Fossil spiders in Baltic amber

Anthonie Hellemond (Belgium) Spiders represent the most diverse group of obligate predators (that is, predators that feed solely on other animals) in terrestrial ecosystems today, with almost 48,000 extant species in 118 families described to date. The number increases annually by approximately 500 species as a result of new discoveries and it has been estimated that the true diversity may number around 160,000 extant species. This great diversity is no doubt at least in part due to their geological longevity, with the oldest known fossil spider dating back to the Carboniferous. In addition, spiders appear to have co-radiated along with their insect prey over geological time and they also appear to have been relatively resistant to extinction during the major events that eliminated many other terrestrial animal groups, such as the dinosaurs (Penney and Selden, 2011). Most people seem to presume that spiders do not have a very good fossil record on account of their very small size and their lack of a mineralised, bony skeleton. However, spiders actually have a very good fossil record, with 1,347 fossil species currently recognised. Fossil spiders occur in rocks of various different types, but the vast majority and best-preserved spiders are found as inclusions in amber from various localities dating back to the Cretaceous, although preservation tends to be better in the younger (for example, Miocene and Eocene) ambers. The best known of these deposits is Baltic amber, with more than 650 fossil spider species recognised (Penney et al., 2012), representing close to … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Heavy Metal painter meets Heavy Metal palaeontologist: The conception of an unusual portrayal of the past

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) Sometimes, the stars just seem to align perfectly and make you appreciate life more than at other times. You know those ephemeral moments when, all of a sudden, you find yourself in the midst of something that you would not have dared dream about. All your favourite aspects of life are suddenly combined into a giant melting pot and once the metaphoric molten steel hardens, you are left with the most stunning and unexpected new kind of precious metal. For me, this happens when music, arts and palaeontology unorthodoxly merge (Eriksson, 2016); and more specifically in this case, when exceptionally preserved, miniscule Cambrian arthropods had their first encounter with, and ‘sat for a portrait’ for, an iconic ‘metal’ painter. Besides my profession as a palaeontology professor at Lund University in Sweden, I have a major soft spot for the arts and music. As a matter of fact, in some aspects of my professional life, I have had (or created) the opportunity of actually combining these long love affairs. When it comes to scientific outreach, I am involved in a traveling exhibition on fossils named after rock stars (‘Rock Fossils’; Eriksson, 2014a) and I have named fossils in honour of some of my favourite musicians (Eriksson 2014a, 2017; Eriksson et al., 2017). I also record music based on palaeontological research results together, with established metal musicians (for example, Eriksson, 2014b; https://kalloprionkilmisteri.bandcamp.com/releases). Granted, this might be viewed as exceedingly eccentric and something that you perhaps think does not … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Fossil folklore: Molluscs

Paul D Taylor (UK) The final article of this series on fossil folklore focuses on molluscs, excluding the ammonites, which were covered earlier (see Fossil folklore: ammonites in Deposits, Issue 46, pp. 20–23). Molluscs are second only to arthropods in the number of species living today and the resistant calcareous skeletons possessed by the majority of species accounts for their extremely rich fossil record. Most fossil molluscs belong to one of three major groups – bivalves (oysters, clams and so on), gastropods (snails and slugs) and cephalopods (ammonites, belemnites and so on). Added to these are a few minor groups, such as the monoplacophorans and scaphopods (tusk shells). Fossil molluscs are usually recognisable instantly as belonging to this phylum because of their close similarities with the shells of familiar species of modern molluscs. Some, however, are not quite so straightforward. These are more likely to have been the sources of fanciful stories about their origins and significance. Among the more obscure ancient molluscs are those dubbed ‘difficult fossils’ by Martin Rudwick in the context of the early history of palaeontology and doubts over the origin of fossils. They include the solid internal casts (steinkerns) formed by lithification of sediment enclosed by the shell and subsequent loss of the defining shell itself. In addition, there are some mollusc fossils – notably belemnite guards – that bear little resemblance to any living species, adding to their enigmatic nature. Belemnites: thunderbolts and Devil’s Fingers The first fossils I ever came across were belemnites … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Tully Monster: Is this the world’s most mysterious fossil?

James O’Donoghue (UK) The Tully Monster is a mysterious 307Ma-old marine animal known only from the famous Mazon Creek fossil locality in Illinois. Its body plan is unlike any other animal that has ever lived, and it has been subject to wildly different interpretations as to its identity since its discovery in 1955. Last year, Victoria McCoy of Yale University and colleagues identified it as a lamprey, a primitive type of fish, but this has since been challenged by a team of vertebrate palaeontologists. Fig. 1. Reconstruction of a Tully monster based on the research of McCoy and colleagues. The claw and proboscis are on the right and its eyebar and eyes, gills and tail fin are further back. (Sean McMahon/Yale University.) Fossil collector Francis Tully knew he had made an extraordinary discovery. Inside a rounded nodule was a bizarre, foot-long animal with a long trunk and claw. But he could never have known quite how extraordinary his 307Ma-old fossil would turn out to be. Sixty two years later, scientists are still arguing over the basics as to what sort of creature it really was. What makes it even stranger is that this is no rarity known only from fragmentary remains. After Tully made his find, word got around among collectors and, before long, hundreds more had been found. Tullimonstrum gregarium, or ‘Tully’s common monster’, is now known from well over a thousand fossils, including many complete specimens. “We’ve got four cabinets of Tully monsters here, each of which has … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Invertebrate fossils from the Lower Muschelkalk (Triassic, Anisian) of Winterswijk, The Netherlands

Henk Oosterink (The Netherlands) During the Muschelkalk part of the Ansian (240mya), the Central European area (Germany, Poland, Denmark, The Netherlands and north-eastern France) was covered by a shallow sea, referred to as the Muschelkalk Sea. While there were frequent regressions and transgressions (leading to both marine and terrestrial fossil being present in these regions), it is from this sea that the limestones from this quarry were deposited and in which most of the fossilised animals discussed in this article lived. The quarry in the Muschelkalk at Winterswijk, in the east of the Netherlands (Fig. 1), is especially well known for the skeletons, bones, footprints and tracks of Middle Triassic reptiles. I wrote about these in Issues 15 and 20 of Deposits. However, fossils of invertebrates, such as molluscs, brachiopods and arthropods can also be found. Included in the molluscs are bivalves, cephalopods and gastropods, and from the brachiopods, the Inarticulata are present. From the arthropods, there are Malacostraca, Merostomata and insects. Fig. 1. Lower Muschelkalk quarry near Winterswijk (Eastern Netherlands). Mollusca Bivalves Some strata contain a large number of moulds of bivalves. These are situated quite high in the profile and, if you find this level, it is important to split the rock along an irregular dark-grey line (Fig. 2). If you do this, you will find the moulds of the convex upper side of the separated shells on one slab, with the negative impression visible on the other. This makes clear that these are valves swept together by … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.