On the first day of the Invertebrate Paleontology course at Wooster, I give all the students a fossil to identify as best they can. Everyone gets the same kind of specimen, and they can use any means to put as specific a name on it as possible. Most students struggle with the exercise, of course — I just want them to spend some time looking at fossils online and getting a feel for distinguishing characteristics and preservation. This week, though, one student nailed it. Meredith Mann (’16) identified the target fossil above as Tropidoleptus carinatus (Conrad, 1839) from the Middle Devonian of New York. I suppose if I asked she could have told me it was from the Kashong Shale Member of the Moscow Formation, and that it was collected by my friend Brian Bade. Nicely done, Meredith!
Tropidoleptus carinatus (Conrad, 1839) is a member of the Orthida, an order of brachiopods that lived from the Early Cambrian up to the Permian extinction. Orthids are a difficult group to characterize because they were so variable in shell shape and form. T. carinatus, for example, is one of the few orthids to have a concavo-convex shell, meaning that one side is concave (on the right in the image above) and the other convex (left). Most orthids are biconvex, meaning that both sides are convex. (A lima bean would also be biconvex by this definition.)
I like these little brachiopods because their shells are often encrusted by wonderful little creatures like bryozoans, Allonema, Ascodictyon, and microconchids. Each shell had the potential of hosting its own little community of encrusters.