wetzel (’17) as part of our Team Minnesota expedition in 2016. Four of my current students figured this out to the species level! Most knew we were in bryozoan territory.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A trilobite hypostome with an encrusting cyclostome bryozoan (Upper Ordovician of Kentucky)

May 26th, 2017

A quick post this week. Above is a bit of a large isotelid trilobite my students and I found this past spring break on an expedition to the Upper Ordovician (Katian) of northern Kentucky. It was collected at a roadside outcrop of the Corryville Formation (Location C/W-740). It doesn’t look like the usual trilobite bit because it is a less common fragment from the underside of the cephalon known as the hypostome (meaning “under mouth”). Note on the left side of the image some branching white encrustations, shown closer below.

These are encrusting cyclostome bryozoans known as Cuffeyella arachnoidea. The genus Cuffeyella was named in 1996 by two characters you know from this blog: Taylor & Wilson. As you can see, these particular specimens are in terrible shape. We have far better images of well-preserved Cuffeyella elsewhere on this blog. One of the lessons of a paleontological education, though, is to learn how to recognize fossils when they are not at their best.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week is now going to take a hiatus as the summer research and travel season begins. It will return later!


Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1996. Cuffeyella, a new bryozoan genus from the Late Ordovician of North America, and its bearing on the origin of the post-Paleozoic cyclostomates, p. 351-360. In: Gordon, D.P., A.M. Smith and J.A. Grant-Mackie (eds.), Bryozoans in Space and Time. Proceedings of the 10th International Bryozoology Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, 1995. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd, Wellington, 442 pages.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A Biserial Graptolite (Middle Ordovician of Tennessee)

April 21st, 2017

This week’s fossils are graptolites (from the Greek for written rocks) I found many years ago in the Lebanon Limestone near the town of Caney Springs south of Nashville, Tennessee. They are of the genus Amplexograptus and probably belong to the species A. perexcavatus (Lapworth, 1876).

Graptolites were colonial organisms consisting of hundreds and sometimes thousands of tiny zooids (individuals) connected together in a flexible proteinaceous skeleton (the rhabdosome). They first appeared in the Late Cambrian (around 510 million years ago) and disappeared forever in the Early Carboniferous (around 350 million years ago). Amplexograptus colonies were probably attached to floats so they could drift through the ancient oceans filtering out organic particles; they would be officially “passively mobile planktonic suspension feeders”. They belong to the Phylum Hemichordata, although there have always been disputes about their actual evolutionary relationships. This matters because graptolites are important index fossils for sorting out the age relationships of Lower and Middle Paleozoic rocks.

Graptolites are usually preserved as thin carbonaceous films on dark shales, making them rather hard to see (as my paleontology students will readily agree). The great 18th Century naturalist Linnaeus even said that they were “pictures resembling fossils rather than true fossils”. Sometimes, though, they are found in lighter-colored rocks like limestones, as above. Goldman et al. (2002) found Amplexograptus in limestones preserved in three dimensions, possibly because the limestones were cemented early around them before they collapsed with decay. They even studied this same species from the Lebanon Limestone. The 3-D preservation allows for a much more detailed analysis of the tiny cups (thecae) which held the individual zooids. It is possible that I could dissolve the limestone shown above and retrieve some delicate three-dimensional graptolites — but I could also just as easily destroy them.

Amplexograptus perexcavatus was originally described in 1876 by the famous geologist Charles Lapworth (1842-1920), who referred it to the genus Diplograptus. Actually, he had two species in his D. perexcavatus group, so it took some taxonomic detective and legal work to fix the current naming system. Lapworth, who I’ve figured below with an inset of his not-very-helpful diagram of the original D. perexcavatus, is well known by paleontologists for his work with graptolites as index fossils. Scientists and historians of science know him as the man who invented the Ordovician Period in 1879 to solve a bitter dispute between Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick who each claimed the same rock interval in Wales for the Silurian and Cambrian periods respectively. Lapworth’s primary biostratigraphic argument for the Ordovician as a separate period was the distribution of graptolites, including our friend Amplexograptus perexcavatus. (Murchison and Sedgwick were long gone by the time their dispute was settled.)

(Charles Lapworth. Image courtesy of The Lapworth Museum of Geology.)


Goldman, D., Campbell, S.M. and Rahl, J.M. 2002. Three-dimensionally preserved specimens of Amplexograptus (Ordovician, Graptolithina) from the North American mid-continent: taxonomic and biostratigraphic significance. Journal of Paleontology 76: 921-927.

Lapworth, C. 1876. The Silurian System in the South of Scotland, p. 1–28. In: Armstrong, J. Young, J. and Robertson, D. (eds.), Catalogue of Western Scottish Fossils. Blackie and Son, Glasgow.

[Originally posted August 28, 2011]

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A slab of Upper Ordovician bivalves from northern Kentucky

March 31st, 2017

Earlier this month, Luke Kosowatz, Matt Shearer and I went on a field trip through the Cincinnati region collecting Upper Ordovician (Katian) bryozoans and examples of bioerosion for their Independent Study projects and other investigations. I picked up the above slab and put it in our vehicle for future study not because of its beauty, but the preservational modes it displays. The black, rounded objects are bivalves, probably of the Order Modiomorphida. They are miserable fossils to identify because they originally had shells made of the mineral aragonite, which dissolved quickly after the animals died. What is left are a few scrappy molds and that black film. This is a common preservation of bivalves in the Cincinnatian.

This is the Corryville Formation outcrop from which the slab came. It is just west of Maysville, Kentucky, along the AA Highway (N 38.60750°, W 83.76775°; C/W-740).

Here is the slab along the roadside before we cleaned it up. Not much to see, really, except the low-relief black blobs that are remains of bivalves.

As you see, not much detail in the bivalves other than an outline matching somewhat the modiomorphids. Those of you with sharp paleontological eyes will note a round gray patch with radiating lines. This is a bryozoan that was attached to the bivalve shell. When the shell dissolved, the bryozoan attachment surface became visible. In other words, this is an upside-down encrusting bryozoan, a condition we’ve seen several times in this blog.

Here’s another bivalve with an upside-down encrusting bryozoan. This time you can see that the black film was underneath the bryozoan and on the outside of the bivalve shell. In a 2004 paper, Tim Palmer and I wrote: “We have also long been curious about why some of the epifaunal aragonitic Ordovician genera in the Cincinnatian such as Modiolopsis are preserved with a thick black outer shell covering (e.g. Pojeta 1971, pl. 15, fig. 6). It now seems likely that this was a hypertrophied periostracum that conferred some protection against dissolution during life, similar to the situation seen in Recent unionids that are susceptible to dissolution in their fresh-water habitats” (p. 425). Maybe it’s time we followed up on these speculations? I’m sure other paleontologists have had similar ideas.

Among the indistinct modiomorphid bivalves is this old friend: Ambonychia with its characteristic radiating ridges.


Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 2004. Calcite precipitation and dissolution of biogenic aragonite in shallow Ordovician calcite seas. Lethaia 37: 417-427.
Pojeta, J. 1971. Review of Ordovician pelecypods. United States Geological Survey, Professional Paper 695, 1-46.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Strophomenid brachiopods from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

March 24th, 2017

Usually I find fossils in the field or lab and then craft a Fossil of the Week entry around them. This time, though, I started with a paper and then searched for fossils to illustrate it. I found this recent paper very well done:

Bauer, J.E. and Stigall, A.L. 2016. A combined morphometric and phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician brachiopod genera Eochonetes and Thaerodonta. Journal of Paleontology 90: 888-909.

It does classic systematics on a group of brachiopods with the modern tools of morphometric and phylogenetic analyses. Its conclusions are direct and convincing: The genus Thaerodonta is synonymous with Eochonetes, and a variety of species are shifted around, solving problems that have lingered for over a century, Plus as a bonus, who can’t love a new species named Eochonetes voldemortus? So I set out to find specimens of this brachiopod group in our collections. Above are internal valve views of the brachiopod Eochonetes clarksvillensis (Foerste, 1912), showing characteristic denticles (little teeth) along the hinge line. Below are external valve views. Jen Bauer herself kindly confirmed the identifications!

These specimens come from the Waynesville Formation (Katian) exposed at Caesar Creek in southern Ohio, a place we have had many paleontology field trips. E. clarksvillensis is common in the Waynesville and overlying Liberty formations. Read much more about it in Bauer and Stigall (2016).

The genus Eochonetes was named by Frederick Richard Cowper Reed in 1917 from the Ordovician of Scotland. (The British Isles were not too far away from Ohio in the Late Ordovician.) Reed was born in London in 1869 and died in Cambridge, England, in 1946. I tried mightily but could find no images of him to enter into the digital archives of the web. He was a smart and diverse geologist, attending Trinity College, Cambridge, and winning important awards and scholarships. He was appointed assistant to the Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge in 1892, a position he kept until retirement. In 1901 he earned the Sedgwick Prize for his work on the rivers of East Yorkshire, wrote a book on the geology of the British Empire (much easier to do today!), and yet still found time to describe fossils in numerous papers.

The author of Eochonetes clarksvillensis is much better known to paleontologists of the Cincinnati region. It is August F. Foerste (1862-1936), who named Thaerodonta clarksvillensis in 1912. Foerste grew up and worked in the Dayton, Ohio, area, graduating from Denison University after publishing many papers as a student. He returned to Dayton after earning a PhD from Harvard, teaching high school for 38 years. When he retired he turned down a teaching position at the University of Chicago and instead worked at the Smithsonian Institution until the end of his life. He is one of the giants of the Cincinnati School of paleontology.


Bauer, J.E. and Stigall, A.L. 2016. A combined morphometric and phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician brachiopod genera Eochonetes and Thaerodonta. Journal of Paleontology 90: 888-909.

Reed, F.R.C. 1917. The Ordovician and Silurian Brachiopoda of the Girvan District: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 51: 795–998.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A large trepostome bryozoan on a nautiloid conch (Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky)

March 17th, 2017

This massive trepostome bryozoan, a solid lump of biogenic calcite, was collected earlier this week on the latest Team Cincinnati field expedition into the treasure-filled Upper Ordovician underlying and surrounding that city. Wooster students Matt Shearer, Luke Kosowatz and I are pursuing projects related to trepostome bryozoans and bioerosion (the biological destruction of hard substrates). The above specimen combines both these worlds, and more. Note the concavity at the base of the specimen. It comes from the Bellevue Formation (Katian) exposed on Bullitsville Road near the infamous Creation Museum (C/W-152).

Underneath the bryozoan colony (its zoarium) is this conical impression. It is an external mold of a straight nautiloid conch, the shell of a common squid-like cephalopod during the Ordovician. After the death of the nautiloid its empty tubular conch rested on the seafloor. This hard surface attracted the larvae of a variety of bryozoans that spread their calcitic zoaria (colonial skeletons) across the surface. Eventually one trepostome bryozoan species gained dominance over the space and occupied it all, growing into the large colony we see today. It even wrapped around the aperture of the conch (on the left) and grew a bit into the tube. Since the nautiloid conch was made of unstable aragonite, it long ago dissolved away, leaving an impression (external mold) in the stable calcite of the bryozoan.

How do we know there were earlier generations of bryozoans on this conch? We see them exposed upside-down on the surface of the external mold. Above we see the thin, branching cyclostome bryozoan Cuffeyella in the foreground, with a sheet of an encrusting trepostome bryozoan in the background. There are several other earlier bryozoans visible on this surface, revealing an ecological succession. There may be soft-bodied organisms preserved on this surface as well. This locality yielded the first described specimens of bioimmuration in the Ordovician (see Wilson et al., 1994).

There were other large trepostome bryozoans found in this same locality. I couldn’t resist cutting one in half to see what the inside looked like.

In this close view of the cross-section through the calcitic trepostome bryozoan we see numerous round holes drilled by some sort of worm seeking protective space so it could filter-feed. (In other words, it was not preying on the bryozoan.) The most intense boring of the specimen appears to have taken place just before and after the death of the colony. We know some borings were excavated into living bryozoan skeleton because the bryozoan formed reactive tissue around the intruder. The very tiny reddish-brown dots scattered in layers are “brown bodies“, the organic remnants of bryozoan polypides in their skeletal tubes (zooecia).

It has been a pleasure to return to the extraordinary Cincinnati fossils!


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

Wilson, M.A. 1985. Disturbance and ecologic succession in an Upper Ordovician cobble-dwelling hardground fauna. Science 228: 575-577.

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.

Team Cincinnati moves into Kentucky for additional fieldwork

March 12th, 2017

Maysville, Kentucky — It was another frigid morning under the clear, pitiless skies of the Cincinnati region, but Luke Kosowatz (’17) was in good spirits. He is collecting at our first stop of the day: an exposure of the Bellevue Formation (Upper Ordovician, Katian) along the Bullitsville Road in northern Kentucky (N 39.08121°, W 84.79230°; C/W-152). Luke is sorting out bioeroded bryozoans and brachiopods here.

Matt Shearer (’18) joins Luke on the outcrop. If the place looks familiar it’s because William Harrison (’15) and I were here almost exactly three years ago.

In cosmic irony, the Bullitsville outcrop is nearly a neighbor of the Creation Museum. It was closed this Sunday morning — who would have guessed? Do Creationists ponder the fact that their pseudoscientific establishment sits on an incredible record of fossils 450 million years old? They do indeed: “These conditions and processes would be expected during the global catastrophic Flood described in the Scriptures. The thin alternating coarse-grained limestone and fine-grained shale layers could be deposited quickly under such catastrophic conditions.” Of course.

We were also near Big Bone Lick State Park, the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology.

This site has an excellent life-sized diorama of Late Pleistocene animals (mammoths, mastodons, bison, ground sloths and even vultures) getting mired in bogs infused with salty water.

Team Cincinnati then traveled east for about an hour to the magnificent exposures of the Cincinnatian Group around Maysville, Kentucky. Here we targeted the Corryville Formation exposed along the AA Highway (N 38.60750°, W 83.76775°).

As with all our sites, the fossils are extraordinary. This is an ordinary slab of limestone from the Corryville with dozens of well-preserved strophomenid brachiopods.

For nostalgia on my part, we visited an outcrop along US 62 at the southern edge of Maysville where the Corryville Formation is again exposed (N 38.60932°, W 83.81070°). It is at this site that I collected a cave-dwelling bryozoan fauna now the subject of a manuscript Caroline Buttler (National Museum Wales) and I are finishing up this month. The cave interval was destroyed by later roadwork, but the remaining outcrops were superb for our purposes.

We ended the field day about seven kilometers north at another outcrop of the Corryville along US 62 (N 38.6445°, W 83.77678°).  I was so distracted by the diversity of fossils that I forgot to take pictures!

Dinner was at El Caminante Mexican Restaurant in Maysville. It was so good we are compelled to recommend it to future geological visitors.

Wooster Geologists launch Team Cincinnati 2017

March 11th, 2017

Harrison, Ohio — Our first fieldwork of the year started on this cold, cold March day in southeastern Indiana. (Note the white icicles on the outcrop.) Luke Kosowatz, Matt Shearer and I have begun our projects in the magnificent Cincinnatian Group (Upper Ordovician, Katian) with its fantastic fossils on the first day of Wooster’s spring break. Despite the sunlight, it was 19°F when we had to leave the warm vehicle to start collecting fossils at our first stop shown above. This is the US 27 roadcut outside Richmond, Indiana, beloved by paleontologists (N 39.78631°, W 84.90318°). Here the lower Whitewater Formation is well exposed and weathered just right to release millions of fossils from their rocky tombs. Luke is studying patterns of bioerosion (almost entirely borings) in the Cincinnatian for his Independent Study thesis, and Matt is examining the distribution of bryozoan taxa for his I.S. work. We’ll have more details on their investigations later.

Today we started at the top of the Cincinnatian Group and worked our way down section as we moved south through Indiana towards the Ohio River. One of our sites was the Brookville Lake Dam emergency spillway exposure, seen above on the other end of the dam.

We climbed up the dam itself to get to the spillway exposure, which is magnificent. We did not collect here, though, because we couldn’t assure tight stratigraphic control of our specimens. There is too much downslope movement of fossils and rocks at this site for us to be certain about the horizons from which the fossils came.

Southgate Hill is a spectacular series of roadcuts north of St. Leon, Indiana (N 39.33909°, W 84.95306°). Matt and Luke are here collecting from the top of the Waynesville Formation.

Our last outcrop of the day was at the top of this sequence of limestones and shales exposed at another large roadcut, this one near Lawrenceburg, Indiana (N 39.09863°, W 84.87683°). At the very top is the rubbly Bellevue Formation, from which we collected magnificent trepostome bryozoans, many with beautiful borings.

Despite the temperatures, we had fun today and look forward to another three days of field paleontology in what must be the most fossiliferous rocks in the world. We are fortunate to live so close to these treasures.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Encrusting craniid brachiopods (Upper Ordovician of southeastern Indiana)

March 10th, 2017

The two irregular patches above are brachiopods known as Petrocrania scabiosa encrusting the ventral valve of yet another brachiopod (Rafinesquina). That species name “scabiosa” is evocative if not a little unpleasant — it is also the root of the English “scab”.

Petrocrania scabiosa is in a group of brachiopods we used to call “inarticulates” because their two valves are not articulated by a hinge as they are in most brachiopods. Instead they are held together by a complex set of muscles. Now we place these brachiopods in the Class Craniforma, an ancient group which originated in the Cambrian and is still alive today.

Petrocrania scabiosa was a filter-feeder like all other brachiopods, extracting nutrients from the seawater with a fleshy lophophore. The Wooster specimens are part of our large set of encrusting fossils (a type of sclerobiont) in our hard substrate collection. They have irregular shells that are circular in outline when they grew alone, and angular when they grew against each other.

Some craniid brachiopods were so thin that their shells repeated the features of the substrate underneath them, a phenomenon known as xenomorphism (“foreign-form”).

Petrocrania scabiosa brachiopods (circular) on a Rafinesquina brachiopod, along with a trepostome bryozoan that encrusted some brachiopods and grew around others. The P. scabiosa on the far left shows xenomorphic features. Specimen borrowed from the University of Cincinnati paleontology collections.

A 2007 College of Wooster paleontology field trip to the Upper Ordovician locality near Richmond, Indiana, where these specimens were found. Students are in the traditional paleontological poses.

[Originally published May 22, 2011.]

Next »