Fossil Huntress — Palaeo Sommelier
By Fossil Huntress
Kirk Johnson — A Lucky Paleontologist & the Tale of Three Splendid Canadian Fossils
Kirk Johnson is a geologist, paleobotanist, and the Sant Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. His research focuses on fossil plants and the extinction of the dinosaurs, and he is known for his scientific articles, popular books, museum exhibitions, documentaries, and collaborations with artists. Bright, funny and a delightful human being, Kirk Johnson is a leader in his field and beyond. He has collaborated on numerous projects including two recent documentaries, “Making North America” (2015) and “Polar Extremes” (2019). His recent books include “Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline: The Travels of an Artist and a Scientist along the Shores of the Prehistoric Pacific” (2018); “Visions of Lost Worlds, the Paleoart of Jay Matternes” (2019); and “Trees are made of Gas, The Story of Carbon and Climate” (2021). The video version of this talk with visuals will be up on YouTube. Head to www.fossiltalksandfieldtrips.com or www.fossilhuntress.com and click the YouTube link.
March 21, 2022
Palaeontology Lecture Series — Spring 2022
2022 Palaeontology / Paleontology Lecture Series with all of you. Zoom Link: www.fossiltalksandfieldtrips.com SPRING 2022 Kicking off 2022 is Danna Staaf, the Cephalopodiatrist with Cephalopods are the New Dinosaurs, Sun, February 12, 2022 at 2PM PST. Cephalopods, Earth's first truly substantial animals, are still among us. Their fascinating family tree is a whose-who of squid, octopus, cuttlefish, nautilus, and their brethren. Cephalopods number more than 800 species with new species still being found. As the inventors of swimming, cephalopods presided over the sea for millions of years. When fish eventually evolved jaws, the cephalopods had to up their game. Sunday, March 20, 2022, 2PM — Kirk Johnson — A Lucky Paleontologist & the Tale of Three Splendid Canadian Fossils. Join us for a talk with the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History & Paleontologist who has led expeditions in eighteen US states and eleven countries Sunday, April 24, 2022, 2PM PST — John-Paul Zonneveld — Brave New World: Recovery from the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction & the Significance of Marine Faunas in Northeastern British Columbia. Hear JP's multidisciplinary approach to questions arising between geological and biological systems as he turns his eye to our world 250 million years ago Sunday, May 22, 2022, 2PM PST — Russell Shapiro — Stromatolites, Methane Seeps & Metamorphosed Fossils on Mars. Learn about his work as a paleontologist exploring fossils from the present day to over three billion years ago in our deep seas & searching for fossils on Mars for NASA Sun, June 19, 2022, 2PM PST — Dan Bowen — Struck by Lightning: The Mary Anning Story. Learn about this history of Mary Anning from the Chair of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society
February 12, 2022
Valley of a Thousand Peaks in the Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountain Trench is one of the few geologic wonders we can see from space. It is known as the Valley of a Thousand Peaks or simply the Trench — a large valley on the western side of the northern part of North America's Rocky Mountains.
January 09, 2022
Solving an 85 Million-Year-Old Puzzle — Excavating An Elasmosaur
A mighty marine reptile was excavated on the Trent River near Courtenay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The excavation is the culmination of a three-year palaeontological puzzle. The fossil remains are those of an elasmosaur — a group of long-necked marine reptiles found in the Late Triassic to the Late Cretaceous some 215 to 80 million years ago. In the case of the Trent River, it is closer to 85 million years old. The marine reptile fossil was excavated 10-meters up high on the cliffs that line the river. It took a month of careful planning, building scaffolding, and amassing climbing gear to aid the team of dedicated souls in unearthing this juvenile elasmosaur. Bits and pieces of him have been eroding out for years — providing clues to the past and a jigsaw puzzle that has finally had the last pieces put together. The first piece of this marine reptile puzzle was found three years ago.
January 08, 2022
Celebrating 2021 With All of You & Welcoming 2022 With An Epic Fossil Contest
Nothing says Happy 2022 like free prizes. Thank you to each and every one of you who spent time with me in 2021. It is time to wrap up the year and welcome in 2022. I wish you health, happiness and many fossils.... perhaps as prizes. That's right. It is time to celebrate you! We're starting off 2022 with some great giveaways. Head on over to the ARCHEA YouTube Channel to learn how you could add a few nice fossils, some collecting gear and oodles of tasty fossil goodness to your collection in 2022. It is free to enter... and shameless bribery. I look forward to spending time with all of you in the New Year! Head to www.fossilhuntress.com to find all the links you'll need to win.
December 29, 2021
Love the Wild: Moose / Alces alces
Love the Wild: Moose. One of the most impressive mammals of the Pacific Northwest and the largest living member of the deer family are Moose. They are taller than everyone you know and weighs more than your car. You may encounter them lumbering solo along the edge of rivers and lakes, taking a refreshing swim or happily snacking on short grasses, water plants, woody shrubs and pinecones. You can often see them in Canada and some of the northern regions of the USA going about their business of eating and swimming. The males are called bulls and make quite a racket during mating season, also known as the Rut, using their bugle-like calls to attract a mate. Their impressive headgear can grow up to six feet and are used in displays of posturing, fighting or self-defence with other bulls — generally regarding a lady-moose or cow. Females do not have antlers but certainly, notice them. Once a mate is chosen, the new parents will produce one or two babies or calves. Fully grown, their new young will one day be able to run 55 km per hour and have excellent hearing and sense of smell. Their vision is not that good but their other senses make up for it. The scientific or binomial name for Moose is Alces alces (Linnaeus, 1758). The word moose is borrowed from Algonquian. In Narragansett, moose are called moos and in Eastern Abenaki, this large mammal is called mos. Both are likely derived from moosu, meaning he strips off. The Proto-Algonquian form was mo·swa. In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, moose are known as t̕ła̱wa̱l's — and their large crown of antler are known as wa̱t'łax̱. I had a close encounter on the Bowron Lake Circuit with a mamma moose, her new calf and a fully grown Grizzly chasing them. I can share that whatever the guidebooks say, a motivated mother and calf can outrun a bear. Maybe not always, but they certainly did that time. Moose are ungulates, mammals with hooves. The first ungulates appear in the fossil record about 50 million years ago. The lineage split, evolving into two groups: those with an even number of toes (Artiodactyls) and those with an uneven number of toes (Perissodactyls). We see the first proto-deer about 35 million years ago. These are the proto-deer like Syndyoceras who shared features with deer, horses, giraffes and antelopes. They had bony skull outgrowths similar to antlers and were found in North America during the Miocene, some 35 million years ago. Ten million years later, we see the first animals you and I would recognize as deer. Moose first appear in the fossil record during the Upper Pleistocene, a time of global glaciation. Moose are gentle creatures if unprovoked. They sometimes ramble into town or buildings if they lose their way. We find them enjoying the water from garden sprinklers, randomly making their way into homes, barns and classrooms in Canada — and likely elsewhere. It is worth doing a Google search of their antics to see all that these massive mammals get up to. They are smart enough to know that living in the woods in hunting season can go poorly, so Moose will gather in downtown Banff and Lake Louise, hiding in plain sight to avoid becoming someone's dinner or trophy. Across Canada today, we live alongside 500,000 to 1,000,000 of their number. Another 200,000 or so live south of us in the northern United States. Across Europe and Asia are another million-plus of their relatives.
November 08, 2021
Cretaceous Capilano Fossil Field Trip
Fossil Field Trip to the Cretaceous Capilano Three Brothers Formation — Vancouver has a spectacular mix of mountains, forests, lowlands, inlets and rivers all wrapped lovingly by the deep blue of the Salish Sea. When we look to the North Shore, the backdrop is made more spectacular by the Coast Mountains with a wee bit of the Cascades tucked in behind. If you were standing on the top of the Lion's Gate Bridge looking north you would see the Capilano Reservoir is tucked in between the Lions to the west and Mount Seymour to the east on the North Shore. The bounty of that reservoir flows directly into your cup. If you look down from the reservoir you see the Capilano River as it makes its way to the sea and enters Burrard Inlet. The Capilano River on Vancouver's North Shore flows through the Coast Mountains and our coastal rainforest down to the Capilano watershed en route to Burrard Inlet. The headwaters are at the top of Capilano up near Furry Creek. They flow down through the valley, adding in rainwater, snowmelt and many tributaries before flowing into Capilano Lake. The lake in turn flows through Capilano Canyon and feeds into the Capilano River. This area was once the exclusive domain of the Coast Salish First Nations — xʷmə?kʷəyəm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations until the early 1800s. Many things have changed since then, including the Capilano River's path, water levels and sediment deposition. We have Ernest Albert Cleveland to thank for the loss of that salmon but can credit him with much of our drinking water as it is caught and stored by the dam that bears his name. It was his vision to capture the bounty from the watershed and ensure it made its way into our cups and not the sea. Both the water and a good deal of sediment from the Capilano would flow into Burrard Inlet if not held back by the 91-metre concrete walls of the Cleveland Dam. While it was not Ernest's intention, his vision and dam had a secondary impact. In moving the mouth of the Capilano River he altered the erosion pattern of the North Shore and unveiled a Cretaceous Plant Fossil outcrop that is part of the Three Brothers Formation. The fossil site is easily accessible from Vancouver and best visited in the summer months when water levels are low. The level of preservation of the fossils is quite good. The state in which they were fossilized, however, was not ideal. They look to have been preserved as debris that gathered in eddies in a stream or delta. There are Cretaceous species found only in the sandstone. You will see exposed shale in the area but it does not contain fossil material. Interesting, but again not fossiliferous, are the many granitic and limestone boulders that look to have been brought down by glaciers from as far away as Texada Island. Cretaceous plant material (and modern material) found here include Poplar (cottonwood) Populus sp. Bigleaf Maple, Acer machphyllum, Alder, Alnus rubra, Buttercup Ranvuculus sp., Epilobrium, Red cedar, Blackberry and Sword fern. Capilano Fossil Field Trip: From downtown Vancouver, drive north through Stanley Park and over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Take the North Vancouver exit toward the ferries. Turn right onto Taylor Way and then right again at Clyde Avenue. Look for the Park Royal Hotel. Park anywhere along Clyde Avenue. From Clyde Avenue walk down the path to your left towards the Capilano River. Watch the water level and tread cautiously as it can be slippery if there has been any recent rain. Look for beds of sandstone about 200 meters north of the private bridge and just south of the Highway bridge. The fossil beds are just below the Whytecliff Apartment high rises. Be mindful of high water and slippery rocks.
November 08, 2021
The Fossils and Geology of Haida Gwaii
The islands have gone by many names. To the people who call the islands home, Haida Gwaii means Island of the People, it is a shortened version of an earlier name, Haadala Gwaii-ai, or taken out of concealment. Back at the time of Nangkilslas, it was called Didakwaa Gwaii, or “shoreward country.” By any name, the islands are a place of beauty and spirit and enjoy a special place in both the natural and supernatural world. Haida oral history traces the lineage of their families back to the ocean’s origins. Spear points from Huxley Island confirm a date of between 12,500 - 13,500 years ago. Their stories bear witness to the last ice age, great floods, changes in sea levels and the arrival of the first tree – each binding them closer to the land and sea and enriching our understanding of this special place. The islands form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane that includes parts of western British Columbia, Vancouver Island and Alaska. Today, the mist-shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii is separated from the British Columbia mainland by Hecate Strait, a 40-mile wide channel of tempestuous water. Haida oral tradition tells of a time when the strait was mostly dry, dotted here and there with lakes. And indeed, during the last ice age, glaciers locked up so much water that the sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. Soil samples from the seafloor of Hecate Strait contain wood, pollen, and other terrestrial plant materials that tell of a tundra-like environment. Whether or not the strait was ever completely dry during these times, it seems that it did at least contain a series of stepping-stone islands and bridges that remained free of ice.
November 01, 2021
Fossil Collecting Austria's Triassic Limestones
Fly with me over to Austria in Europe to visit the Hallstatt Limestones. These are the world's richest Triassic ammonite outcrops. Along with diversified cephalopod fauna — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves, especially the late Triassic pteriid bivalve Halobia (the halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals. We also see a lovely selection of microfauna represented. For microfauna, we see conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and holothurian sclerites — polyp-like, soft-bodied invertebrate echinozoans often referred to as sea cucumbers because of their similarities in size, elongate shape, and tough skin over a soft interior.
October 23, 2021
Fossil Collecting Wrangellia
Fossil Collecting in the islands of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. The mist-shrouded islands of Haida Gwaii are at the western edge of the continental shelf and form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane of former island arcs, which also includes Vancouver Island, parts of western mainland British Columbia and southern Alaska. This is a trip that takes some level of planning but is well-worth every moment. I consider a visit to these sacred islands a "trip of a lifetime." And if you are lucky, the first of many more!
October 22, 2021
Harrison Lake Fossil Collecting 101
If you are planning a fossil field trip to Harrison Lake, this is the episode for you! We'll talk about getting there. What to bring and what you'll find. Drive the 30 km up Forestry Road #17, stopping just past Hale Creek at 49.5° N, 121.9° W: paleo-coordinates 42.5° N, 63.4° W, on the west side of Harrison Lake. You'll see Long Island to your right. The first of the yummy fossil exposures are just north of Hale Creek on the west side of the lake on the west side of the road. Drive just past them and park on your right. You are looking for the dark grey rock with the fossils showing up either dark grey, grey-brown or black. You will want to look both in the bedrock, in the loose material that gathers in the ditches and for large dark grey boulders the size of dishwashers packed with Buchia — sometimes made entirely of these densely packed bivalves. Buchia populated our Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous waters like a team sport. When they thrived they really thrived, building up large coquinas of the material that make up much of the rock you will find at Harrison and other sites in the Northern Hemisphere. WHAT TO BRING: As with all trips into British Columbia's wild places, you will want to dress for the weather. This is a good site for hiking boots, raingear, gloves, eye protection and a good geologic hammer and chisel. Fill your gas tank and pack a tasty lunch. You will definitely want to bring your camera for the blocks of Buchia too big to carry. If you take some good photos, I would love to see them. Wear bright clothing and keep your head covered. If it is a larger group, those collecting below may want to consider hardhats in case of small rock falls. These are most often chunks of rock the size of your fist up to the size of a grapefruit — and they pack a punch. Bring a colourful towel or something to lay your keepers on. Once you set down a rock, it is hard to find that keeper pile again as they often blend in with the surroundings. I like to wear one of those lightweight yellow construction vests over whatever I am wearing so my crew and cars can spot me. When you have finished for the day, you can compare your various treasures to see which ones you would like to keep. In British Columbia, you are a steward of the fossil, meaning these all belong to the province but you can keep them safe though cannot sell them or ship them outside British Columbia without a permit. You should be all set to celebrate a glorious day in the beautiful outdoors. I have been asked about collecting four seasons. What do we do about the weather? We live in a rainforest so collecting in sun and rain means your field season is longer. Everyone has a preference. I prefer not to collect in the snow, but I have done. While sunny days are lovely, it can be easier to see the fossil specimens at Harrison when the rock is wet. So, do we do this in the rain? Heck, yeah. Once you get home you can wash and ID your finds. I have put the scientific names here but if they occur as gobblygook, don't worry. Harrison does not have a huge variety of fossil fauna. Essentially, if your find is coiled and round, it is an ammonite. If it is long and straight, it is a belemnite. And if it looks like a wee fat baby oyster, it is Buchia. That is not always true, but it is mostly true. And, you can proudly say that your new fossil babies are between 164.7 - 161.2 million years old. Wow, right? I know. Mindblowing. If you find something you cannot ID, send me a photo on the Fossil Huntress Facebook page and I will help you to identify it. Oh, and do be on the lookout for anything that looks like bone. This site is ripe for finding a marine reptile. Think plesiosaur, mosasaur, elasmosaur, you get the idea. Maybe the next Indiana Jones to get a new species named for them is you!
October 20, 2021
Welcome to the Fossil Huntress Podcast: Season Five
Welcome to Season Five of the Fossil Huntress Podcast. If you love palaeontology, you will love this stream. Ammonites, trilobites, you’ll find them all here. Think of it as dead sexy science for your ears. Have a listen!
October 20, 2021
British Columbia’s Iconic Spirit Bears
Visiting the Great Bear Rainforest takes planning and is well worth the trip. You will want to book a guide to lead you through this 6.4 million hectare wilderness on British Columbia's north and central coasts. I recommend searching www.indigenousbc.com for some wonderful knowledgeable First Nation partners on your excursion. This is a journey, an experience you will never forget, so savour every part. As you enter your footfalls are muffled by lush undergrowth, a crush of salal, fallen needles and wood debris that make up this rich, fertile soil. In this temperate rainforest live some of the oldest and largest stands of timber on the planet. This is sacred ground, hallowed ground — though one could say that for every place on Earth — this feels different somehow, older, deeper. This is a forest that whispers secrets for those with ears to hear — in the language of the trees, streams and hidden within every bit of underbrush, every perfectly formed Deer fern (Struthiopteris spicant) and Western sword fern, (Polystichum muntum) as you gently bushwhack your way through — honouring a leave no trace ethos. As you explore deeper, each breath you take is filled with moist air mingled with the smells of decaying vegetation and fresh growth, new rain and the deep earthy musk of fungi busily at work on the forest floor. The forest itself has a leave no trace mentality in part. Every visible bit of life is a mix of old and new, the fungi breaking down the plant and animal remains, repurposing their life-giving nutrients. It is because of this that we find so few fossils within a rainforest. They are here but not in the way we might think to look for them, at least not with our eyes in the macro-world. Their lineage lives on at the micro-level, bits and pieces embedded within the trees, animals and soil — they form this regions' goût de terroir, the essence of an abiding woodland sphere. The animals that call this forest home live amidst multistoried canopies of Sitka spruce (Picea stichensis), western red cedar (Thuja plicata), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), amabilis fir (Abies amabilis) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) — each of these pillars of the forest are woven together by salal, lichen and a rich mycorrhizal network beneath the ground. The trees here talk to one another using these fungal networks that connect individual trees and plants together to help transfer water, carbon, nitrogen, nutrients and minerals from the earth to needle and leaf. You are walking through time, literally — each footfall retracing history and those that have come before you, both human and animal. As you explore deeper you come across a vision so remarkable it takes your breath away. Deep in this ancient forest where moss overflows every surface and wilderness abounds, British Columbia's Spirit Bear — Ursus americanus kermodei — reigns supreme.
October 18, 2021
Our Palaeontological History: From Fish to Tetrapods
In the late 1930s, our understanding of the transition of fish to tetrapods — and the eventual jump to modern vertebrates — took an unexpected leap forward. The evolutionary a'ha came from a single partial fossil skull found on the shores of a riverbank in Eastern Canada. Meet the Stegocephalian, Elpistostege watsoni, an extinct genus of finned tetrapodomorphs that lived during the Late Givetian to Early Frasnian of the Late Devonian — 382 million years ago. Elpistostege watsoni — perhaps the sister taxon of all other tetrapods — was first described in 1938 by British palaeontologist and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London, Thomas Stanley Westoll. Westoll's research interests were wide-ranging. He was a vertebrate palaeontologist and geologist best known for his innovative work on Palaeozoic fishes and their relationships with tetrapods. As a specialist in early fish, Westoll was asked to interpret a single partial skull roof discovered at the Escuminac Formation in Quebec, Canada. His findings gave us the publication that would name Elpistostege watsoni and helped us to better understand the evolution of fishes to tetrapods — four-limbed vertebrates — one of the most important transformations in vertebrate evolution. Hypotheses of tetrapod origins rely heavily on the anatomy of a few tetrapod-like fish fossils from the Middle and Late Devonian, 393–359 million years ago. These taxa — known as elpistostegalians — include Panderichthys, Elpistostege and Tiktaalik — none of which has yet revealed the complete skeletal anatomy of the pectoral fin. None until 2010, that is when a complete 1.57-metre-long articulated specimen was described by Richard Cloutier et al. in 2020. The specimen helped us to understand the origin of the vertebrate hand. It revealed a set of paired fins of Elpistostege containing bones homologous to the phalanges (finger bones) of modern tetrapods and is the most basal tetrapodomorph known to possess them. Once the phalanges were uncovered, prep work began on the fins. The fins were covered in scales and lepidotrichia (fin rays). The work was tiresome, taking more than 2,700 hours of preparation but the results were thrilling. We could now clearly see that the skeleton of the pectoral fin has four proximodistal rows of radials — two of which include branched carpals — as well as two distal rows organized as digits and putative digits. Despite this skeletal pattern — which represents the most tetrapod-like arrangement of bones found in a pectoral fin to date blurring the line between fish and land vertebrates — the fin retains lepidotrichia (those wee fin rays) distal to the radials. This arrangement confirmed an age-old question — showing us for the first time that the origin of phalanges preceded the loss of fin rays, not the other way around. This was evidence for the origins of the vertebrate hand that you and I use today.
October 16, 2021
Fossil Field Trip to the Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast on the western edge of the USA is a wonderful place to collect fossils. The area has been known for its wonderful fossil fauna since the 1830s. Here we find middle Miocene (along with a wee bit of Eocene) outcrops with delicious fossil whale bone, fish teeth, turtle shell, and a magnificent assortment of molluscs — the gastropods Chlorostome pacificum, Turritella oregonensis, Crepidula, Cryptontica oregonensis, Polinices canalis, Neverita, Sinum scopulosum and the large and lovely Liracassis petrosa. Some bits of terrestrial material are sometimes washed into the mix and give us some insights into the local tree fauna at that time. We also find lovely wee foraminifera, so well worth bringing a hand lens. I had mentioned connecting with Kathryn Abbott, Spino Queen during the episode. You can find her at @kathronodon on Instagram or as co-host on the podcast @dinosaurpostcast. She is a delight and I highly recommend you connect with her!
September 02, 2021
Burgess Shale Biota: Life in Middle Cambrian Seas
High up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains there are mysteries more than half a billion years old. These are the outcrops of the Burgess Shale Biota — more than 150 species that provide a window into life in our Cambrian seas. Charles Doolittle Walcott will be forever remembered for his extraordinary discovery of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of Yoho National Park in southeastern British Columbia — delivering to the world one of the most important biota of soft-bodied organisms in the fossil record. Here we find a fairly complete look at an ancient ecosystem with algae, grazers and filter feeders, scavengers and active predators. Remarkably, soft-bodied organisms make up 98% of individuals and 85% of the genera. These animals lived and died in the deep waters at the base of what would later become known as the Cathedral Escarpment.
July 06, 2021
Love the Wild: Gentle Gentoo Penguins
Gentoo Penguins with their black, white natural colouring akin to formal wear — are some of my favourite animals. They are foraging predators — dining on crustaceans, fish and squid in the cold nearshore waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands. South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and the Falklands are inhospitable British Overseas Territories in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The first scientific description of these romantic seabirds was done by Johann Reinhold Forster in 1781. He used the Falkland Islands population for both the type specimen and locality. These diminutive penguins are in the genus Pygoscelis, and are most closely related to their penguin cousins — the Adélie and Chinstraps. The gentoo penguin is one of three species in the genus Pygoscelis. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence suggests the genus split from other penguins around 38 million years ago, about 2 million years after the ancestors of the genus Aptenodytes. In turn, the Adelie penguins split off from the other members of the genus around 19 million years ago, and the chinstrap and Gentoo finally diverged around 14 million years ago. Two subspecies of this penguin are recognised: Pygoscelis papua papua (the subantarctic Gentoo) and the smaller Pygoscelis papua ellsworthi (the Antarctic Gentoo). We will likely need to reclassify the gentle Gentoos into a species complex of four morphologically similar but separate species: the northern gentoo penguin (P. papua sensu stricto), the southern gentoo penguin (P. ellsworthi), the eastern gentoo penguin (P. taeniata), and the newly-described South Georgia gentoo penguin (P. poncetii). We find breeding colonies of gentoo penguins on ice-free surfaces either directly on the shoreline or far inland. They prefer shallow coastal areas and often nest between tufts of grass. In South Georgia, breeding colonies are 2 km inland. In colonies farther inland, where the penguins nest in grassy areas, they shift location slightly every year because the grass will become trampled over time. Gentoos breed on many sub-Antarctic islands. The main colonies are on the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Kerguelen Islands; smaller colonies are found on Macquarie Island, Heard Islands, Crozet Islands, South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Their breeding populations number well over 600,000 birds. Once a breeding pair decide that their romance is a go, they stay together for life — and infidelity is frowned upon. Punishment is banishment from the colony — strict but these birds know how to draw a firm line in the pebbles. Nests are usually made from a roughly circular pile of stones and can be quite large — up to 20 cm (7.9 in) high and 25 cm (9.8 in) in diameter. The chosen rocks are prized and jealously guarded. Just who owned which pebble is the subject of many noisy debates — some escalating to nasty physical altercations between disagreeing parties. "That rock is mine. Mine!" The pebbles are especially prized by the females, to the point that a male penguin can woo his lady love and secure a lifetimes' devotion by proffering a particularly choice stone — not unlike some human females.
June 20, 2021
Earth’s Earliest Atmosphere: Cyanobacteria
We owe a huge nod of gratitude to the wee photosynthetic microbes known as cyanobacteria for their work in helping to create the first oxygen to enter our atmosphere and make you and I — & indeed all life on Earth — possible. When the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was an inhospitable place. Even with a Sun some 25 per cent weaker than it is today, ours was a molten world that needed to undergo a long period of cooling before the conditions for life would arise. And arise they did. On the planet's surface, volcanoes spewed lava and volatile gasses into what would become our earliest atmosphere. It looked very different from the one we know today — nitrogen, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and small amounts of water vapour made up the gassy soup surrounding our world. But that first water would change everything. As the water vapour condensed, it came back to the surface bit by bit. Over a very long period of time, those waters pooled and gathered and became our first oceans. It was in this early ocean some 2.7 billion years ago that cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, wonderous photosynthetic microbes, would take up that weakened sunlight and water vapour to process the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, producing other chemical compounds and oxygen as a by-product.
May 30, 2021
Fool’s Gold: Betting On Gold Prospects
When I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I struck gold! Well, it wasn't real gold, but I was most convinced. Someone had dumped a tailings pile near the woods where I lived and in the sun, those crushed pieces of rock sparkled. I had already been bitten by the love of minerals and fossils and so naturally I filled my pockets and brought as much home as a youngster can carry. Where I was told that it was Fool's Gold. But, still... it was so compelling and just so gold-like. So, secretly I continued my forays and dragged as many of those lovely sparkly bits home as I could. The pile soon amassed to what could not be concealed in a youngsters room — those socks have to live somewhere. So we struck a bargain. My folks would let me keep my gold if I kept it under the house. I suspect it is still there to this day. I did eventually find gold up in Atlin, British Columbia — and loads of it — but none that I could keep. I met a fellow who pans for it and had built out a sluicing system to great success. He showed me an ice cream bucket full of gold nuggets that I still ponder to this day. So, what exactly is Fool's Gold? Is it gold mixed with another mineral or something else altogether? Turns out it is pyrite which has a brass-yellow colour and metallic lustre similar to gold, but pyrite is brittle and will break rather than bend as gold does. A good field test is to give it a streak test. Gold leaves a yellow streak, while pyrite’s streak is brownish-black. Pyrite is named from the Greek word for fire (pyr) because it can create sparks for starting a fire when struck against metal or stone — also fun to try in the field. Pyrite was once a source of sulfur and sulfuric acid, but today most sulfur is obtained as a byproduct of natural gas and crude oil processing. We sometimes see pyrite sold as a novelty item or made into costume jewellery. But pyrite does have its uses beyond amusing youngsters dreaming of their own gold rush. Pyrite can sometimes help you find real gold because the two form together under similar conditions. Gold can even occur as inclusions inside pyrite, sometimes in mineable quantities depending on how effectively the gold can be recovered. Fool’s Gold is truly pyrite or iron sulfide (FeS2) and is one of the most common sulfide minerals. Sulfide minerals are a group of inorganic compounds containing sulfur and one or more elements. I still have a fondness for it and share a wry smile when I find it out in the field. It is remarkably common. And, I do still want it to be real gold even though my grown-up brain knows it is not. When I am very lucky, however, I find pyritized fossils — even better than gold!
May 27, 2021
José Bonaparte: Master of the Mesozoic
One of the most delightful palaeontologists to grace our Earth was José Fernando Bonaparte (14 June 1928 – 18 February 2020). He was an Argentinian paleontologist who you'll know as the discoverer of some of Argentina's iconic dinosaurs — Carnotaurus (the "Bull" dinosaur we've talked about in a previous episode), along with Amargasaurus, Abelisaurus, Argentinosaurus and Noasaurus. His first love was mammals and over the course of his career, he unearthed the remains of some of the first South American fossil mammals from the Mesozoic. Between 1975 and 1977, Bonaparte worked on excavation of the Saltasaurus dinosaur with Martín Vince and Juan C. Leal at the Estancia "El Brete." Bonaparte was interested in the anatomy of Saltasaurus, particularly the armored plates or osteoderms embedded in its skin. Based on this discovery, together with twenty examples of Kritosaurus australis and a lambeosaurine dinosaur found in South America, Bonaparte hypothesized that there had been a large-scale migration of species between the Americas at the end of the Mesozoic period. The supercontinent of Pangea split into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south during the Jurassic. During the Cretaceous, South America pulled away from the rest of Gondwana. The division caused a divergence between northern biota and the southern biota, and the southern animals appear strange to those used to the more northerly fauna. Bonaparte's finds illustrate this divergence. His work is honoured in his moniker given to him by paleontologist Robert Bakker — "Master of the Mesozoic"
May 20, 2021
The Great Karoo of South Africa
The Great Karoo was formed in a vast inland basin starting 320 million years ago, at a time when that part of Gondwana which would eventually become Africa, lay over the South Pole. The Karoo records a wonderful time in our evolutionary history when the world was inhabited by interesting amphibians and mammal-like reptiles — including the apex predators of the day, the Gorgons. Gorgons or Gorgonopsia were sabre-toothed therapsids who roamed our ancient Earth from the Middle to Upper Permian — 265 to 252 million years ago — with their long claws, lizard eyes and massive canines. I learned about the Karoo, and indeed the Gorgons, by a book of the same name by the deeply awesome Peter Ward. His introduction to what life and fieldwork are like in the arid, inhospitable ancestral home of the Gorgons made me laugh out loud in glee. I highly recommend you read it, too.
May 12, 2021
Marble Canyon: Stromatolites in Limestone
Marble Canyon in British Columbia, Canada is a lovely place to hike. Here you can see some of the oldest freshwater stromatolites on Earth and one of our oldest lifeforms. The canyon's name comes from the brilliant limestone of its walls. The bedrock is microcrystalline limestone (sedimentary rock) rather than marble (metamorphic rock). The rocks found here tell of the forming of British Columbia. Marble Canyon was once part of a chain of Pacific Islands originating far to the southwest of the coast of ancient BC. They rode their way north and were eventually caught up between the North American Plate and the edge of the Pacific Plate, then slowly crushed between the large islands of the Insular Supperterrane of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Most of the pacific islands were entirely crushed, but Marble Canyon is made of bits and pieces of the islands that survived.
March 21, 2021
Love the Wild: Australia’s Fossil Megafauna
Australia has always held appeal as a country with weird and wonderful wildlife. This is as true today as it was back in the Pleistocene — 2.5 million years ago to 11,500 years ago.
March 05, 2021
The Shifting Earth: Plate Tectonics
Plate tectonics looks at Earth’s outer layer. It is made up of large, moving pieces called plates. All of Earth’s land and water sit on these plates. The plates are made of solid rock. Under the plates is a weaker layer of partially melted rock. The plates are constantly moving over this weaker layer. Think of the Earth as an egg. The outer hard shell is the lithosphere or "hard rock" and the next layer or egg white is the mantle. The central core has two parts: the outer is more liquid and the centre is more solid. Much like a convection oven, the heat from our core shifts these pieces to form the Earth we know and love today.
March 02, 2021
Amber: Fossilized Tree Resin
Amber is fossilized tree resin that has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since the Neolithic. We find amber around the globe, generally in rocks that are Cretaceous or younger. Tree resin or sap is essential to a tree. Roots take up water and nutrients, and these need to be spread throughout the tree. Sap is the viscous liquid that carries these yummy minerals and nutrients to areas where they are most needed. Tree leaves produce simple sugars that must get transported through the tree's fibres. If some of that sap or resin gets covered and then has extreme heat and pressure applied, amber is formed.
February 21, 2021
Ammonite Valentine: Upper Cretaceous Brannen Lake Motorcross Pit
One of the classic Vancouver Island fossil localities is the Santonian-Maastrichtian, Upper Cretaceous Haslam Formation Motocross Pit near Brannen Lake, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. The quarry is no longer active as such though there is a busy little gravel quarry a little way down the road closer to Ammonite falls near Benson Creek Falls. Today it is an active Motocross site. Beneath the crisscrossing tire tracks, it remains one of the classic localities of the Nanaimo Group. We find well-preserved nautiloids and ammonites — Canadoceras, Pseudoschloenbachia, Epigoniceras — the bivalves — Inoceramus, Sphenoceramus— gastropods, and classic Nanaimo Group decapods — Hoploparia, Linuparus. We also find fossil fruit and seeds which tell the story of the terrestrial history of Vancouver Island. It was John Fam, Vice-Chair, Vancouver Island Paleontological Society (VanPS), who originally told me about the locality. John is one of the most delightful and knowledgeable people you'd be well-blessed to meet. While he lived on Vancouver Island, he was an active member of the VanPS back when I was Chair. Several of the best joint VIPS/VanPS paleontological expeditions were planned with or instigated by his passion for fossils. I tip my hat to him for his passion and shared love of all things paleo. John grew up 15 minutes from the motocross locality and used to collect there a few times a week with his father. John has wonderful parents and since marrying his childhood sweetheart, the amazing Grace, those excellent genetics, curiosity and love of fossils are now being passed to a new generation. It's lovely to see John and Grace continuing tradition with two boys of their own. I'm wishing them and you a wonderful Valentine's Day!
February 14, 2021
Love the Wild: Koala Bears / Marsupials
Koala, Phasscolarctos cinereus, are truly adorable marsupials native to Australia. These cuddly "teddy bears" are not bears at all. Koalas belong to a group of mammals known as marsupials. Fossil remains of Koala-like animals have been found dating back to 25 million years ago. As the climate changed and Australia became drier, ancient vegetation evolved to what we know as eucalyptus, becoming the Koalas food source. Koalas have pouches on their bellies where their newborns develop. Their wee newborns are called joeys and are born blind and earless. They use their strong sense of touch and smell to guide them instinctively up into their mother's pouch when they are born and live here for about six months. When they are a little stronger and braver, they get curious, foraging about. They also like to ride on their mother's back until they are about a year old, seeing the world from the safety of Mamma. Adult Koalas love eucalyptus trees and spend their leisurely days eating and napping amongst the foliage.
February 13, 2021
Furry, Fuzzy, Polar, Panda — Bears: Ursidae
Bears are one of my favourite mammals. Had they evolved in a slightly different way, we might well have chosen them as pets instead of the dogs so many of us have in our lives today. For them and for us, I think things worked out for the best that they enjoy the rugged wild country they call home. Bears are carnivoran mammals of the family Ursidae. They are classified as caniforms or doglike carnivorans. Although only eight species of bears are extant, they are widespread, appearing in a wide variety of habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere and partially in the Southern Hemisphere — making a home in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. The relatives of our black and brown bears, a dog-bear, entered the fossil record about 20 million years ago. We've found polar bear bones that tell us more about when they split off in the lineage. DNA from a 110,000–130,000-year-old polar-bear fossil has been successfully sequenced. The genome, from a jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway, in 2004, indicates when polar bears, Ursus maritimus, diverged from their nearest common relative, the brown bear — Ursus arctos. Because polar bears live on ice and their remains are unlikely to be buried in sediment and preserved, polar-bear fossils are very rare. So the discovery of a jawbone and canine tooth — the entirety of the Svalbard find — is impressive. But far more important, is that when molecular biologist Charlotte Lindqvist, then at the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum and now at the University at Buffalo in New York, drilled into the jaw, she was able to collect intact mitochondrial DNA. Yes, a bit Jurassic Park-esque. Mitochondria — organelles found in animal cells — have their own DNA and can replicate. And because there are many mitochondria per cell, mitochondrial DNA is easier to find in fossils than the nuclear DNA. Lindqvist wondered whether this mitochondrial DNA could illuminate the evolutionary history of how and when polar bears diverged from brown bears. To find out, she worked with Stephan Schuster, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and a team of colleagues to sequence the genetic material she had collected and was successful. It is the oldest mammalian mitochondrial genome yet sequenced — about twice the age of the oldest mammoth genome, which dates to around 65,000 years old. From their work we have learned that polar bears are a relatively young evolutionarily young species that split off from brown bears some 150,000 years ago and evolved rapidly during the Late Pleistocene, adapting to the cold, arctic regions of our planet.
February 05, 2021
Fossil Field Trip to Sooke
The upper Oligocene Sooke Formation that outcrops on southwestern Vancouver Island, British Columbia is a wonderful place to collect and especially good for families. As well as amazing west coast scenery, the beach site outcrop has a lovely soft matrix with well-preserved fossil molluscs, often with the shell material preserved (Clark and Arnold, 1923). While the site has been known since the 1890s, my first trip here was in the early 1990s as part of a Vancouver Paleontological Society (VanPS) fossil field trip. By the Oligocene ocean temperatures had cooled to near modern levels and the taxa preserved here as fossils bear a strong resemblance to those found living beneath the Strait of Juan de Fuca today. Gastropods, bivalves, echinoids, coral, chitin and limpets are common-ish — and on rare occasions, fossil marine mammals, cetacean and bird bones are discovered. Back in 2015, a family found the fossilized bones from a 25-million-year-old wing-propelled flightless diving bird while out strolling the shoreline near Sooke. Not knowing what they'd found but recognizing it as significant, the bones were brought to the Royal British Columbia Museum to identify. The bones found their way into the hands of Gary Kaiser. Kaiser worked as a biologist for Environment Canada and the Nature Conservatory of Canada. After retirement, he turned his eye from our extant avian friends to their fossil lineage. The thing about passion is it never retires. Gary is now a research associate with the Royal British Columbia Museum, published author and continues his research on birds and their paleontological past. Kaiser identified the well-preserved coracoid bones as the first example from Canada of a Plotopteridae, an extinct family that lived in the North Pacific from the late Eocene to the early Miocene. In honour of our First Nations communities who settled the Sooke area, Kaiser named the new genus and species Stemec suntokum. Avian fossils from the Sooke Formation are rare. We are especially lucky that the bird bone was fossilized at all. These are delicate bones and tasty. Scavengers often get to them well before they have a chance and the right conditions to fossilize. Doubly lucky is that the find was of a coracoid, a bone from the shoulder that provides information on how this bird moved and dove through the water similar to a penguin. It's the wee bit that flexes as the bird moves his wing up and down. Picture a penguin doing a little waddle and flapping their flipper-like wings getting ready to hop near and dive into the water. Now imagine them expertly porpoising — gracefully jumping out of the sea and zigzagging through the ocean to avoid predators. It is likely that the Sooke find did some if not all of these activities.
January 31, 2021
Rene Savenye: Friendship & Fossil Bees
This is a tale of friendship, tragic loss and fossil bees — and an introduction to one of the most delightful paleo enthusiasts to ever walk the planet — Rene Savenye. Rene and I enjoyed many years of waxing poetic about our shared love of palaeontology and natural history. Rene was a mountain goat in the field, stalking the hills in his signature red t-shirt. He was tremendously knowledgeable about the natural world and delighted in it. For many years, he was Chair of the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists, while I was Chair of the Vancouver Paleontological Society. Together, we would plan and often co-lead field trips to many of the wonderful fossil outcrops in British Columbia and Washington state. In 2002, we were planning a very exciting round of field trips. I was offered a fully paid trip to India with Karen Lund to hike to the headwaters of the Ganges, a trip which I was to forgo in favour of a hike up to the outcrops of the Cathedral Escarpment and Burgess Shale and then to yummy Lower Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous, Albian, outcrops accessed only by boat in Haida Gwaii. Rene and I had talked about "walking in the shoes" of Joseph Whiteaves, the GSC's chief palaeontologist in Ottawa. He published a paper in 1876 describing the Jurassic and Cretaceous faunas of Skidegate Inlet and spent a significant portion of his career working out the fossil fauna of the Burgess Shale. Combining these two sites within the same field season was a fitting homage. John Fam, Vancouver Paleontological Society (VanPS) and Dan Bowen, Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society (VIPS), did much of the planning for that Haida Gwaii trip, they too being inspired by Whiteaves papers and the work of James Richardson and George Dawson — as a whole, we were giddy with the prospect of the year ahead. Rene and I had planned to do both, but in the end, I had to give up the hike to Burgess that year and Rene never made it back to join me in Haida Gwaii. In the days before the official trip to Burgess, Rene did some solo hiking in the mountains and hills near Field, British Columbia. He was excited to explore Wapta Mountain, Mount Field and Mount Stephen, ever mindful of collecting only with his camera. He walked through the hallowed footsteps of Joseph Whiteaves and Charles Doolittle Walcott over ground that should have been named La Entrada de Dios, The Gateway of God, for each footfall brought him closer to meeting the big man. While a naturalist, Rene held to the belief that once his days were done on this Earth, he would be breaking bread in heaven above. Rene started with clear skies and a pack full of geology hammers, maps and chisels. As the day went on, the skies filled with rolling clouds, then thunder. Grey sheets of rain covered the landscape. Seeing the danger of being solo in darkening weather, he started back to his car but never made it. On the afternoon of July 28th, he was struck and killed by lightning — a tragic loss.
January 28, 2021
Geologic Time & the Periodic Table
Part of our ability to date the rock sequences we see in the world and determine which are older and which younger has to do with simple observation. We see that older rocks contain trilobites and a wee bit above those we see ammonites, then clams and oysters in newer sediments. For a long time, this simple observation held us in good stead. We had a relative timescale for the Earth and this allowed us to piece together the biologic and geologic picture much clearer. To understand and date rock in absolute terms required advances in science, in chemistry in particular, that we achieved in large part by 1895. This was the beginning of our understanding of distinct elements and the periodic table of elements. To many, the table is a memory of science classes from our youth and long forgotten. But in the period table, we find both the tremendous history of human achievement and the aha moments that help us to understand simple yet complex concepts like radioisotope decay — the genius tool we use for the absolute dating of rocks and fossils. To that end, I highly recommend Sam Kean's book, The Disappearing Spoon. It is a tasty romp through madness, love and the history of the world through the eyes of the periodic table. You may find that within the stories that the table becomes more real for you and that the mysteries it holds are more easily within your grasp.
January 13, 2021
The Map that Changed the World
Our World has shifted dramatically over time. Our great land masses and oceans have moved, grown, shrunk, come together and pulled apart over the Earth's history. It is the fossils that have helped shape our understanding of this tremendous story of upheaval. Part of understanding fossils has been simple observation. We find fossilized shells on mountain tops — quite unexpectedly — and this makes us question how this could be possible. As we learn about plate tectonics and palaeogeography, we also observe collections of fossils and what they tell us about ancient climates, distribution of species and life on Earth over time. I find textbooks very useful as a means to gain an understanding of these concepts. I also love a great story and highly recommend the work of Simon Winchester. He's written many a great tale. I thought you might enjoy one of them on the life of William Smith, the father of modern geology — The Map that Changed the World.
January 12, 2021
Dinosaur Hunting: Alberta Fossil Field Trip
Alberta is a gorgeous province in western Canada that borders British Columbia & Saskatchewan. Here you can see the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains, Beautiful Wildlife & the Badlands with their Dinosaur remains at Dinosaur Provincial Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the town of Brooks), and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller. Dinosaur Provincial Park contains some of the most important fossil specimens discovered from the “Age of Dinosaurs” period of Earth’s history. The property is unmatched in terms of the number and variety of high quality specimens which, to date, represent more than 44 species, 34 genera and 10 families of dinosaurs, dating back 75-77 million years. The park contains exceptional riparian habitat features as well as badlands of outstanding aesthetic value.
January 10, 2021
Fossils Deep in the North Sea
Brown Bank in the North Sea is a treasure trove of Miocene and Pleistocene Fossil Mammal material. It is also a great place to unearth archaeological remains. Until sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, between 8-10,000 years ago, an area of land connected Great Britain to Scandinavia and the continent. Here our relatives lived their lives, hunted local animals and all species left remains behind. This region is now underwater in the Brown Bank section of the North Sea. The North Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. An epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north. Trawl nets are used to scoop up fish and often turn up interesting fossils and artefacts from the deep seabed.
January 04, 2021
Palaeontology: Mass Extinction Events
We live on a beautiful and ever-evolving planet — both in its geography, living and extinct species. Whether you study palaeontology (Brits & Canadians) or paleontology (USA and much of the rest of the world...) much of our Earth's history is dramatic in its changing role call for living and extinct species. We have had Five Mass Extinction Events in the Earth's 3.5 billion year history. These are cataclysmic events where more than 75% of the Earth's species have become extinct. The most recent of these is the Cretaceous mass extinction where we lost the dinosaurs, our mighty marine reptiles and beloved ammonites. The loss of the dinosaurs gave rise to the age of mammals and eventually, the world you and I know today.
December 30, 2020
Geologic Time & Radioisotope Dating
We live on an amazing planet with a 4.5 billion year history of life evolving from a single cell to multicellular life to the sheer volume of diversity of species we see through time and walking the Earth today. How do we know the timeline for this? How do we date the rock units and mountains and stones beneath our feet? We use simple observation out in the field to look at rock and observe that generally speaking, older rock units tend to be deeper than the younger rock on top. We use index fossils like ammonites or Triassic paperclams to help give us a better understanding. We also turn to chemistry and use the decay rates of radioisotopes to help give us a time stamp on a rock unit. We use Carbon-14 for rock younger than 50 thousand years or Potassium-40 or Uranium for rock older than 50 thousand years. It was through the decay rate of uranium that we arrived at a relative age of the Earth of 4.5 billion years. We have new techniques evolving out of various fields of science to help us gain a deeper understanding of the Earth. Donald Prothero has been taking deep-sea drilling cores which tell us of shifts in the magnetic field of the Earth. His work will let us date the fossils we find to within 100,000 years — a significant insight over the plus or minus 2-million-year dating that radioisotopes give us.
December 30, 2020
Cam Muskelly vs Megalodon
For the ARCHEA blog post on Megalodon, I wanted to choose a human to give that mighty shark a true sense of scale. And in choosing a human, I thought I'd choose a truly awesome one to introduce to all of you. Everyone, meet Cam Muskelly. Cam Muskelly is an award-winning Avocational Palaeontologist & Geologist in Georgia, in the southeastern United States. Cam is a Science Writer, Fossil Hunter, Tweeter & YouTuber with ASD. He gives talks on a number of subjects related to palaeontology & geology — all of which are a delight! In tomorrow's ARCHEA blog post, you can get a sense of the scale of Cam vs Megalodon in the Scuba vs Shark image. Cam is a respectable five feet, five inches tall or 1.65 metres tall. Otodus megalodon is more than ten times larger. Now, Cam is a brave man and reached his hand out in the image as an act of solidarity to this beautiful shark from ancient seas, but fortunately for him (and you and I) there is 20-million-years separating his hand and those chompers. Megalodon had more than 276 teeth in their cage-like mouths and produced a nasty bite! If you would like to check out a talk by the deeply awesome Cam Muskelly, visit: https://youtu.be/I-pXdzeLAMI Join him for a fun, short chat about two important Permian fossils from his personal collection, which he uses for education and outreach across his home state. He shared this talk as part of the Discovery Day: National Fossil Day for the KU Natural History Museum. Cam Muskelly Paleo 101 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq-68CrGM398gd3NFXfX87w Cam Muskelly on Twitter: @PaleoCameron / He's a good man that Cam. You should follow him. I do and love his posts!
December 26, 2020
Palaeontology: The Mighty Megalodon
23-million-years ago to just over 3-million-years ago, the apex predator of the seas was the hulking cousin to today's Great White Shark. That big beastie was Otodus megalodon — the largest shark to ever swim our seas and the largest fish as well. This big boy swam in at a whopping fifty-tonnes and grew to 18 metres in length — twice the size of an ankylosaur or triceratops and larger than a Tyrannosaurs rex but a wee bit smaller than a brontosaurus. From our modern oceans and their modern cousins, that is a full three times larger Deep Blue, the 2.5 tonne, 6-metre long shark found off Oahu's south shore in 2019. Deep Blue weighed the equivalent of two Stonehenge Sarsen stones or half a house. Picture your house, now add another half and that is the size of Otodus megalodon. It truly puts their size in perspective. We often estimate the size of animals and what they ate by the size and shape of their teeth. Megalodon had large serrated teeth up to 18 centimetres long — perfect for dining on dolphins and humpback whales — and they had loads of them. Their mouths were lined with up to 276 teeth and these packed a punch with one of the most powerful bites on record. We have a rather paltry bite force of around 1,317 Newtons (N) when we chomp down with gusto. In 2012, we learned that the most powerful bite recorded from a living animal belongs to the saltwater crocodile. Gregory Erickson of Florida State University in Tallahassee compared 23 crocodilian species and discovered that the largest saltwater crocodiles can bite with an impressive 16,414N. That is more than 3.5 times the crushing force of the previous record-holder, the spotted hyena. Still, our aquatic friends beat that, if only slightly. A great white shark does indeed have a mightier bite than a crocodile. We have known the estimated bite force of a great white a while longer. In 2008, Stephen Wroe of the University of New England in Australia and his colleagues used computer simulations to estimate the chomping pressure of a great white. Not surprisingly, great white sharks chomp in at an impressive 18,216N — greater than a saltwater crocodile but a full ten times less than Otodus. But all those bites pale in comparison to Otodus megalodon — this beastie takes the cake — or the whale — with a bite force of 182,201N. It is amazing to think of something as large and majestic as a whale being on any creatures menu but feast they did. Megalodon could open their toothy jaws 3.4 metres wide — that is wide enough to make a meal of a whale or swallow you and a friend whole. I added a brave — or very foolish — scuba diver to an image I will post on the ARCHEA blog to give you a sense of scale. Otodus megalodon was a bit blunt-nosed in comparison to a great white. They hail from a different lineage that broke off deeper in their hereditary history around 55-million-years ago. We now know that Otodus megalodon was the last of their lineage and the great grandbaby of Otodus obliquus and possibly Cretalamina appendiculata, who cruised our ancient seas 105 million years ago.
December 26, 2020
The Dove Creek Mosasaur
The Dove Creek Mosasaur, which includes the teeth and lower jawbone of a large marine reptile was discovered by Rick Ross of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, during the construction of the Inland Highway, near the Dove Creek intersection on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Mosasaurs had a hinged jaw that allowed them to swallow prey larger than themselves. They evolved special pterygoid teeth projecting back into the roof of their mouths that acted as guards against escaping prey. The jawbones Rick found were exposed just up to the hinge. Given the size, this toothy fellow could have been as much as seven (7) metres long and weighed up to a tonne.
December 25, 2020
Carboniferous Mason Creek Biota
You may have seen some lovely plant material in dark nodules of siderite or iron carbonate coming from the Mazon Creek Fossil Beds. the Mason Creek Biota are lovely fossil lagerstätte found in northeastern Illinois. These marine and terrestrial fossils are preserved in ironstone concretions that tell the tale of our world some 309 million years ago — back in the Carboniferous.
December 25, 2020
Happy Holidays 2020
God Jul & the Very Best of the Holiday Season to You & Yours. However you celebrate, sending you love and light for a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Merry Ho Ho. Joyeux Noël. Chag Urim Sameach. Seku Kulu. Vrolijk Kerstfeest. Prettige Kerst. Wesołych Świąt. Nadelik Lowen. Glædelig Jul. Hyvää joulua. Bon Natale. Feliz Natal. Frohe Weihnachten. Mele Kalikimaka. Gleðileg jól. Christmas MobArak. Buon Natale. Meri Kuri. Felicem Diem Nativitatis. Среќен Божик. Quvianagli Anaiyyuniqpaliqsi. Gledelig Jul. Maligayang Pasko. Crăciun Fericit. Blithe Yule. Veselé Vianoce. Hanukkah Sameach. Nollaig Chridheil. Счастливого рождества. Cualli netlācatilizpan. חג מולד שמח. Nollaig Shona Dhuit. Śubh krisamas (शुभ क्रिसमस). Prabhu Ka Naya Din Aapko Mubarak Ho. A warm thank you to all of you for sharing these past few months with me. I hope 2021 brings light, love and many fossil specimens.
December 25, 2020
Hunting Ichthyosaurs: Svalbard Fossil Field Trip
Join in for a chilly visit to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard between mainland Norway and the North Pole. This one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas with rugged terrain, glaciers and polar bear. The rocks here house beautiful Triassic ammonoids, bivalves and primitive ichthyosaurs. To see some of the fossils from here, visit: https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com/2020/12/ammonoids-and-bivalves-of-svalbard.html
December 23, 2020
Kazakhstan: Fossils and Geology
Kazakhstan Fossils and Geology: This morning on the ARCHEA Blog I shared a tasty block of Semenovites (Anahoplites) cf. michalskii ammonites that hail from Cretaceous, Albian deposits that outcrop on the Mangyshlak Peninsula on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, in beautiful Kazakhstan. Present-day Kazakhstan is made up of several micro continental blocks that were broken up in the Cambrian and then crushed back together then smashed up against Siberia and came to rest where we find them today. We'll explore the geology of Kazakhstan and some of her fossils. If you'd like to see the beautiful ammonite block with her beige matrix and golden orange and brown ammonites, visit: https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com/2020/12/kazakhstan-anahoplites.html
December 23, 2020
Welcome to Season Two
Happy Winter Solstice 2020 — Welcome to Season Two. The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. It is a time for celebration, family, candles and reflecting on the blessings of the year. I'm wishing you and yours the very best as we navigate the end of 2020 and look forward to a bright and happy 2021 — a year filled with fossils and curiosity.
December 21, 2020
Carnotaurus: Flesh-Eating Dinosaur
Meet Carnotaurus sastrei, a genus of large theropod dinosaurs that roamed the southern tip of Argentina, South America during the Late Cretaceous, 72 to 69.9 million years ago. His name means "flesh-eating bull,' and he lives up to it with his pointed teeth and bull-like horns.
December 20, 2020
Brachiopods and Living Fossils
Brachiopods, sharks, crocodiles, coelacanth, ginko, horsetails and velvet works are all considered Living Fossils. We'll talk about those species and others on today's cast. Living Fossils are an interesting area in palaeontology. Today's episode was spurred by Sayre Morgan who asks the question, "if brachiopods are technically still alive today and look similar. And we can recognize them in the fossil record over 500 million years ago. Why do they maintain their original appearance?" There are many organisms we refer to as "Living Fossils." We have a perception — sometimes true and sometimes not — that there has been relatively little evolution in their body plan and style over time. Sometimes habitats — whether terrestrial or marine — and lifestyles remained so stable that there was little evolutionary pressure to change. There are still some evolutionary changes. For horsetails, we see a stable body design but huge changes in size. For our crocodylian friends, we often refer to them as "unchanged since the age of Dinosaurs" but that is not strictly true. They were massive back in the Triassic and slowly evolved and shrunk over time to match their environments. Similar stories are true for sharks, lice, coelacanth, velvet worms, water striders, lungfish... the list goes on. An excellent question, Sayre. I hope that helps!
December 12, 2020
The Fossil Record: Woolly Mammoths
Woolly Mammoths were true elephants, unlike their less robust cousins, the mastodons. Mammoths were bigger — both in girth and height — weighing in at a max of 13 tonnes. They are closely related to Asian elephants and were about the size of the African elephants you see roaming the grasslands of Africa today. Their size offered protection against other predators once the mammoth was full grown. Sadly for the juveniles, they offered tasty prey to big cats like Homotherium who roamed those ancient grasslands alongside them. They roamed widely in the Pliocene to Holocene, roaming much of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. We see them first some 150,000 years ago from remains in Russia then expanding out from Spain to Alaska. They enjoyed a very long lifespan of 60-80 — up to 20 years longer than a mastodon and longer than modern elephants. They enjoyed the prime position as the Apex predator of the megafauna, then declined — partially because of the environment and food resources and partially because of their co-existence with humans. In places where the fossil record shows a preference for hunting smaller prey, humans and megafauna do better together. We see this in places like the Indian Subcontinent where primates and rodents made the menu more often than the large megafauna who roamed there. We also see this in present-day Africa, where the last of the large and lovely megafauna show remarkable resilience in the face of human co-existence. The woolly mammoths from the Ukrainian-Russian plains died out 15,000 years ago. This population was followed by woolly mammoths from St. Paul Island in Alaska who died out 5,600 years ago — and quite surprisingly, at least to me, the last mammoth died just 4,000 years ago in the frosty ice on the small island of Wrangel in the Arctic Ocean — their final days spent scratching out a dwindling existence of genetic mutations, howling winds, rain-darkened hills and subsistence on tough grasses grown in thin soil. Can we bring them back? Well, maybe. There have been great strides in genetic engineering so my guess is that we one day will.
December 12, 2020
Lemurs of Madagascar
Lemurs are mammals of the order Primates, divided into 8 families and consisting of 15 genera and around 100 highly diverse species — 105 to be exact. They are native only to the island of Madagascar. Most lemurs are relatively small, have a pointed snout, large eyes, and a long tail. They are arboreal, living primarily in trees and nocturnal, preferring to be active at night, snacking on leaves and flowers, tree bark and sap. They are social animals, living in groups of a half dozen to up to 30 strong. The dominant female leads the group. Females have about one to size wee pups after mating with the sexiest, stinkiest males. Phylogenetic, genetic, and anatomical evidence all suggest that lemurs split from other primates on Africa around 62 million years ago and that the ancestral lemur lineage had dispersed to Madagascar by around 54 million years ago. Once on the island, the lemur lineage diversified.
December 12, 2020
Exploring the Geology & Fossil Record of Madagascar
One hundred and seventy million years ago, Madagascar was landlocked in the middle of the supercontinent Gondwana, sandwiched between land that would eventually become South America and Africa and land that would eventually become India, Australia, and Antarctica. Riding the movements of the Earth's crust, Madagascar, along with India, first split from Africa and South America ... and then from Australia and Antarctica. Once broken apart, India heading north. India eventually smashed into Asia — forming the Himalayas in the process — but Madagascar broke away from India and was marooned in the Indian Ocean. Beautiful and solo — Madagascar has been on its own for the past 88 million years. We'll talk about some of the fauna and flora that makes this island a very special part of the world.
December 09, 2020
Eocene Cryptodiran Fossil Turtle
An Eocene Cryptodiran Fossil Turtle, Baena arenosa, from fine-grained lime mud outcrops in the Green River Formation, Wyoming, USA. This fellow, with the extra-long tail, marks the last of his lineage. The now extinct family Baenidae appeared first in the Jurassic and died out at the end of the Eocene. We've found specimens of Baena, along with 14 other species of turtles in seven genera and five families in the Lower Eocene San Jose Formation, San Juan Basin of New Mexico. This specimen is from the Green River Formation of Wyoming which was once the bottom of one of an extensive series of Eocene lakes. The Green River Formation is particularly abundant in beautifully preserved fossil fish, eleven species of reptiles including a 13.5ft crocodile, an armadillo-like mammal, Brachianodon westorum, bats, birds and other fresh-water aquatic goodies. This specimen of a beautiful Baena was found and prepped by the Green River Stone Company. They purchased their private 12-acre quarry about 20 years ago. It's at the Eocene lake's centre, shared with Fossil Butte National Monument about 24 kilometres (15 miles) west of Kemmerer, Lincoln County, Wyoming.
December 06, 2020
The Fossil Record: Green River Formation
The Green River Formation is a series of Eocene outcrops with outstanding preservation. Here we see the species that lived and died then fossilized within the sediments at the bottom of intermountain lakes in three basins along the present-day Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
December 06, 2020
Palaeontology: John Leahy & Dave Langevin
John Leahy & Dave Langevin worked up at the McAbee Fossil Beds for more than two decades. Together they opened up the site and our understanding of British Columbia during the Eocene. Both have passed away now but their collection of more than 18,000 specimens were donated to the Royal British Columbia Museum. Their contribution to science and generosity of spirit do them credit. John was a bit of a character. He has a jeep with the license plate, "Palaeo" and used to leave it at the site for me to use to roam the hills. It required hotwiring as it did not have a key but that only added to the fun.
December 05, 2020
The Fossil Record: McAbee Fossil Beds
The McAbee Fossil Beds are known for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species that lived in an old lake bed setting 52-53 million years ago. The fossils are preserved here as impressions and carbonaceous films. We see gymnosperm (16 species); a variety of conifers (14 species to my knowledge); two species of ginkgo, a large variety of angiosperm (67 species); a variety of insects and fish remains, the rare feather and a boatload of mashed deciduous material. Nuts and cupules are also found from the dicotyledonous Fagus and Ulmus and members of the Betulaceae, including Betula and Alnus. We see many species that look very similar to those growing in the Pacific Northwest today. Specifically, cypress, dawn redwood, fir, spruce, pine, larch, hemlock, alder, birch, dogwood, beech, sassafras, cottonwood, maple, elm and grape. If we look at the pollen data, we see over a hundred highly probable species from the site. Though rare, McAbee has also produced spiders, birds (and lovely individual feathers) along with multiple specimens of the freshwater crayfish, Aenigmastacus crandalli. For insects, we see dragonflies, damselflies, cockroaches, termites, earwigs, aphids, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, lacewings, a variety of beetles, gnats, ants, hornets, stick insects, water striders, weevils, wasps and March flies. The insects are particularly well-preserved. Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Eocene sites in Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.
December 05, 2020
Exploring the Triassic: Hallstatt, Austria
The Hallstatt Limestone is the world's richest Triassic ammonite unit, yielding specimens of more than 500 ammonite species. Along with diversified cephalopod fauna — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves, brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals. The salt-named town of Hallstatt sits on the shores of the idyllic Hallstätter Sea at the base of the Dachstein massif. Visiting it today, you experience a quaint traditional fishing village built in the typical upper Austrian style. Tourism drives the economy as much as salt as this area of the world is picture-perfect from every angle.
December 03, 2020
Geology & the Fossil Record: Building Washington State
There was a large downpour that hit Washington State causing massive slides. The blocks you see here all came crashing down on the hillside. Once the skies cleared, hikers found plant impressions in the rock and alerted the local palaeo community. I was invited to visit just after the slide to photograph the site while George Mustoe took moulds of the palm trunks and trackways. The slide site at Sumas Mountain revealed many large exposures of fossil plants. Some exposures were 10 feet across. There was great excitement at seeing shorebird tracks and trackways of the large flightless bird Diatryma. Many of these finds can now be seen at the Burke Museum in Washington State. While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the soft muds along ancient riverways.
November 28, 2020
Geology & the Fossil Record: Ktunaxa Nation Eager Formation
Ktunaxa people have occupied the lands adjacent to the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers and the Arrow Lakes of British Columbia, Canada for more than 10,000 years. On their land sits one of the outcrops of the Eager Formation, a site half a billion years old with beautifully preserved trilobites. The Ktunaxa have done a wonderful job — both in choosing this beautiful part of the world to call their home — and in being a thriving nation who share their stories, build on traditions and provide leadership and hope to us all.
November 27, 2020
Dr. Ted Danner, Professor Emeritus, UBC
In May 2001, Dr. Ted Danner, Professor Emeritus from UBC and my mentor gave a talk to the Vancouver Paleontological Society. For over fifteen years, we would meet for dinner on the third Thursday of every month. I would swing by to pick him up and we would head to his favourite restaurant for dinner. Dinner was a delight of banter, stories and paleontological debate. Dr. Danner had a keen mind and a sharp wit. He passed away in 2012. Wilbert R. Danner began teaching geology at UBC in 1954 and established the Beer-Pop Can-Bottle Deposit Refund Award in 1989 using proceeds from the return of bottles and cans collected on weekly scavenging treks on UBC’s Vancouver Campus. Danner’s office was often full of cans ready to be taken to the recycling depot. He raised $46,000 from collected bottles and cans to support students before he passed away in 2012. He chose to name it the Beer-Pop Can-Bottle Deposit Refund Award to show that, over time, even small contributions can have a big impact. “Ted taught UBC’s introductory geology course for many years,” says geologist and entrepreneur Ross Beaty, a former student of Danner and executor of his estate. “He was a quirky, enthusiastic professor who inspired many students to go into the geosciences, including myself. What a wonderful legacy he’s now left for UBC and future generations of geologists.” Danner’s bequest endows $320,000 for the Beer-Pop Can-Bottle Deposit Refund Award, which provides two awards annually to geology students who have demonstrated aptitude in fieldwork. Another $320,000 funds the newly established Ted Danner Memorial Entrance Bursary in Geology, provided to a student entering UBC enrolled in at least one geology course.
November 27, 2020
Geology & Fossils of the Gulf Islands
The Gulf Islands in British Columbia include Mayne, Galiano, Hornby, and Gabriola. The largest is Salt Spring, famed for its locavore-minded farmers, artisan producers, and organic vineyards. Wildlife, nature, coastal activities, and getting away from the hubbub are top reasons to visit.
November 27, 2020
Evolution: Of Land and Sea
Many land animals have returned to the sea throughout evolutionary history. We have beautifully documented cases from amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from over 30 different lineages over the past 250 million years. Our dear penguins, seals, sea lions, walruses, whales, crocodiles and sea turtles were once entirely terrestrial. Some species dipped a toe or two into freshwater ponds, but make no mistake, they were terrestrial. Each of these animals had ancestors that tried out the sea and decided to stay. They evolved and employed a variety of adaptations to meet their new saltwater challenges. Some adapted legs as fins, others became more streamlined, and still, others developed specialized organs to extract dissolved oxygen from the water through their skin or gills. The permutations are endless. Returning to the sea comes with a whole host of benefits but some serious challenges as well. Life at sea is very different from life on land. Water is denser than air, impacting how an animal moves, sees and hears. More importantly, it impacts an air-breathing animal's movement on a pretty frequent basis. If you need air and haven't evolved gills, you need to surface frequently. Keeping your body temperature at a homeostatic level is also a challenge as water conducts heat much better than air. Even with all of these challenges, the lure of additional food sources and freedom of movement kept those who tried the sea in the sea and they evolved accordingly.
November 26, 2020
Pterosaurs: Flying Reptiles of the Mesozoic
Pterosaurs were flying reptiles of the extinct clade or order Pterosauria. They soared our ancient skies during most of the Mesozoic — from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (228 to 66 million years ago). By the end of the Cretaceous, they had grown to giants and one of their brethren, Quetzalcoatlus, a member of the family Azhdarchidae, boasts being the largest known flying animal that ever lived. They were the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. Their wings were formed by a membrane of skin, muscle, and other tissues stretching from the ankles to a dramatically lengthened fourth finger. We divide their lineage into two major types: basal pterosaurs and pterodactyloids. Basal pterosaurs (also called 'non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs' or ‘rhamphorhynchoids’) were smaller animals with fully toothed jaws and long tails. Their wide wing membranes connected to their hind legs. This would have allowed them some manoeuvrability on the ground, but with an awkward sprawling posture. They were better climbers with flexible joint anatomy and strong claws. Basal pterosaurs preferred to dine on insects and small vertebrates. Later pterosaurs (pterodactyloids) evolved many sizes, shapes, and lifestyles. Pterodactlyoids had narrower wings with free hind limbs, highly reduced tails, and long necks with large heads. On the ground, pterodactyloids walked better than their earlier counterparts, manoeuvring all four limbs smoothly with an upright posture. They walked standing plantigrade on the hind feet and folding the wing finger upward to walk on the three-fingered "hand." These later pterosaurs were more nimble. They could take off from the ground, run and wade and swim. Their jaws had horny beaks and some of these later groups lacked the teeth of earlier lineages. Some groups developed elaborate head crests that were likely used to attract mates' sexy-pterosaur style.
November 20, 2020
Nevada Fossil Field Trip
Back in the Triassic, 290-210 million years ago, massive marine reptiles — the ichthyosaurs — hunted in the shallow sea that blanketed what would become Nevada We find them now as fossils embedded in the Earth. The quality of preservation at localities like Fossil Hill in the Humboldt Mountains of Nevada, perhaps the most famous and important locality for the Middle Triassic (Anisian/Ladinian) of North America, is truly outstanding. Aside from sheer beauty and spectacular preservation, the ammonoids and belemnites were tucked in cosily with very well preserved ichthyosaur remains.
November 20, 2020
Haida Gwaii: Islands of Mist
Steeped in mist and mythology, the islands of Haida Gwaii abound in local lore that surrounds their beginnings. Today, the Hecate Strait is a tempestuous 40-mile wide channel that separates the mist-shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii from the BC mainland. Haida First Nation oral tradition tells of a time when the strait was mostly dry, dotted here and there with lakes. During the last ice age, glaciers locked up so much water that the sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. Soil samples from the seafloor contain wood, pollen, and other terrestrial plant materials that tell of a tundra-like environment. The islands of Haida Gwaii are at the western edge of the continental shelf and form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane of former island arcs, which also includes Vancouver Island, parts of western mainland British Columbia and southern Alaska. They had a long, arduous journey, first being pushed by advancing plates, then being uplifted, intruded, folded, and finally thrust up again. It’s reminiscent of how pastry is balled up, kneaded over and over, finally rolled out, then the process is repeated again. This violent history applies to most of the rock that makes up the Insular Belt, the outermost edge of the Cordillera. Once in their present location, the rocks that make up the mountains and valleys of this island group were glaciated and eroded to their present form. Despite this tumultuous past, the islands have arguably the best-preserved and most fossil-rich rocks in the Canadian Cordillera, dating from very recent to more than 200 million years old. The fossils found in the Triassic rock of Wrangellia are equatorial or low latitude life forms quite different from those found today on the Continent at the latitude of Haida Gwaii. This suggests those rocks were in the equatorial region during the Late Triassic, just over 200 million years ago. The Lower Jurassic ammonite faunas found at Haida Gwaii are very similar to those found in the Eastern Pacific around South America and in the Mediterranean. The strata exposed at Maple Island, Haida Gwaii are stratigraphically higher than the majority of Albian localities in Skidegate Inlet. The macrofossil fauna belonged to the Upper part of the Sandstone Member of the Haida formation. The western end of the island contains numerous well-preserved inoceramids such as Birostrina concentrica and a few rare ammonites of Desmoceras bearskinese. The eastern shores are home to unusual ammonite fauna in the finer-grained sandstones. Here we find the fossils as extremely hard concretions while others were loose in the shale. Species include Anagaudryceras sacya and Tetragonites subtimotheanus. A large whorl section of the rare Ammonoceratites crenucostatus has also been found here. The ammonites, Desmoceras; Brewericeras hulenense; Cleoniceras perezianum, Douvelliceras spiniferum are all found in Lower Cretaceous, Middle Albian, Haida Formation deposits.
November 15, 2020
Trent River Elasmosaur Excavation
A mighty marine reptile was excavated on the Trent River near Courtenay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada in August 2020. The excavation is the culmination of a three-year palaeontological puzzle. The fossil remains are those of a plesiosaur — a group of long-necked marine reptiles found in the Late Triassic to the Late Cretaceous some 215 to 80 million years ago. In the case of the Trent River, it is closer to 85 million years old. The rocks that make up this riverbed today were laid down south of the equator as small, tropical islands. They rode slow-moving tectonic plates across the Pacific — heading north and slightly east over the past 85 million years to where we find them today. The plesiosaur fossil was excavated high up a cliff alongside the river. It took a month of work with planning, scaffolding, climbing gear and a team of dedicated souls to unearth what is likely a juvenile plesiosaur from his 15-meter high perch. Bits and pieces of him have been eroding out for years — providing clues to the past and a jigsaw puzzle that has finally had the last pieces put together. The first piece of this marine reptile puzzle was found three years ago. The Courtenay Museum hosts regular fossil tours here, led by Pat Trask. On one of those field trips back in 2017, Pat was leading a trip with a family and one of the field trip participants picked up a marine reptile finger bone. It was laying in the river having eroded out from a nearby cliff. She showed it to Pat and he immediately recognized it as being diagnostic — it definitely belonged to a marine reptile — possibly an elasmosaur — but what species and just where on the river it had eroded from were still a mystery. She kindly donated it to the museum and that was that. While it was an exciting find, it was a find without origin. Just where the material was coming from was unknown. It could have eroded from anywhere upstream and while many had searched the river, no other bone bits were found. Then in 2018, another piece of this paleontological puzzle was revealed. Pat was leading yet another Courtenay Museum Fossil Tour on the Trent River when one of the participants showed him a specimen that looked like a really tiny hockey puck. This second find was a wrist bone — again possibly from an elasmosaur but hard to be sure. Contemplating out loud where this material could be coming from, Pat looked down and found a vertebra in the water below his feet. Pat put the bones in the lab at the museum. Intrigued by their origin, he began heading down to the river on his off hours to see where they might be coming from and thinking about where the erosion occurs on the Trent. In 2019, "I came down here and I started thinking about where the water flow would go." He could see a ledge along the river where eroded material might gather. Once he checked, he found a crack and cleaned out all the rock gathered there, finding more than a dozen bone. Pat teamed up with members of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society (VIPS) to scale the cliff faces above that section of the river. Jason Hawley, VIPS, did some rappelling but missed the site by a matter of feet. Initially, they thought there would be a small amount of fossil material, perhaps a few finger bones but over the past few weeks, they have found bones of at least half a marine reptile. And the beauty of this find is that most of the bones do not have to be prepared. They are literally eroding out of the matrix. No prep means no tools. Tools can impact the shape of a bone as you prepare it. They've found the pelvis bones, humerus, radius — all diagnostic to identify the genus. And this may be a new species. If it is, there is a good chance it will be named after the Trask family.
November 14, 2020
Ichthyosaurs of the Blue Lias
The Blue Lias is a geological formation in southern, eastern and western England and parts of South Wales, part of the Lias Group. The Blue Lias consists of a sequence of limestone and shale layers, laid down in latest Triassic and early Jurassic times, between 195 and 200 million years ago. Many wonderful ichthyosaur fossils have been found here along with theropods and pterosaurs.
November 14, 2020
Palaeontology: A Global Passion
A warm welcome to all of you and thank you for listening to the Fossil Huntress Podcast. We've just crossed over the one month mark and I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you and introduce you to each other. It is exciting to share my passion for palaeo in wee bite-size bits with you. It is truly wonderful to know that you share my interest in rocks and fossils — and with so many great folk around the globe. You are listening to this podcast along with paleo enthusiasts from Canada, USA, UK, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, France, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Argentina, Venezuela, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Croatia, Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, Pakistan, New Zealand, Singapore, Czech Republic and Sweden. Whew! That's 26 countries around that globe with folk who share your love of fossils. Many of you are likely multilingual. I have added a TRANSLATE button to the ARCHEA Blog so you can easily read it in your language of choice. Much of what we talk about on the podcast is also on the blog and the specific spelling of scientific names can be found here. Fossil Huntress Blog ARCHEA: www.fossilhuntress.blogspot.com. I also gave some recommendations for some palaeo podcasts you may want to check out. I recommend both DINOSAUR GEORGE & FOSSIL BONANZA. I've popped the link here for you. Definitely worth checking out! https://fossilbonanza.com/about/ & https://dinosaurgeorge.com/ Palaeocast is a great resource you may want to check out. It is a web series exploring the fossil record and the evolution of life on earth. They are at: https://www.palaeocast.com/ I'll add more as I find them. Until then, happy collecting and we'll connect again soon.
November 13, 2020
The Rocky Mountain Trench
The Rocky Mountain Trench is one of the few geologic wonders we can see from space. It is known as the Valley of a Thousand Peaks or simply the Trench — a large valley on the western side of the northern part of North America's Rocky Mountains.
November 08, 2020
The Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds
The Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds now sit in the Main Ranges of the Rockies but were once at the bottom of shallow sea beds down near the edge of ancestral North America. Today, these outcrops in Yoho National Park contain wonderful Cambrian fossil goodies including the predator Anomalocaris canadensis; Trilobite species: Ogygopsis klotzi, Olenoides serratus and Elrathina Cordillerae; as well as, brachiopods and sponges. This is a hike that you can do as a family. To visit the beds virtually or to book a hike, visit: https://www.burgess-shale.bc.ca/stephen-trilobite/
November 08, 2020
The Cambrian Explosion
Come and explore one of British Columbia's most intriguing fossil localities — the Burgess Shale. This amazing window into our ancient seas was found quite by accident and over the past 100 years has given us one of the best windows to view the Cambrian Explosion
November 07, 2020
Fossil Birds of the Jehol Biota
The Fossil Birds of the Jehol Biota have caused an international stir amongst palaeontologists. The Jehol outcrops of northeastern China has unearthed some of the most important Mesozoic bird specimens worldwide over the past two decades. This is a tale of how that all began.
November 01, 2020
Ancient Fossil Octopus: Keuppia
There are two species of Keuppia, Keuppia hyperbolaris and Keuppia levante, both of which we find as fossils. We find their remains, along with those of the genus Styletoctopus, in Cretaceous-age Hâqel and Hjoula localities in Lebanon. For many years, Palaeoctopus newboldi (Woodward, 1896) from the Santonian limestones at Sâhel Aalma, Lebanon, was the only known pre‐Cenozoic coleoid cephalopod believed to have an unambiguous stem‐lineage representative of Octobrachia fioroni. With the unearthing of some extraordinary specimens with exquisite soft‐part preservation in the Lebanon limestones, our understanding of ancient octopus morphology has blossomed. The specimens are from the sub‐lithographical limestones of Hâqel and Hâdjoula, in north‐west Lebanon. These localities are about 15 km apart, 45 km away from Beirut and 15 km away from the coastal city of Jbail
October 31, 2020
Paddling the Bowron Lakes
A cool morning breeze keeps the mosquitoes down as we pack our kayaks and gear for today’s paddling journey. It is day four of our holiday, with two days driving up from Vancouver to Cache Creek, past the Eocene insect and plant site at McAbee, the well-bedded Permian limestone near Marble Canyon and onto Bowron Provincial Park, a geologic gem near the gold rush town of Barkerville. The initial draw for me, given that collecting in a provincial park is forbidden and all collecting close at hand outside the park appears to amount to a handful of crushed crinoid bits and a few conodonts, was the gorgeous natural scenery and a broad range of species extant. It was also the proposition of padding the Bowron Canoe Circuit, a 149,207 hectare geologic wonderland, where a fortuitous combination of plate tectonics and glacial erosion have carved an unusual 116 kilometre near-continuous rectangular circuit of lakes, streams and rivers bound on all sides by snowcapped mountains. We're making our trek in low profile, Kevlar style. One single & one double kayak would be our faithful companions and mode of transport. They will be briefly conscripted into service as a bear shield later in the trip. Yes, a grizzly bear encounter! Versatile those kayaks. The Bowrons — from all descriptions, something like heaven.
October 31, 2020
Angiosperms in British Columbia
Plant fossils are found coast-to-coast in Canada, from 45-million-year-old mosses in British Columbia to fossil forests on Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere islands in the Canadian Arctic. The early angiosperms developed advantages over contemporary groups — rapid reproductive cycles — which made them highly efficient, adapting well to "weedy" growth. These modifications, including flowers for the attraction of insect pollinators, proved advantageous in many habitats. Interaction between plant and pollinator has been a driving force behind the astounding diversification of both flowering plants and insects. Some of the earliest known flowering plants are found in northeastern British Columbia coalfields. Late Cretaceous (about 101–66 million years ago) floras of the Dawson Creek area of British Columbia, and Milk River, Alberta, reveal increasing dominance by angiosperms. These fossils, while generally resembling some living angiosperms, represent old, extinct families, and their relationships to living groups remain unclear. At the end of the Cretaceous, the climate cooled, inland seas covering much of western Canada drained, and dinosaurs became extinct. At the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene is evidence of extinction amongst land plants, too. During this interval of mass extinction, the Earth was struck by a massive meteorite. The fallout from this impact is preserved in boundary sediments in southern Saskatchewan as a pale clay, rich in rare earth elements such as iridium. In the early Paleogene period (66–56 million years ago), we entered the age of mammals. Paralleling the rise of mammals is the rise of modern flora, which consists overwhelmingly of our glorious flowering plants. One of the most prolific fossil sites for Paleogene flowering plants, fruits and seeds is the Messel pit in Germany. In 2012, a research group found over 140 different plant species, 65 of which were previously unknown. Early Paleogene fossils are found over much of Alberta — Red Deer River, Lake Wabamun coalfields and Robb to Coal Valley coalfields — and southern Saskatchewan — Eastend area to Estevan coalfield — to as far north as Ellesmere Island. These floras reveal a variety of flowering plants, including members of the sycamore, birch and walnut families, but the most abundant fossil plants are the katsuras and the dawn redwood, now native only to southeastern Asia.
October 29, 2020
Rise of the Angiosperm: Crocus
The earliest flowering plants show up in the fossil record 130 million years ago. These beauties became the dominant type of forest plant by about 90 million years ago. One of their number, the genus Crocus, is a particular favourite of mine. Crocus — the plural of which is crocuses or croci — is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family and includes 90 species of perennials growing from corms. A corm is a short, swollen underground plant stem that helps plants survive summer drought and other less favourable conditions. The name Crocus is derived from the Latin adjective crocatus, meaning saffron yellow. The Greek word for "saffron" is krokos, while the Arabic word saffron or zafaran, means yellow. Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus, an autumn-blooming species.
October 29, 2020
Hadrosaurs: Duck-Billed Dinosaurs
Hadrosaurs or Duck-Billed Dinosaurs were a very successful group of plant-eaters that thrived throughout western Canada and around the globe during the Late Cretaceous. Hadrosaurs lived as part of a herd, dining on pine needles, horsetails, twigs and flowering plants. They are ornithischians — an extinct clade of mainly herbivorous dinosaurs characterized by a pelvic structure superficially similar to that of birds. They are close relatives and possibly descendants of the earlier iguanodontid dinosaurs. They had slightly webbed, camel-like feet with pads on the bottom for cushioning and perhaps a bit of extra propulsion in water. They were primarily terrestrial but did enjoy feeding on plants near and in shallow water. There had a sturdy build with a stiff tail and robust bone structure.
October 24, 2020
Tumbler Ridge Dinosaurs
In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge. As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints. Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area and the birth of the Peace Region Palaeontology Society and Dinosaur Centre. The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthyosaurs, a marine reptile and hadrosaur tracks. The tracks the boys found were identified the following year by Rich McCrae as those of a large quadrupedal dinosaur, Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon liked to ankylosaurs. The dinosaur finds near Tumbler Ridge are significant. Several thousand bone fragments have been collected, recorded and now reside within the PRPRC collections, making for one of the most complete assemblages for dinosaur material from this age.
October 24, 2020
Dinosaurs: Meet Ferrisaurus sustutensis
Say hello to Ferrisaurus sustutensis — “A new leptoceratopsid dinosaur from Maastrichtian-aged deposits of the Sustut Basin, northern British Columbia, Canada." You may recall Dr. Victoria Arbour, curator of palaeontology at the Royal BC Museum from her work on ankylosaurs & that interesting specimen from Hornby Island thought to be a pterosaur but further study revealed to be a saurodontid fish — an ambush predator with very sharp serrated teeth and elongate, torpedo-like body. Not a pterosaur but still a massively exciting find. Arbour was very gracious about the new interpretation, taking it in stride. She has since gone on to name this partial ornithischian dinosaur from Sustut Basin, as well as the ankylosaurs Zuul, Zaraapelta, Crichtonpelta, and Ziapelta. She's been a busy bee. For this latest find, she’s partnered up & published her findings with David Evans from the Royal Ontario Museum in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PeerJ - the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. Their paper describes this partial dinosaur skeleton found amongst the inhospitable boreal forests and folded rock of the Canadian Cordillera near the Sustut Basin of northern British Columbia, Canada. The news deserves some fanfare. While Alberta, our sister province to the east is practically littered with dinosaur remains, they are relatively rare in BC. This is the first unique non-avian dinosaur species reported from British Columbia.
October 24, 2020
Hornby Island Fossil Field Trip
Hornby is a glorious place to collect. The island is beautiful in its own right and the fossils from here often keep some of their original shell or nacre which makes them quite fetching. At this 72-million-year-old beach site off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, we find ammonites, gastropods, shark teeth, marine reptiles, birds, fossil crabs, baculites and other bivalve fossils. Many of the fossils found at this locality are found in concretions rolled smooth by time and tide. The concretions you find on the beach are generally round or oval in shape and are made up of hard, compacted sedimentary rock. If you are lucky, when you split them you see a fossil hidden within.
October 24, 2020
Dinosaurs: Warm-Blooded or Cold-Blooded?
Were Dinosaurs Warm-Blooded or Cold-Blooded? Let's explore the clues they left behind to see if we can solve this mystery. Dinosaurs had relatively small brains compared to their body size — a mark of a cold-blooded animal. They were also the ancestors of birds — warm-blooded animals. In this episode, the Fossil Huntress looks at posture, brain size, predator vs. prey relationships to unravel the warm-blooded vs. cold-blooded debate.
October 20, 2020
Titanities: The Giant Fernie Ammonite
The Fernie ammonite, Titanites occidentalis, from outcrops on Coal Mountain near Fernie, British Columbia, Canada. This beauty is the remains of a carnivorous cephalopod within the family Dorsoplanitidae that lived and died in a shallow sea some 150 million years ago. Driving to the trail base is along an easy access road just east of town along Fernie Coal Road. There are some nice exposures of Cretaceous plant material on the north side (left-hand side) of the road as you head from Fernie towards Coal Creek. I recently drove up to Fernie to look at Cretaceous plant material and locate the access point to the now infamous Late Jurassic (Tithonian) Titanites (S.S. Buckman 1921) site. While the drive out of town is on an easy, well-maintained road, the slog up to the ammonite site is a steep 3-hour push. If you'd like to read more or see a map of the area, head on over to the Fossil Huntress page on Facebook or visit https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com/ Fernie Ammonite Palaeo Coordinates: 49°29'04"N 115°00'49"W
October 20, 2020
East Kootenay Fossil Field Trip
The East Kootenay region on the south-eastern edge of British Columbia is a land of colossal mountains against a clear blue sky. I've been heading to the Cranbrook and Fernie area since the early 1990s. My interest is the local geology and fossil history that these rocks have to tell. I'm also drawn to the warm and welcoming locals who share a love for the land and palaeontological treasures that open a window to our ancient past. Cranbrook is the largest community in the region and is steeped in mining history and the opening of the west by the railway. It is also a stone's throw away from Fort Steele and the Lower Cambrian exposures of the Eager Formation. These fossil beds rival the slightly younger Burgess Shale fauna and while less varied, produce wonderful examples of olenellid trilobites and weird and wonderful arthropods nearly half a billion years old. The Lower Cambrian Eager Formation outcrops at a few localities close to Fort Steele, many known since the early 1920s, and up near Mount Grainger near the highway. Further east, the Upper Cambrian McKay Group near Tanglefoot Mountain is a palaeontological delight with fifteen known outcrops that have produced some of the best-preserved and varied trilobites in the province — many of them new species. The McKay Formation also includes Ordovician outcrops sprinkled in for good measure.
October 20, 2020
Fossil Fuels: Ancient Swamps
If fossil fuels are made from fossils, are oil, gas and coal made from dead dinosaurs? Well, no, but they are made from fossils. We do not heat our homes or run our cars on dead hadrosaurs. Instead, we burn very old plants and algae. It sounds much less exciting, but the process by which algae and other plant life soak up the Sun's energy, store it for millions of years, then give it all up for us to burn as fuel is a pretty fantastic tale.
October 19, 2020
Fossil Fuels and the Earth’s Mass
A bright, beautiful young mind asked the question, "does Earth's mass decrease when we burn fossil fuels? And if it does, is it measurable? Do we know how much of the Earth’s mass has been lost so far?" Well, Melaina, the Earth’s mass does decrease when fossil fuels are burnt. But not in the sense you were probably imagining, and only to a very, very small degree. Hear more about the geeky science of fossil fuels on this episode.
October 18, 2020
A Passion for Palaeontology
The Fossil Huntress shares her passion for palaeontology. Fueled by curiosity and a love of the natural world, she shares about growing up looking for rocks, minerals and trading beads. This led to many years of collecting solo before meeting the folk at the Vancouver Paleontological Society and then becoming Chair of that society for more than a decade.
October 17, 2020
British Columbia: Fossil History
Learn about the paleontological history of British Columbia, Canada. While the province holds fossils that span the full spectrum of the geologic time scale, arguably the true beginnings of our passion for paleontology begin with the 1988 find of a large marine reptile along the banks of the Puntledge River near Courtenay, BC. The find was a first for the province and for Mike Trask who has gone on to bring us our first dinosaur — a hadrosaur found not far from his elasmosaur discovery. That find sparked an excitement that led to the founding of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, the British Columbia Paleontological Alliance and many other regional societies. To learn more about the history of British Columbia, head on over to the Fossil Huntress Blog ARCHEA at https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com.
October 17, 2020
Fossils Preserved in Pyrite
We sometimes find fossils preserved by pyrite. They are prized as much for their pleasing gold colouring as they are for their scientific value as windows into the past. Sometimes folk add a coating of brass to increase the aesthetic appeal. Though this practice is frowned upon in paleontological communities. Pyrite is a brass-yellow mineral with a bright metallic lustre. It has a chemical composition of iron sulfide (FeS2) and is the most common sulfide mineral. It forms at high and low temperatures usually in small quantities, in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. When we find a fossil preserved with pyrite, it tells us a lot about the conditions on the seabed where the organism died. If you'd like to see photos of fossils preserved in pyrite, head on over to the Fossil Huntress Blog ARCHEA at https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com
October 17, 2020
Ammonites / Ammonoids
Ammonites / Ammonoids — Ammonoids are a group of extinct marine mollusc animals in the subclass Ammonoidea of the class Cephalopoda. These molluscs, commonly referred to as ammonites, are more closely related to living coleoids — octopus, squid, and cuttlefish — than they are to shelled nautiloids such as the living Nautilus species. The earliest ammonites appear during the Devonian, and the last species vanished in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. If you fancy a read or would like to see some photos of ammonites, check out the Fossil Huntress Blog ARCHEA at https://fossilhuntress.blogspot.com/ or visit the Fossil Huntress page on Facebook.
October 17, 2020
Where to Go Fossil Collecting
Are you ready to head out Fossil Collecting and wondering where to go? There are likely fossils beneath your feed or within a few hours of where you are right now. If you are out fossil hunting, look for fossils in sedimentary rock — sandstone, limestone and shale — where the surface has been eroded away or scraped clean by a glacier, cleaved by road cuts, construction sites, rivers or the ocean. You may want to join a local paleontological or geological society. Some groups offer field trips with folk who've been to the fossil sites before and can offer great advice. I've put a link to some great paleo groups on the Fossil Huntress Blog ARCHEA at www.fossilhuntress.blogpost.com. There are a number of field trip guides there, too! You may also want to do a Google search & contact your local museum or university to find a group near you.
October 16, 2020
Know Before You Go / Fossil Field Trip Gear
Are you planning on heading out on a fossil field trip? Hear what the Fossil Huntress like to bring with her out in the field. From eye protection to filing a trip plan, this will get you started on your fossil field trip plan of awesome. For resources and suggestions on fossil field trip gear, visit www.fossilhuntress.blogspot.com. Head to the section on Paleontological Essentials in the right-hand column (it shows up in desktop view) and see examples from the American Museum of Natural History and the Natural History Museum in Utah. Happy Collecting!
October 14, 2020
BC Fossil Resources: Fossil Collecting and the Law
Learn about Fossil Collecting and the law. You can find a link to BC Fossil Resources on the Fossil Huntress Blog at fossilhuntress.blogspot.com What are the laws around collecting and ownership? Fossil collectors are considered custodians of the fossils they find and collect. Fossils found on Crown land are the property of the Crown; they cannot be sold or exported outside of British Columbia without prior authorization. In some cases, fossils located on privately owned land also remain the property of the Province because of the reservations and exceptions attached to the original Crown grant. Members of the public who discover fossils are asked to report the discovery to the Royal BC Museum, BC Fossil Management Office, local museum, the local paleontological society or the nearest university or college. If you find vertebrate material, you definitely want to give someone a jingle as it is a significant find — and may be a new species.
October 13, 2020
What is a Fossil?
Just what is a fossil and how do they form? How old does something need to be to be considered a fossil? Trees, insects, snails and dinosaurs can all become fossils. Sometimes it is the remains of the living organism we find — as teeth or bones. Sometimes it is footprint or scuff mark — a trace they have left behind.
October 13, 2020
Welcome to the Fossil Huntress Podcast
If you love paleontology, you’ll love this stream. Ammonites, trilobites, dinosaurs — you’ll find them all here.
October 12, 2020