Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Review

Five years in and I still can't say all that much about what people will like. I know that dinosaur posts attract more attention than posts on other topics. "The secret identity of 'Agathaumas'" was comfortably the most viewed post of 2018, although from my point of view as the writer, I thought it was only going to be a little historical goof. "Dryosaurus elderae and the revenge of Nanosaurus agilis" attracted the most comments (side note: I noticed at SVP that several Morrison posters had Nanosaurus where Othnielosaurus or other names might have been used, so it's something that has spread quickly.) The two titanosaur posts early in the year got a good reaction ("Titanosaurs all the way down" and "Titanosaurs in time and space"), inspiring the dive into "Your Friends The Titanosaurs", which may well kill me one of these days, but it's not like I was doing anything important otherwise. On the other hand, I thought "Tracking sloths and people at White Sands National Monument" would have attracted more interest; I mean, come on, giant sloths, human tracks, it sells itself! A couple were better ideas in concept than in writing ("Fossil Bison of the National Park Service" and "'Prorichthofenia': brachiopod horn corals" come to mind), and "Decorah gastropods (and some things that look like gastropods)" was definitely more work than reward. Something else: I'm sure I've said this before, but I think I've rather thoroughly mined Twin Cities geology for topics by this point.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 7.5: Baalsaurus mansillai

So now someone has gone and published a new titanosaur that would fit in the part of the alphabet we've already covered. We'll just have to kind of wedge it in, if you can buy the idea of wedging a titanosaur into anything.

When the news that a dinosaur named Baalsaurus had been published broke Monday on the Dinosaur Mailing List (thanks to Ben Creisler for keeping us all up to date!), I immediately wondered what the connection was with Baal, the Phoenician fertility god moonlighting as an Abrahamic heavy. (Spoiler: it's secondhand—"Baal" is the name of the locality.) I wasn't expecting a medium-sized, square-jawed, seemingly inoffensive South American titanosaur. Still, it works in a certain theological sense. Looking at it from a Phoenician point of view, titanosaurs clearly were doing something right with regard to fertility, so it's entirely appropriate for Baalsaurus to be a titanosaur. From the demonic usage of Baal, if you were thinking Baalsaurus would be something a bit more "heavy metal album cover", sure, you'd be disappointed. On the other hand, if you accept the proposition that forces of evil and suffering in the world are generally much more mundane than supernatural humanoids, a titanosaur is more fitting than a slavering theropod.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 7: Barrosasaurus, Baurutitan, and Bonatitan

We come now to a sauropod that acts as a titanosaurian frame of reference (Baurutitan britoi), a sauropod that gets overshadowed by another sauropod with a very similar name (Bonatitan reigi), and Barrosasaurus casamiquelai, which is kind of stuck waiting for the rest of Titanosauria to get sorted out.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Ordovician updates

A few miscellaneous items to clear out of my Ordovician inbox, involving new members of Club Late Ordovician, conulariids, and pseudofossils:

Camp Nelson National Monument

Since we were introduced to Club Late Ordovician two years ago, two more parks have joined this exclusive organization for National Park Service units that include fossiliferous Upper Ordovician rocks. One is Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, thanks to some isolated occurrences of the Platteville and Decorah that were protected from erosion by ancient faulting along the St. Croix Valley. These outliers represent the most northerly and landward outcrops of these formations, and are worth a post of their own at some point. The other new member is the newest NPS unit, Camp Nelson National Monument in Kentucky.

Right on cue, it's a map with a giant caption! (It's the map from the 2016 post with the two new points added, #9 and #14.) 1. Death Valley National Park; 2. Great Basin NP; 3. Yellowstone NP; 4. Grand Teton NP; 5. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area; 6. Big Bend NP; 7. Chickasaw NRA; 8. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area; 9. Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway; 10. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; 11. Effigy Mounds National Monument; 12. Buffalo National River; 13. Hot Springs NP; 14. Camp Nelson NM; 15. Stones River National Battlefield; 16. Natchez Trace Parkway; 17. Katahdin Woods & Waters NM; 18. Saratoga National Historical Park; 19. Delaware Water Gap NRA; 20. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park; 21. Denali NP & Preserve. The grey blob is the known extent of the Deicke K-bentonite.

Camp Nelson is rather more famous for its Civil War history, but the Camp Nelson area is also notable for its geology. In fact, per Andrews (2005), "Because of the quality of exposures, accessibility, and the importance of the site in research and geologic education, the Kentucky Society of Professional Geologists has named the Camp Nelson area as Distinguished Geologic Site 2."

The park overlays four Ordovician formations, in ascending order the Camp Nelson Limestone, Oregon Limestone, Tyrone Limestone, and Lexington Limestone (Wolcott 1969). They are all examples of your classic marine Ordovician limestones; no points for guessing that brachiopods and nautiloids are implicated in Camp Nelson NM joining Club Late Ordovician. (Not surprisingly, these limestone formations are also karst-formers, and caves and sinkholes are common in the area.) The Tyrone Limestone is known to include the Deicke K-bentonite (Kolata et al. 1996), making it partially correlative in time to the Decorah Shale. Redating of the Middle/Late Ordovician boundary may in fact put all four of these limestones into the Late Ordovician.

As the name indicates, the Camp Nelson Limestone was described from the area of Camp Nelson (Miller 1905); the type locality is a little to the south of the monument, around the area of the Kentucky River crossing. You can also find some nice faulting on the south side of the river (Andrews 2005). The Camp Nelson Limestone appears to be the oldest formation exposed in Kentucky. This was a bit surprising to me, and leads to the reflection that, thanks to accidents of geography and erosion, the bedrock at the surface in the entire state of Kentucky is younger than most of the bedrock exposed in Minnesota.

Hiding conulariids

I really hope to have a more complete update later, but suffice it to say that while tracking down references to a conulariid species from the Grand Canyon, I stumbled across George Winston Sinclair's 1948 thesis on conulariids. In this thesis there is a great deal of information about Minnesota's Ordovician conulariids that Sinclair did not publish in his lifetime, including several unpublished species. There is also the implication that at one time the University of Minnesota collections contained two-to-three-dozen conulariid specimens from the Glenwood Formation on up. This came as a surprise, because I did not recall having seen more than a half-dozen or so on my trips. Several possibilities presented themselves:
  • The conulariids were being kept separately from the other fossils when I visited, or were just somewhere I hadn't known to look;
  • The conulariids have been lost or stolen: if so, not much more can be added;
  • The conulariids passed into Sinclair's hands: this seemed worth following, because Sinclair built up a collection of conulariids and I knew that certain elements of the University of Minnesota collections had gone to others. For example, material from Berkey's Taylors Falls work was donated to the Smithsonian in recent years (Yochelson and Webers 2006).
I checked with folks at the University of Minnesota, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, and the Canadian Museum of Nature (the latter two institutions associated with Sinclair), but no luck to date. Hopefully this all works out in the wash. By way of apology, here's a photo of the type specimen of Ctenoconularia obex, one of the few Minnesota species Sinclair ended up publishing.

UMPC 6608, holotype of the conulariid Ctenoconularia obex, from the "Sprechs Ferry" (=lower Decorah) of Minneapolis.

One other conulariid note:
It turned out that one of the other conulariids Sinclair named came from the St. Peter Sandstone of Minnesota: Climacoconus humilis, described in Sinclair (1942) and promptly forgotten by virtually the entire universe (it's based on Carnegie Museum 4753 from Faribault, by the way). Maybe it's just my myopia showing, but it doesn't seem right that it's made almost no impression in the literature, even to be refuted. We are, after all, dealing not only with the St. Peter Sandstone, famous for having practically no body fossils, but also an uncommon and distinctive type of fossil!

Dystactophycus revisited

Back in July 2016, I showed a photo of a strange rock with concentric rings, which provided an excuse to riff on Dystactophycus, a possible trace fossil of a swirling crinoid. At the time, I thought it was unlikely that the photographed rock was Dystactophycus, or indeed of organic origin at all. A few months ago, the collector confirmed my general suspicions: he told me that mutual acquaintances have identified it as a modern fracture pattern, consistent with his later observations of features produced by air hammers punching into the Platteville.


Andrews, W. M., Jr. 2005. Geology and the Civil War in central Kentucky: Camp Nelson. Field Trip Guidebook, American Institute of Professional Geologists 42nd Annual Meeting.

Kolata, D. R., W. D. Huff, and S. M. Bergström. 1996. Ordovician K-bentonites of eastern North America. Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado. Special Paper 313.

Miller, A. M. 1905. The lead and zinc bearing rocks of central Kentucky, with notes on the mineral veins. Kentucky Geological Survey, Lexington, Kentucky. Bulletin 2.

Sinclair, G. W. 1942. The Chazy Conularia and their congeners. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 29(10):219–240.

Sinclair, G. W. 1948. The biology of the Conularida. PhD Thesis. McGill University, Montreal.

Wolcott, D. E. 1969. Geologic map of the Little Hickman Quadrangle, central Kentucky. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. Geologic Quadrangle Map 792. Scale 1:24,000.

Yochelson, E. L., and G. F. Webers. 2006. A restudy of the Late Cambrian molluscan fauna of Berkey (1898) from Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Report of Investigations 64.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Photos from Albuquerque

Back in October I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, held at Albuquerque, New Mexico. The meeting was co-hosted by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Part of the program of the annual meeting is a reception at a co-hosting institution, where the attendees can mingle among the institution's exhibits. I was fortunate enough to be in the company of JP and Sarah Hodnett, who are very familiar with the museum. (In fact, we'd actually spent most of that day there already, working the National Fossil Day event.) Thanks also to JP and Sarah for helping me get around Albuquerque!

We also had the able assistance of ceratopsids for National Fossil Day.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 6: Austroposeidon, titanosaurs of Balochistan, and Baotianmansaurus

For Thanksgiving (US), we're getting overstuffed with extra titanosaurs. We're also venturing to three different Cretaceous landmasses: South America for Austroposeidon magnificus, the formerly separate landmass of the Indian Plate for a group of titanosaurs from Pakistan, and Asia for Baotianmansaurus henanensis.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Decorah gastropods (and some things that look like gastropods)

The snails* of the Decorah Shale are a lesser component of the fauna than bryozoans, brachiopods, or crinoids. My personal experience is that snails are uncommon except for certain beds, which feature abundant and diverse snails. One of these beds is perhaps 20 ft (6 m) above the top of the Carimona in St. Paul; this bed produced the plate in the "Equatorial Minnesota" box near the top of the page. For whatever reason, this bed also hosts abundant trilobite pieces, particularly of Eomonorachus. There's probably a facies thing going on, such that the original depositional environment was favorable to snails and trilobites; it's not quite as stark as, say, McKee (1938)'s mollusk and open marine facies of the Kaibab Formation (the very durable rock at the top of the Grand Canyon stack), but there's certainly some kind of difference. It might be a carbonate thing; both the underlying Platteville and overlying Cummingsville/Prosser, which have more limestone and dolomite, also have more diverse mollusks than the muddy Decorah (Sloan and Webers 1987). On the other hand, the relatively limited diversity and abundance of snails, combined with most genera having visually distinctive appearances, make it possible to summarize them in a reasonably brief guide.

*and things that look a whole lot like snails, and things that people argue about, such as Sinuites

Several snails in a small section of a slab: C for Clathrospira, S for Sinuites, and L for "lophospiroid".

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Diplodocoidea contains three wings: Diplodocidae, where the popular diplodocoids such as Apatosaurus, Barosaurus, Brontosaurus, and Diplodocus hang out; Dicraeosauridae, somewhat undersized and short-necked sauropods that are seemingly content to be represented in the public eye by Amargasaurus and its magnificently strange vertebrae; and Rebbachisauridae, also generally known for undersized and short-necked sauropods represented in the public eye by one exceptional taxon. In the case of rebbachisaurids, it's Nigersaurus, famous for its skull, which looks kind of like the animal habitually slept with its snout pressed against a wall.

Yeah, like that. Photo taken at a traveling exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota back in May 2014.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Cumberland Bone Cave

There are a handful of notable Pleistocene "bone caves" in the Mid-Atlantic states. We've stopped at one of the classic sites already, Port Kennedy Bone Cave. Another classic site is Cumberland Bone Cave in western Maryland. Its scientific history began a few decades later than Port Kennedy, but both sites are of Irvingtonian age (between approximately 1.9 and 0.25 Ma), rather than a younger age like most Pleistocene sites, and the faunas from the two sites are often mentioned together.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 5: Argyrosaurus, Atacamatitan, and Atsinganosaurus

We're almost beyond the letter "A" in the alphabet of titanosaurs (for whatever reason titanosaur researchers have given a disproportionate number of genera names that begin with "A"). For this entry we have a historic name (Argyrosaurus superbus), the first non-avian dinosaur named from Chile (Atacamatitan chilensis), and our second well-represented smallish titanosaur from from western Europe (Atsinganosaurus velauciensis).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Compact Thescelosaurus Year Three

It's mid-October, with National Fossil Day coming up (Wednesday the 17th) and the anniversary of the original Thescelosaurus just behind us (Sunday the 7th). It's also time for something new for The Compact Thescelosaurus on its third birthday. Last year, pterosaurs joined dinosaurs and choristoderes. This year, plesiosaurs and a variety of more basal sauropterygians and possible sauropterygians join them.

Elasmosaurid Thalassomedon haningtoni, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hyoliths III: Season of the Hyolith

You may remember that last year we had some Paleozoic excitement with the publication of specimens showing the enigmatic hyoliths to be lophophorates, related to brachiopods, bryozoans, and phoronid worms (Moysiuk et al. 2017). Independent support for this position has just been published based on Chinese Cambrian specimens. In this case, hyoliths are not only lophophores, but they are stem brachiopods (closely related to modern brachiopods, but not within the group including modern brachiopods, the crown brachiopods), based on the presence of pedicles in a species of basal hyolith (Sun et al. 2018a).

The pedicle is a fleshy organ, found in most brachiopods, which anchors the shell to the substrate. (Curiously enough, our last visit with the brachiopods covered the strophomenids, noted for not having pedicles.) Sun et al. (2018a) describe a new hyolith taxon, Pedunculotheca diania, which has the typical elongate pointed main shell and lid-like operculum of hyoliths (a bit more oval in cross-section than the classic triangles we've seen so far), with the addition of a short nonmineralized stalk ending in a small holdfast growing from the tip of the shell.

An anchored hyolith, like Pedunculotheca diania, would be a suspension feeder, but other, more derived hyoliths were unattached (Sun et al. 2018a). Moysiuk et al. (2017) interpreted hyoliths in general as filter feeders, but it appears that hyoliths were more ecologically flexible. Recent publications have documented aggregations of hyoliths around coprolites (Kimmig and Pratt 2018; Sun et al. 2018b) and dead animals (Sun et al. 2018b), indicating scavenging/detritivore roles. Because skeletal fragments have never been reported in hyolith guts, Sun et al. (2018b) suggested that they focused on the more fluid phase of the decomposing detritus (or at least the non-mineralized phase), or on microbial films growing around the detritus. The authors also found hyoliths associated with small burrows, indicating that they could enter the uppermost substrate.

In my quest to always have different hyolith images when the topic comes up, here is Figure 2a from Plate LXIII in Walcott (1899). It is a "reproduction of photograph of a slab of sandstone, with numerous specimens of H. primordialis, from the St. Croix sandstone of Wisconsin. The small shells are identical with H. gregaria of M. and H. [Meek and Hayden]." The publication is actually on fossils of Yellowstone National Park, but Walcott had identified hyoliths there as basically the same as H. primordialis from Wisconsin, which is why he included this figure. Later, the Yellowstone hyoliths would be transferred to a new species (H. gallatinensis Resser 1938) and eventually genus (Haydenoconus Malinky 2014).


Kimmig, J, and B. R. Pratt. 2018. Coprolites in the Ravens Throat River Lagerstätte of northwestern Canada: implications for the Middle Cambrian food web. Palaios 33:125–140. doi:10.2110/palo.2017.038.

Malinky, J. M. 2014. Cambrian Hyolitha and problematica from West Laurentian North America: taxonomy and palaeobiology. Alcheringa 38(3):338–362.

Moysiuk, J., M. R. Smith, and J.-B. Caron. 2017. Hyoliths are Palaeozoic lophophorates. Nature 541:394–397. doi:10.1038/nature20804.

Resser, C. E. 1938. Fourth contribution to nomenclature of Cambrian fossils. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 97(10).

Sun, H., M. R. Smith, H. Zeng, F. Zhao, G. Li, and M. Zhu. 2018a. Hyoliths with pedicles illuminate the origin of the brachiopod body plan. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285(1887). doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1780.

Sun, H.-J., F.-C. Zhao, R.-Q. Wen, H. Zeng, and J. Peng. 2018b. Feeding strategy and locomotion of Cambrian hyolithides. Palaeoworld 27(3):334–342. doi:10.1016/j.palwor.2018.03.003.

Walcott, C. D. 1899. Cambrian fossils. Pages 440-478 in Geology of the Yellowstone national park. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. Monograph 32.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ledumahadi mafube

For reasons which are mysterious to me, this blog has become full of sauropodomorphs of one kind or another. It's been a good year for them. The latest is Ledumahadi mafube from the Elliot Formation of South Africa, an early giant near the base of the sauropod tree.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 4: Antarctosaurus miscellany

In this installment, we take care of some housekeeping before moving on. We've limited true Antarctosaurus to A. wichmannianus, leaving us with a few extra species which haven't amounted to all that much. (A. septentrionalis is excluded from that comment, now having its own genus Jainosaurus.) "A." brasiliensis and "A." jaxarticus might not be the most exiting species, but we've also got the hidden giant "A." giganteus.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Fates of collections

Despite our best intentions and planning, a lot of things can happen to a collection. We saw an extreme example of this recently in the devastating fire at the National Museum of Brazil on September 2. Many fossil collections have been partially or completely lost to fires since people began accumulating specimens for scientific purposes, and we can be sure that there will be losses to come from fires. Of course, fires are not the only way institutions have lost collections. Apart from occasional attrition (specimens becoming misplaced, damaged or destroyed through accidents, lost while on loans, or outright stolen), large portions of paleontological collections to entire collections have gone from their original institutions in a variety of ways.


Although fossils are, generally, basically rocks, fire can indeed cause damage to rocks. Water used in firefighting can also damage rocks, for example rocks composed of shrink-swell clays, and rocks with significant organics are vulnerable to both fire and water damage. (And if the specimens are late Quaternary paleoecological materials such as dung or middens? You've got a repeat of Rampart Cave in the museum.) Rocks can also be damaged by heavy objects falling on them during fires. Other issues may include, but are not limited to, being covered by melted materials and being subjected to explosive events. Furthermore, even if a given fossil survives a fire, it may be lost during recovery efforts.

Fires are not as common as they once were, thanks to improvements in fireproofing and fire suppression, although these advances cannot help if they are not implemented or are otherwise unavailable. For example, the National Museum of Brazil lacked sprinkler systems, and water for firefighting had to be brought to the scene. A significant cause of many late 19th century and early 20th century fires was early electrical systems.

Here are a few U.S. fires I've come across that affected fossil collections; it is certainly not exhaustive! It does cover nine decades and everything from two state capitols to a modest facility in the Big Bend of Texas:
  • Academy of Science of St. Louis, May 1869: included some of Benjamin Franklin Shumard's collections;
  • Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, March 1, 1881: this fire claimed the Minnesota Academy of Science collections, which among other things held mammoth or mastodon fossils from Stillwater;
  • Texas State Capitol, Austin, November 9, 1881: this fire destroyed the remnants of Shumard's Texas Geological Survey specimens;
  • Science Hall, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 1, 1884: this building housed the Wisconsin State Collection, including some of R. P. Whitfield's St. Croix fossils;
  • Academic Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, January 9, 1892: another group of Shumard's fossils was lost in this blaze;
  • Williston Hall, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, December 22, 1917: in dinosaur paleontology, this fire is best known for the loss of the holotype of Podokesaurus holyokensis;
  • Chisos Basin Civilian Conservation Corps barracks, December 24, 1941: this building housed a small museum of Big Bend fossils;
  • Williams Hall, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, February 1956: a fire in the third floor of this building is implicated in the disappearance of a collection of Ordovician fossils collected near Delaware Water Gap.


Many collections have been partially or wholly destroyed in wars, particularly at European institutions during the two World Wars. The poster child for these losses is the holotype of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, lost along with other Egyptian fossils (including Aegyptosaurus baharijensis) when the Paleontological Museum in Munich was hit by bombs during a night raid, April 24–25, 1944. Specimens and larger collections have sometimes also been looted, for commercial value or as a kind of "scientific imperialism". Wars and other armed conflicts have not been a major issue for collections in the U.S. since the Civil War, when there were few significant collections. One exception was the Texas Geological Survey collection, left in limbo at the start of the Civil War. Almost all of the specimens amassed by Benjamin Franklin Shumard for the survey were lost during the war when the State Capitol was turned over to the manufacturing of percussion caps. (In case you're wondering, that makes three fires and one loss-by-neglect for Shumard, who simply could not catch a break.)

Disbursement or transfer

While you may be under the impression that your favorite museum accumulated all of its specimens on its own, maybe with some scattered donations thrown in, if you scratch the surface you will probably find that the museum has absorbed multiple substantial collections over the years. These may be personal collections (such as the collections of Edward Drinker Cope and James Hall at the American Museum of Natural History), corporate collections (think invertebrates and microfossils collected for oil companies), or collections from other institutions (for example, in recent decades the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has incorporated collections from UCLA, Cal Tech, CSUN, and USC). The fact is that many places have accumulated collections over the years, only to end up sending them elsewhere for various reasons: change in direction, loss of funding, streamlining of collections, retirement of key staff, lack of interest, etc. This kind of movement can involve entire collections or only parts of collections (paleobotany seems peculiarly vulnerable to this). Technically speaking, the specimens are not "lost", although relocation of a collection can result in loss or damage to specimens, and the collections can sometimes *seem* lost if you're trying to track them down years after the fact!

Although small institutions are probably most likely to send their collections elsewhere, even storied, historically significant collections have been transferred. Princeton gave their vertebrate paleontology collections to Yale in 1985 when the university decided to cut the paleontology program. The USGS collections in Washington and Menlo Park went to the Smithsonian and the University of California Museum of Paleontology, respectively, following political wrangling in the mid-1990s. Integrating established collections into their new homes can be a headache, and specimens from large added collections often retain some part of their original identity. For example, fossils from Princeton in the Yale collections include "PU" in their catalog identification.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yizhousaurus sunae

I originally had something else in mind for today, but it was heavily photo-dependent, and the photos weren't coming out very well (unresolved lighting and depth-of-field issues). I will have to try again some other time. Meanwhile, here comes Yizhousaurus sunae to the rescue! I'm not quite sure why "prosauropods" should have featured so frequently here (see also Bagualosaurus, Meroktenos, Xingxiulong, and two visits with Anchisaurus), but there you go.

Figure 3 from Zhang et al. (2018) (check the link for the lengthy caption). Note that the quadrate and associated bones are displaced from the back of the skull, which obscures the complete shape of the profile.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Dryosaurus elderae and the revenge of Nanosaurus agilis

It's been a busy few days over at The Compact Thescelosaurus, with new alvarezsaurs, nodosaurs, and dryosaurs. For this post, I'm going to focus on Carpenter and Galton (2018), which not only describes new species Dryosaurus elderae, but also is quite important for previous subject Nanosaurus agilis, and in general ticks off several of my boxes anyway ("hypsilophodonts", Morrison Formation, National Park Service areas, etc.).

Figure 2 from Carpenter and Galton (2018), showing the distribution of bipedal Morrison ornithischians. A keen-eyed observer who's familiar with the Morrison fauna might notice the absence of Drinker nisti and Othnielosaurus consors, and an abundance of Nanosaurus agilis...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 3: Andesaurus, Antarctosaurus, and Argentinosaurus

Plenty of name recognition as far as titanosaurs go in this post of "Your Friends The Titanosaurs", which features Argentinosaurus huinculensis as leading contender for the dinosaur heavyweight crown, Antarctosaurus wichmannianus as one of the most historically important and troublesome titanosaurs, and the somewhat less well-known but supremely steady Andesaurus delgadoi. Three questionable species of Antarctosaurus have been held over for next time.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lower Decorah trilobites

Following last week with Strophomena, and having figured out what seems to be a good method of photographing small specimens, I thought I'd try my hand at photo-documenting and identifying some trilobites. The sample set is mostly limited to the lower third to lower half of the Decorah Shale of St. Paul, and the most relevant publications for these trilobites are DeMott (1987) and Rice and Hedbloom (1987); Midwest Paleo also has a fine photo-atlas and list. I'm reasonably satisfied that my identifications at the family or subfamily level are accurate. Genus, I'm not so keen on. Species, I didn't even dare; I would be just parroting.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Big Ordovician brachiopods: Strophomena and friends

Starting out in the Ordovician rocks of Minnesota and surrounding states, you run into a few kinds of fossils right away. Depending on the rocks you're looking at, these might include nut-like small brachiopods, fragments of branching bryozoans, ring-like or gear-like crinoid columnals, snail shells, conical horn corals and so on. Among the most noticeable of the common fossils are larger D-shaped shells, up to a few cm across. We've encountered these large shells a few times before in the Platteville and Decorah; they are the shells of brachiopods in the Order Strophomenida, one of the most abundant and diverse groups of brachiopods. To avoid any confusion with Strophomenida, Strophomenoidea, Strophomenidae, etc., and because we're all friends here, we'll just call these large shells "strophs". There are also smaller members of Strophomenida, but we'll leave them be for the present.

A good-sized brachial valve of a stroph in exterior view, embedded in a slab. On the left (A) is the valve viewed from the top, while on the right (B) is the profile, showing how steeply convex it is. Because of mud, this was the only fossil I could see on the slab when I picked it up, but the high profile of the shell clued me in.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lingwulong shenqi

After our latest titanosaur entry and a week off, here's... another sauropod. This one's different though: it comes from early on in the history of sauropods, and shines a light on the early diversification of the group. I introduce Lingwulong shenqi, debuting as the world's oldest known dicraeosaurid at somewhere around 175 million years old, and the first substantiated dicraeosaurid from Asia. These "oldests" and "firsts" are more important than they might sound.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 2: Aeolosaurus

Aeolosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that is referenced fairly often in the literature, but has not left a strong impression with non-specialists, kind of like a character actor who's appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows over the years. The name rings a bell, but it's hard to recall much detail. It's easily the least familiar dinosaur to have both a namesake clade (Aeolosauridae/Aeolosaurinae/Aeolosaurini, depending on your taste, with the last being the most commonly used) and three valid species. It's not Aeolosaurus's fault, after all, unless you want to blame it for its habit of bequeathing only bits of tails to posterity. If you saw one amble by, you would definitely remember it.

However, there are good reasons why Aeolosaurus keeps on making cameo appearances: it and its closest relatives have very distinctive caudal vertebrae, and these vertebrae are fairly common in rocks covering the last 15+ million years of Argentina and southern Brazil. Because of my caution regarding titanosaur divisions, I haven't added a formal Aeolosaurini to my own files, but there certainly appears to be a group of South American titanosaurs with distinctive Aeolosaurus-like caudal vertebrae. For the purposes of this post I'm happy to refer to them as aeolosaurinids. I'm not going to get into detailed diagnoses, but I *will* briefly describe these caudals. If nothing else, they're the thing to remember about Aeolosaurus and aeolosaurinids:

In titanosauriformes, the neural arches of the caudal vertebrae have a tendency to creep up on the anterior part of the centra, rather than being centered. Aeolosaurinids take this even farther, with the articulating processes, the prezygapophyses and postzygapophyses, swept forward by the general excitement and the neural spines sometimes directed anteriorly as well. In Aeolosaurus this can be exaggerated to the point that the postzygapophyses are as far forward as the anterior margin of the centrum (Martinelli et al. 2011), which means that the prezygapophyses have to be stretched over nearly the entire preceding centrum to reach their articulations with the postzygapophyses (the exact positions of the processes vary along the tail; Santucci and de Arruda-Campos 2011). You might think of the prezygapophyses as something like stereotypical Frankenstein arms or sleepwalker arms, sticking way out in front of the rest of a vertebra. The figure below probably does a much better job of demonstrating:

Caudals from several aeolosaurinids (A–E) and other titanosaurs, from Martinelli et al. (2011), showing how the neural arch and its processes are shifted to the anterior end of the centrum. It also shows the procoelous nature of titanosaurian caudals, a style of ball-and-socket articulation with the socket in front and ball in back. In Aeolosaurus this is not a perfect ball, but skewed dorsally. Anterior is left and posterior is right, in case you need the orientation. "MPMA\without number" is actually part of the holotype of Aeolosaurus maximus, so all three named species are supposedly included, but the specimen labeled here as "MPMA\without number" actually appears to be CPP 248 (supposedly C) per an earlier figure in the publication. Could C and D be mixed up?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Fun with nautiloids: an essay in futility?

Or: "What good is a seven-foot nautiloid?"

In most reconstructions of marine Paleozoic life, large orthoconic (straight-shelled nautiloids) get two jobs: they are either large menacing objects in the water, usually seizing some unfortunate trilobite; or they are parked on the seafloor, again often engaged with a trilobite. The general takeaway is that a giant nautiloid was a voracious predator. Trilobites presumably are selected as the prey because so few other animals that lived during the heyday of the giant nautiloids both moved under their own power and were bigger than a few inches, making them about the only group worthy of the honor of artistic predation (although we can guess that a not-insignificant part of a giant predatory nautiloid's diet would be smaller nautiloids). Another, less scientific reason for having a nautiloid capture a trilobite is that otherwise Paleozoic marine reconstructions would be a whole lot of small filter-feeding animals not going anywhere, which doesn't make for dramatic art.

Nautiloids and trilobites: natural enemies forever locked in combat. Also pictured: many snails.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fossil Bison of the National Park Service

Last year for Fourth of July week I put up a post on dinosaurs of the National Park Service. With the same time of year upon us, I thought I'd try something similar. Now, we haven't had all that much change in NPS dinosaurs over the past year, but there's something else that's even more appropriate: bison. Cue the map!

For this map, parks with paleontological materials of bison are indicated, with two questionable occurrences (18 and 32) represented by gray question marks. See text for caveats. 1. Lava Beds National Monument; 2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Santa Monica Mountains NRA; Joshua Tree National Park; 5. Nez Perce National Historical Park; 6. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve; 7. Yellowstone NP; 8. Fossil Butte NP; 9. Timpanogos Cave NM; 10. Arches NP; 11. Glen Canyon NRA; 12. Zion NP; 13. Tule Springs Fossil Beds NM; 14. Lake Mead NRA; 15. Grand Canyon NP; 16. Great Sand Dunes NP & Preserve; 17. Chaco Culture NHP; 18. Gila Cliff Dwellings NM; 19. White Sands NM; 20. Bering Land Bridge National Preserve; 21. Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve; 22. Denali NP & Preserve; 23. Theodore Roosevelt NP; 24. Wind Cave NP; 25. Badlands NP; 26. Missouri National Recreational River; 27. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve; 28. Lake Meredith NRA and possibly Alibates Flint Quarries NM; 29. Waco Mammoth NM; 30. Padre Island National Seashore; 31. Ice Age National Scientific Reserve (affiliated); 32. Valley Forge NHP.

For bison, I'm not quite as confident with my records as I am for, say, mammoths or sloths or dinosaurs. In large part this is because bison are relative latecomers to North America and their record goes to the present. If you've got a random mammoth bone, nobody's going to blink an eye if you call it "Pleistocene", but a random bison bone is not so indicative. There are probably isolated occurrences of fossil material that I don't know about because they've been classified as recent or not classified at all. In addition, some researchers are strict about not considering specimens paleontological if they are more recent than a certain age, whereas I am not so strict about the Holocene. (Of course, then you get into the overlap with archeology.) Therefore, the list I have is subject to change. At this time, perhaps the most notable occurrence from these 32 parks is an early Holocene bison bonebed found in the Wisconsin side of Interstate State Park, one of the units of affiliated Ice Age National Scientific Reserve (I plan to cover it in more detail at another time). Otherwise, the record of NPS fossil bison is mostly isolated, incomplete material, with some bison dung in cave settings.

Distribution is dominated by parks west of the Mississippi, particularly those larger than a few hundred acres. There are some not currently listed, such as Big Bend NP, Death Valley NP, and Glacier NP, that would not surprise me if they eventually are added. East of the Mississippi we don't have as many large parks, and there's a definite tendency for large mammal records to come from caves, so I would expect to add some of the parks with caves over time.

Or maybe I should look at some of the coastal parks. From O. P. Hay's 1923 catalog of eastern North American Pleistocene finds (extant B. bison gets the next map in the volume).

One of the things you will encounter with the genus Bison in North America is the usual complicated taxonomy. The exact timing of the arrival of Bison in North America is not certain, but bison were established by at least 160,000 years ago. Bison arrived as Bison priscus, the widespread Steppe bison, which was not unlike the modern bison. B. priscus evolved into B. latifrons, which can be distinguished by its large size and enormous horns, and B. antiquus, which was not quite so large nor extravagantly equipped with horns.

For B. latifrons, there was never such a thing as having too much horn. Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science mount, photo by James St. John via Wikimedia Commons.

B. latifrons went out of the picture during the most recent Ice Age (a unique sense of timing compared to all of the species that went extinct right after), but B. antiquus was still there to carry the bison banner. B. antiquus in turn evolved into the yet smaller B. bison in the early Holocene, about 10,000 years ago. The transitional phase is sometimes described as another species (or subspecies), B. occidentalis. We ran into B. occidentalis way back in early 2014 on I-35E, and this is also the form that has been identified at the Interstate State Park bonebed.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Regarding forams

Life started out microscopic (at least to humans) and most of it has stayed that way. Of course, many microscopic organisms have poor fossil records, due to factors like lack of hard parts and the whole "microscopic" thing (finding and studying microfossils takes special equipment and expertise that aren't used for collecting, say, brachiopods). However, a subset of microscopic organisms have very significant fossil records. We saw the ostracodes a few years ago, but there are also a number of groups of single-celled organisms that produce hard parts suitable for fossilization. Among the most important are: coccolithophores, phytoplankton which form skeletons of scale-like objects known as coccoliths, micron-scale structures that make up chalk (and which are sometimes called nannofossils because they're so darn small); diatoms, phytoplankton with cell walls made of silica; dinoflagellates, which form organic-walled cysts; radiolarians, protozoans that form body structures of silica; and the subjects of today's entry, the foraminifera, which can be described glibly as "amoebas with shells".

A living foram, the brackish-water benthic calcareous species Ammonia tepida, showing strands of pseudopodia surrounding the coiled test. What do all these terms mean? Read on! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons; unfortunately, no scale, but you'll get an idea of the size of what we're dealing with in the photos to come.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Your Friends The Titanosaurs, part 1: Adamantisaurus, Aegyptosaurus, and Ampelosaurus

This is the first in what I plan as a periodic ongoing series. The response from this year's two previous titanosaur posts was better than I expected, especially considering what I thought was some dry subject matter, so if people are liking the big lugs, why not have them around more often? There are certainly plenty of species, and hopefully they don't become overwhelming if they feature once a month or so, when some other topic isn't coming together. The plan is to briefly cover three species in a post, in more or less alphabetical order. For example, in this post we have Adamantisaurus mezzalirai, Aegyptosaurus baharijensis, and Ampelosaurus atacis, taking us from Brazil to Egypt to France. The third species would have been Aeolosaurus colhuehuapensis, but because there are three species of Aeolosaurus I thought it made sense to hold it back and make the next post all Aeolosaurus. The next one would have been Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, but I have other plans for it. Therefore, Ampelosaurus atacis gets the call.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Postglacial fragments, featuring Hartman's Cave

Although eastern North America contains many things, it is not noted for its terrestrial Cenozoic sedimentary deposits. Conditions just weren't favorable for the long-term preservation of extensive terrestrial sedimentary formations. Therefore, our knowledge of terrestrial life in this region is largely confined to some transitional coastal settings and what we might call "point sources" in comparison to the great formations of the West: sedimentary deposits of caves, fissures, bogs, ponds, and so on. These in turn are strongly biased to just the Pleistocene and Holocene. We've visited a few of these sites before, around Minnesota (Hidden Falls, I-35, Kirchner Marsh, Loring Park, and in general), and in the District of Columbia, Kentucky (Mammoth Cave), and Pennsylvania (Marshalls Creek Mastodon, Port Kennedy Bone Cave). Here is another site in northeastern Pennsylvania, plus some brief commentary on sites nearby.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Bagualosaurus agudoensis: another sauropodomorph ahead of its time

Our subject today is the newly described Bagualosaurus agudoensis from lower Upper Triassic rocks of southern Brazil. If I'd known back in March 2016 that I'd have the opportunity in a couple of years to write about another "prosauropod" that was "ahead of its time", and that it would include a partial skull justifying a terrible "head" pun, maybe I'd have come up with another title then. Oh, well; spilled milk and all that.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Midwest Ordovician craters: Decorah and Rock Elm

Life in the Ordovician of the Upper Midwest wasn't all warm tropical seas and all the organic particles you could filter. We've already run into giant volcanic eruptions spreading ash far and wide. There was also a significant glaciation at the end of the Ordovician; the ice itself didn't get to tropical North America, but it did lead into major extinctions. We don't have to go to the poles or volcanoes off the coast of North America for dramatic geologic events, though: we only have to go as far as west-central Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The secret identity of "Agathaumas"

If you've been at this dinosaur thing for a while, you've probably encountered this piece of Charles Knight artwork, labeled as Agathaumas:

Agathaumas, Charles Knight's work via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Titanosaurs in time and space

Nothing too earth-shattering this week, just an adjunct to "Titanosaurs all the way down" featuring these lovingly crafted charts of titanosaur distribution taken from The Compact Thescelosaurus (so you know all mistakes are mine). Given 101 described species to work with, I split the titanosaurs between South America and all of the other landmasses. As with other charts, you'll need to click to embiggen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tracking sloths and people at White Sands National Monument

Earlier this week came some of the biggest news concerning National Park Service paleontology in quite some time: the discovery of tracks, including overlapping tracks, of extinct ground sloths and humans at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. These finds were published in an article by Bustos et al. (2018), which can be accessed here (don't forget the supplement; less technical summary here). It's a pretty darn substantial way of showing humans and extinct sloths as contemporaries, and new evidence on the early history of humans in the Americas and the twilight of the Pleistocene megafauna. About the only ways you could make the tracks more notable would be to have them continue into the end of a hunt, or to have some dateable material that placed them significantly pre-Clovis.

Part of Figure 2 from Bustos et al. (2018). Part B has some faint sloth tracks (when poorly preserved, it can be difficult to distinguish similarly sized human and sloth tracks). Part C shows a "flailing circle" where a sloth appears to have swung its arms at a human. Part E shows a human track inside a much larger sloth track.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Foerstediscus splendens, a Minnesotan in Washington

Because I was in northern Virginia, I thought I'd visit the National Museum of Natural History. While nosing around the Ocean Hall, I ran into another Minnesotan: the holotype specimen of the edrioasteroid Foerstediscus splendens (Bassler 1936). I couldn't get right up to due to the glass, so the photos aren't the clearest and there's no scale, but it's still a fine specimen, and somewhat larger than I expected following my experience with the minuscule Pyrgocystis (for reference, it's described as 3 cm across, a little more than an inch).

Points to you if you too noted "Middle Ordovician"; with redefinition and redating of the Ordovician, "Late Ordovician" would be more accurate.

Here's a closer view of the specimen. "S. 4079" is the Smithsonian's number; it was originally a University of Minnesota specimen, UMPC 4742a, but it was donated to the Smithsonian (Rice 1990). From my own experience with the UMPC fossils, I think all of the edrioasteroids they had on hand by approximately the mid-1930s went to the Smithsonian at Bassler's request, with the specimens I photographed coming with Sardeson's collections a few years later.

"Edrioasteroid" means "seated star", which is reasonably self-explanatory.

Edrioasteroids are among the rarest fossils from the Decorah and Platteville formations of Minnesota, with their other competition in that category being other echinoderms such as sea stars and cystoids. Seeing as how these fossils are very rare here except in certain places such as the former Johnson Street Quarry, the obvious scenario is that non-crinoid echinoderms only thrived under certain conditions that are poorly represented in the known outcrops of the Platteville and Decorah. (Alternatively, they *were* more common than we know, but they decomposed so completely to their constituent plates that they've been unrecognizable; be that as it may, though, the Platteville/Decorah echinoderm diversity doesn't seem to be as high as in other formations of similar age in the central US.)

Foerstediscus splendens was collected from the Ford Plant (Bassler 1936). Work on the Ford Plant, Ford Bridge, and Ford Dam (Lock and Dam No. 1) in the 1920s made that area a great place for collecting, as discussed in this post. Clinton R. Stauffer named 56 species of microfossils from collections at the bridge (Stauffer 1933, 1935), and August Foerste named the nautiloid Metaspyroceras perlineatum (Foerste 1932) from the vicinity of the plant and dam. F. splendens was found by Irving G. Reimana from the top of the Rhinidictya bed of the Decorah Shale (Bassler 1936), otherwise known as Bed 4 (Sloan 1987), or, a little more informally, the lower third of the Decorah Shale above the Carimona Member. (One of these days I ought to outline the bed divisions.) In more practical terms, Bed 4 is the Decorah you see at Shadow Falls, so the top of Bed 4 would be somewhere at or a little higher than the highest part of the ravine. Strangely, Stauffer and Thiel (1941) attributed Foerstediscus to the underlying Carimona Member, or Bed 3, despite Stauffer presumably being the one who gave Bassler the stratigraphic information in the first place.

Looking east from Minnehaha Park in June 2013, toward the defunct Ford Plant (across Lock and Dam No. 1, aka the Ford Dam).

The closure and dismantling of the Ford Plant over the past few years provide an unusual opportunity to look at current events in a geological frame of mind. The Ford Plant was a fixture of southwestern St. Paul for decades (and it happened to be there because there was a young river gorge carved by a post-glacial waterfall that could be harnessed for hydroelectric power, and because there was once a pure sandy beach that could be turned into auto glass). Its day is now over, though, and soon its former grounds will be rebuilt into something entirely different. Ten thousand years ago, mammoths and giant beavers roamed its grounds. Seventy million years ago it was probably a coastal plain near a sea filled with ammonites and marine reptiles. 454 million years ago edrioasteroids, nautiloids, and other marine invertebrates lived and died in a shallow tropical sea that had submerged the pure sandy beach. Underneath all of it are volcanic rocks more than a billion years old that fill a scar from Michigan to Kansas. Every part of history is made up of what came before it, and shapes what comes after it.


Bassler, R. S. 1936. New species of American Edrioasteroidea. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 95(6).

Foerste, A. F. 1932. Black River and other cephalopods from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario (Part 1). Denison University Scientific Laboratories Journal 27:47–137.

Rice, W. F. 1990. Catalog of paleontological type specimens in the Geological Museum, University of Minnesota. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Information Circular 33.

Sloan, R. E. 1987. History of study of the Middle and Late Ordovician rocks of the Upper Mississippi Valley. Pages 3–6 in R. E. Sloan, editor. Middle and Late Ordovician lithostratigraphy and biostratigraphy of the Upper Mississippi Valley. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Report of Investigations 35.

Stauffer, C. R. 1933. Middle Ordovician Polychaeta from Minnesota. Geological Society of America Bulletin 44(6):1173–1218.

Stauffer, C. R. 1935. The conodont fauna of the Decorah Shale (Ordovician). Journal of Paleontology 9(7):596–620.

Stauffer, C. R., and G. A. Thiel. 1941. The Paleozoic and related rocks of southeastern Minnesota. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Bulletin 29.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Phycodes: bundles of burrows

I'm going out of the office again, so, like last year, I'm tossing up a few pictures of something I find interesting, in this case an invertebrate trace fossil called Phycodes (not to be confused with Phycodes the moth). I touched on Phycodes briefly a few years ago, using the image included below:

That pale gray color is characteristic of the Brickyard in Lilydale, for whatever reason(s).

The whole piece looks like this:

"Licrophycus ottawaensis" in older literature.

I collected it on a Geological Society of Minnesota visit back in 2006 and it has since become one of the pieces I like to take to events because it's a great teaching fossil. I ask people what it is and let them explain their choice if they want to, and then I identify it. I get a lot of plant-based guesses (which of course is what a lot of paleontologists and geologists thought this kind of structure was decades ago). What Phycodes really is is an invertebrate trace fossil recording the behavior of some kind of wormy animal probing in the mud for food and returning to a central point. This resulted in splayed bundles of burrows, giving the trace fossil a characteristic root-like or mop-like appearance. It doesn't have quite the oomph of a dinosaur bone, but it looks interesting, it's good for conversation, and worms are more familiar than, say, crinoids.

When space is an issue, I have a more compact specimen.

Phycodes turns up every so often in the Decorah. It's not as common as Rauffella (which has turned up in a half-dozen posts so far), but it certainly makes a striking fossil.

Suitable for framing: this chunk is almost entirely Phycodes, with little matrix, which also makes it more fragile than the first two specimens (too bad, because it's also the best). The individual tubes are a bit smaller in diameter than those of the first two as well.

The makers of Decorah Phycodes differed from the makers of Rauffella in a couple of notable ways: Phycodes-makers were smaller (a few mm in diameter versus finger thickness for many Rauffella) and apparently smoother (no surficial striations in Phycodes).

This piece is one of the group from the construction site last year. I'm not certain what kind of ichnofossil it is. It resembles Phycodes templus, but it's also kind of poorly preserved and it's not clear if the burrows are bundled, so it might not be Phycodes at all. (Another possibility is poorly preserved "Camarocladia".) Note the brassy ooids.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Prorichthofenia": brachiopod horn corals

April Fools' Day not only falls on a weekend this year, but Easter, so I wouldn't be surprised if the typical crop of spoof news articles and blog entries is thinner due to other time commitments. Not that I mind too much; the whole thing gets old, year after year. Still, with April 1 in mind, here are some fossils that aren't what they seem: brachiopods from the Permian of Texas that put a lot of effort into being horn corals.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Three weeks of ankylosaurs and pterosaurs

March has been busy over at The Compact Thescelosaurus, with ten new entries adding three ankylosaurs, four pterosaurs, and three theropods. There's still a week to go, too. Sometimes people talk about following taxonomy as another kind of stamp collecting. I have a more artistic point of view, with each specimen as more along the lines of tiles in an incomplete mosaic or notes in an unfinished song, each contributing to a greater whole. It just so happens that the currency of the realm is in species and genera. (I also keep track because you can't tell the players without a program!) As usual, I'll leave the theropods to others, except to say that it's nice to see Arkansaurus finally graduate from informal name to the big leagues, thanks to Hunt and Quinn (2018) (the name has figured in print since 1983, after all). A few comments on the ankylosaurs and pterosaurs:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Marshalls Creek Mastodon

This is something of an apology. I gave a paleontological presentation for the folks at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area last September, and after I finished someone brought up the Marshalls Creek Mastodon. I'd been focusing on other topics, so the mastodon hadn't made the cut (for shame on my account!). I am now remedying that omission. For the rest of you who haven't been introduced to the fossil in question, you can also find accounts in Hoff (1969, 2001), which are my primary sources. The Monroe County Historical Association also has a brief online account.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Ankylosaurs have had a good few weeks, publicity-wise. First we get some actual science done on the long-held belief that they were prone to "bloat and float" (if you don't like to contemplate recently deceased animals, I will simply say yes, it looks pretty good; if you'd like a less-technical summary, go here). We've also now got the oldest record of a true tail club, wielded by the newly minted Jinyunpelta sinensis.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Rectogloma problematica

What sounds like a kidney disorder, looks kind of like a flattened straight nautiloid possibly with a little curl (or maybe a Devonian Hot Pocket), and remains enigmatic more than a century after its description? It's Rectogloma problematica, which illustrates that even though we're past the Cambrian, the fossil record can still throw some oddballs.

From Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914). It's difficult to maintain "natural size" a few generations removed from original illustrations; this is one reason why you should use scale bars instead!

The only reported specimens of Rectogloma problematica were collected by Columbia University students on a field trip to the Delaware Water Gap area. They were found in red shale in the Upper Devonian Catskill Formation in a cut along the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad near the Henryville station, per Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914) ["Henrysville" of their spelling]. The fossils were discovered by Van Tuyl and another student, C. W. Honess, which just goes to show that you should always pay attention on field trips. A couple of the better specimens were collected, and have today made their way into the collections of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH FI 22377A and B).

The fossils, as illustrated and described by Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914) and Conway Morris and Grazhdankin (2005), are a few cm long, roughly rectangular but broader at one end than the other, and have an oval cross-section. They were found oriented vertically, with the wide end pointed up, which as noted by Conway Morris and Grazhdankin (2005) indicates that they are not flattened by compression, but really did have an oval cross-section in life. The broader "sides" are marked with numerous parallel lines 1 to 3 mm apart, each gently arched. Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914) described them as "sutures", but they don't go all the way around the fossil. Only one of the two presumed "ends" can be seen in the fossils, so it's not known how the wide end, er, ended. The other end that *can* be seen is also controversial. Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914) illustrated a sort of "spit curl" or coil coming off an otherwise rounded termination, but Conway Morris and Grazhdankin (2005) could not confirm this.

Figuring out what Rectogloma problematica is has proven difficult. Van Tuyl and Berckhemer (1914) thought it kind of resembled an abnormal cephalopod, but noted that the incomplete "sutures", lack of a siphuncle, and undivided coil argue against this. (Incidentally, a putative second species, "Rectogloma" zaplensis Turic et al. 1982, did prove to be a nautiloid [Cichowolski 2008].) Knight (1941) noted that it only superficially resembled a gastropod, which is true, but at the same time it's unclear who thought it was a gastropod to start with. Knight instead thought it was more likely a coprolite, which he repeated in 1960 (Knight et al. 1960). While the specimens do indeed appear to be reasonably poop-shaped lumps in basic form, it is rather difficult to produce droppings with smooth sides marked by closely spaced parallel thin features that do not continue all the way around, and a coprolitic identity has been rejected (Häntzschel 1975; Conway Morris and Grazhdankin 2005). Conway Morris and Grazhdankin (2005) did not make any firm classifications; about all they were willing to say was that it may have been "some sort of tube, with a relatively thick wall" of unknown composition. The apparent rarity of Rectogloma fossils and absence of obvious relatives suggest to me that Rectogloma lacked mineralized structures and just lucked out this one time in terms of fossilization. The "sutures" seem more like slits or structural features involved in flexure. Maybe it was some kind of tubular or goblet-like soft-bodied creature, stuck to the sea floor? Or perhaps some kind of fish egg case?


Cichowolski, M. 2008. The orthocerid Dawsonoceras? (Nautiloidea) from the Lipeón Formation (Silurian), northwestern Argentina. Ameghiniana 45(4):791–793.

Conway Morris, S., and D. Grazhdankin. 2005. Enigmatic worm-like organisms from the Upper Devonian of New York: an apparent example of Ediacaran-like preservation. Palaeontology 48(2):395–410.

Häntzschel, W. 1975. Treatise on invertebrate paleontology. Part W. Miscellanea. Supplement I. Trace fossils and problematica. Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado, and University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas.

Knight, J. B. 1941. Paleozoic gastropod genotypes. Geological Society of America Special Paper 32.

Knight, J. B., R. L. Batten, E. L. Yochelson, and L. R. Cox. 1960. Supplement. Paleozoic and some Mesozoic caenogastropoda and Opisthobranchia. Pages I310–I331 in R. C. Moore, editor. Treatise on invertebrate paleontology. Part I. Mollusca 1. Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado, and University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas.

Turic, M. A., V. A. Ramos, and J. Oliver Gascón. 1982. "Rectogloma" zaplensis (problemática) de la Formación Lipeón, Provincia de Jujuy, Argentina. Revista del Instituto de Ciencias Geológicas 5.9–14.

Van Tuyl, F. M., and F. Berckhemer. 1914. A problematic fossil from the Catskill Formation. American Journal of Science, 4th series, 38:275–276.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Identifying invertebrate fossils

Pop quiz! (don't worry, it's not for credit)

Romance *and* brachiopods

Here we have an assortment of fossils, tastefully arranged in a holiday-appropriate setting. They're all the typical local Ordovician stuff, but many Paleozoic shallow marine formations will have a lot of the same general things. What are they, and how can you tell?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Titanosaurs all the way down

There are a lot of titanosaurs. Over at The Compact Thescelosaurus, there are currently 101 species within Titanosauria, and another 30 non-titanosaurian somphospondyls, which probably include a few things that will be eventually be classified within Titanosauria. (If you're unfamiliar with the term, "somphospondyls" will take some explanation, which I'll get to in a minute; also, "somphospondyl" is a truly unappealing word.) Together they make up a little less than nine percent of the dinosaur chart. Also, as of this weekend, I've removed all of the internal divisions in Titanosauria; it's just titanosaurs all the way down. This is not an admission that all titanosaurs were alike, but rather a recognition that we are still a long way from knowing how they were related to each other.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The League of Saint Croix

If we can have a "Club Late Ordovician", surely we can have something for those National Park Service units with late Cambrian fossils? Of course it can't just be "Club Late Cambrian". Given that this part of the Cambrian is historically known as the Croixan or St. Croixan (Walcott 1912), it seems fitting to work St. Croix in there somewhere. Therefore, I present the League of Saint Croix. If you're working with a name like "St. Croix", you might as well make it sound like some kind of late Middle Ages/early modern period European military order or alliance.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Practical guide to St. Croix Valley sedimentary formations

Now that I've seen a fair amount of the Cambrian rocks of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the St. Croix Valley, it seems like a good time to set them out as was done for the MNRRA formations. This time around, we'll go to the base of the Cambrian sequence in Minnesota/Wisconsin and work our way up to where the sequence overlaps with the MNRRA rocks. One day I'll have to get into southeastern Minnesota and complete the Paleozoic sequence with the rest of the Ordovician and the Devonian.

As with the MNRRA formations, we're covering a fairly narrow span of time. The Cambrian formations were all deposited between about 500 to 491 million years ago based on biostratigraphic correlations. This includes some unconformities. One other note: I'm working from the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, and I'm most familiar with the Minnesota names. Mossler (2008) harmonized the stratigraphic nomenclature of Minnesota's Paleozoic rocks with the schemes used in neighboring states, but there is still one difference: the Minnesota Geological Survey uses lithological terms in formation names, while the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey doesn't. The upshot is slightly different names. For example, the units called the Jordan Sandstone and Oneota Dolomite on the Minnesota side of the river are called the Jordan Formation and Oneota Formation on the Wisconsin side. There isn't really a practical difference; the names just look different. In ascending order, the rock units we're most concerned with are the Mount Simon Sandstone, Eau Claire Formation, Wonewoc Sandstone, Tunnel City Group, St. Lawrence Formation, and Jordan Sandstone.