Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

27Jul/09Off

Beach-Combing Emerald Isle and Topsail Island, NC

(Note: As always, click image for better versions - these are heavily compressed)

Emerald Isle, NC

Last weekend we had a short but nice going away get-away with some friends (psychology graduate students, a parole officer, and a lawyer/rockstar) in Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

My dorky goal was to find more fossilized shark teeth (see previous awesome finds here), in addition to the obvious general goal of having a salty time.

Unfortunately, a storm kept most of the cool ocean debris from washing ashore until Sunday morning. Nevertheless, I found quite a few interesting things.

First off: fossil shark teeth!

Fossil Shark Teeth

Fossil Shark Teeth

The Haul:

The Haul 1

The Haul 1

The Haul 2

The Haul 2

The Haul 3

The Haul 3

Skate Egg Case:

Skate Egg Case

Skate Egg Case

Unknown wicked fish jaw:

wicked fish jaw

wicked fish jaw

Shell Fossils in matrix:

Shell Fossil in matrix

Shell Fossil Cast in matrix

Shell Fossil in matrix

Shell Fossil Cast in matrix

A cool fossil of what I think is a bryozoan.

Fossil Bryozoan

Fossil Bryozoan

I found a nice piece of fossilized bone. Of what? Who knows? Probably whale or dolphin. Or perhaps mermaid.

Fossil Bone

Fossil Bone

I also found several chunks of what I believe is either anthracite coal, or the next metamorphic step - graphite (I'm no geologist - thoughts?). It's very light weight, very hard, and very faceted - which doesn't come across very well in still shots:

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

One of the coolest things I found is a relation to organisms I will soon be working with in my new lab: starfish!!
I found two of these, both beautifully colored and still alive. They were washed ashore by the storm, so I tossed em back. I have no idea the likelihood of their survival, but I can say they didn't wash back ashore over the next two days. (I'm awaiting the expertise of Christopher Mah of the Echinoblog for species identification).
Update
: it's a Royal Sea Star, Astropecten articulatus. Quoth the EchinoMaster: "Basically..they are your stereotypical "sand star" predatory on infaunal bivalves and pretty common on sandy-muddy bottoms of the Northeast US.  Attractively colored animals to be sure!" Thanks Chris!

Starfish

Starfish

Starfish

Check out those details!

Starfish

Tube Feet Alive!!

We also got to hit the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. It's a pretty rad place, so I was way more interested in pointing my eyes at all the ocean wonders, rather than pointing a camera. But I did get this cool shot of a gator.

Gator

Gator

Ooh - and apparently someone else took a shot of us there - me and John playing with the rays (the ray touch tank was by far the coolest part!).

Petting the stingrays

Petting the stingrays

Topsail Island, NC

A month ago, we also had the opportunity to hit Topsail Island, NC.

Fun was had. Things were seen.

Shark Teeth (Yes - I showed these before).

Fossil Shark Teeth

Great colors!

Fossil Shark Teeth

Ocean smoothed - but still pretty wicked

Mole Crabs (Emerita sp.)

Mole Crab (Emerita sp.)

Mole Crab (Emerita sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

And that's it - images are all I have for you at the moment. Enjoy.

I swear, I will have slightly more posts once I get moved to Pittsburgh and settled.

And just because I never show her (she's camera shy), I'm sneaking in this shot of my wife:

A Psychologist

Three Psychologists

23Mar/09Off

Fossil Challenge #1 – Marine Carboniferous Invertebrates from the Ozarks

I am a fossil collector.

Ever since I was a small child I have been collecting fossils.  In fact, I can trace my own fascination with biology directly to my discovery that the very house in which I lived (actually a trailer back then), was set upon land literally made of these long dead and formerly ocean-dwelling ancestors and distant cousins. I'll never forget the awe that crept into my little brain as I tried to imagine enormous oceans covering my forested Ozark mountains.

When I was very young, my Mamaw (paternal grandmother) gave me a simple large toolbox for Christmas - a toolbox with a myriad little compartments intended for the sole purpose of housing my growing "rock collection."

For years I filled this box and a couple more with fossils, rocks, gems, shed snake skins, feathers, arrowheads, seashells, and all manner of relatively non-decomposable animal and plant remains - almost all of which I found myself.

The time came when I was not content to let my collection sit in toolboxes in a closet. Thus I built a shadowbox coffee table during graduate school (with super thick glass so my cats could leap onto it from 10 feet away without smashing my fossils...er...the glass and themselves). Now my collection fills my coffee table and almost every bookshelf in my home.

Shadowbox Coffee Table

Shadowbox Coffee Table (click for larger)

Coffee Table Fossil Collection (& other stuff - click for larger)

Coffee Table Fossil Collection (& other stuff - click for larger)

Coffee Table Fossils

Coffee Table Fossils (& other stuff - click for larger)

I've amassed a decent collection - I'm proud of it anyway, though any paleontologist or geologist would almost certainly laugh at it. Most of them are simple ocean invertebrates, as most of them came from Carboniferous Period limestone of the Ozark Mountains (the entire region is pretty much made of pure crinoids).

All of the above being said, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I don't know that much about many of my fossils.

Thus, I am starting this series of posts to catalog my entire collection and to see what the experts out there can teach me and all of us about some of our long lost branches of life. Please, if you can add any information whatsoever, it would be much appreciated - i.e. taxonomy, factoids, comments, conjecture, anything. And please point out if I have identified anything incorrectly - a very real possibility.

For this first installment, I am going to begin with my most recent additions - all found this weekend in Bella Vista, Arkansas where I returned for my mom's wedding.

A hat tip goes out to my four nieces (ages 9 to 12) for helping me find them.

Location: Bella Vista, Benton County, Arkansas

Bella Vista, AR fossil site (within 20 meters). Click to go to Google Maps version.

Bella Vista, AR fossil site (within 30 meters). Click to go to Google Maps version. Fossils found mostly in gravel uplifted by roots at the bases of trees.

Fossils

What I know: based on my limited understanding of the region's geology, these rocks are primarily limestone from the carboniferous period (and I believe they are towards the boundary between Pennsylvanian and Mississippian - but I could easily be wrong. I know very very little about geology).

Note: You can click on all images for higher res/quality images. These are highly compressed for bandwidth. I've tried to give multiple views of each fossil.

#1 - Crinoid

Lateral view of the inside of a crinoid.

Lateral view of the inside of a crinoid

#2 - Productid Brachiopod - Order Strophomenida

Update: information provided by Chris Nedin, of Ediacaran: "looks like a productid brachiopod. Order Strophomenida, Suborder Productidina. They can be distinguished by being large, very rounded, with a thick, heavy shell, and along the top, a very straight hinge line, with almost nothing appearing above the hinge line. An example is here at image 408."

Cool unknown mollusc shell

Productid Brachiopod

Cool unknown shell

Productid Brachiopod

Cool unknown shell - view of hinge

Productid Brachiopod - view of hinge

#3 - Spirifid Brachiopod - Order Spiriferida

Update: information provided by Chris Nedin, of Ediacaran: "an internal mold of a spirifid brachiopod, Spiriferida, Suborder Spirifieridina. The shell has been filled with sediment and that has hardened. Then the original shell has dissolved away, leaving the sediment inside, which is what you see. The shape is caused because the shell tapers down to a point away from the centre, and curls somewhat. An example is here."

Unknown shell - top

Spirifid Brachiopod - top

Unknown shell - side

Spirifid Brachiopod - side (previous remark: "What the hell is this thing?!")

Unknown shell- side

Spirifid Brachiopod - side

#4 - Rhynchonellid Brachiopod

Update: information provided by Chris Nedin, of Ediacaran: "I think the brachiopod here is a rhynchonellid. Order rhynchonellidida. An example is here."

Variety of brachiopod shells, crinoids, and coral

Rhynchonellid Brachiopods, crinoids, and coral.

Variety of brachiopod shells, crinoids, and coral

Rhynchonellid Brachiopods, crinoids, and coral.

#5 - Spirifid Brachiopod

Update: information provided by Chris Nedin, of Ediacaran: "another spirifid, this time weathered (see the spirifid link above)."

Brachiopod shell

Spirifid Brachiopod

Brachiopod shell

Spirifid Brachiopod

Brachiopod shell

Spirifid Brachiopod

#6 - Crinoid

Crinoid disc impression

Crinoid disc impression (and some tiny disc interiors)

Crinoid disc impression

Crinoid disc impression (and some tiny disc interiors)

#7 - Possible Spirifid Brachiopod

Update: information provided by Chris Nedin, of Ediacaran: "not sure, maybe another spirifid."

Unknown shell - top

Possible Spirifid Brachiopod - top

Unknown shell - top

Possible Spirifid Brachiopod - top

Unknown shell - underside

Possible Spirifid Brachiopod - underside

#8 - Shelly strata

Cross section of shelly strata

I just like this rock because you can see the shells and strata through cross section

Cross section of shelly strata

I just like this rock because you can see the shells and strata through cross section

I know - these aren't exactly impressive specimens. However, I already had them unpacked and laid out so I figured I'd start with these. I definitely have some other cool ones to come in future posts.

If you know of any fossil aficionados, please send them this way, as I would really like to know at least a little bit more about my collection. If any of you end up being particular helpful, I may just send you one of my awesome limestone rocks made of pure crinoid discs (they're much cooler than those above), assuming you don't already have some or consider them too bland :)