Fossil Friday 4/29/16: A white cockle

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UF 208535, a valve of  Apiocardia n. sp. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

This week’s Fossil Friday post focuses on a white cockle of the genus Apiocardia. This bivalve specimen was collected from the Gatún Formation and is Late Miocene in age. This species was endemic to the Caribbean side of Panama.

To learn more about this species, visit the “Fossils of Panama” page on it here.

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Fossil Friday 3/25/16: A basket clam

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UF 221418, the two valves of the basket clam Caryocorbula stena. Note that the valve with the bore hole is much smaller than the other valve. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

This week’s Fossil Friday feature is the basket clam Caryocorbula stena. This specimen was found in the Gatún Formation and is Late Miocene in age. This bivalve would have been found in shallow marine waters, burrowing just under the surface of the sediment. One interesting characteristic of this basket clam is that it is inequivalve, meaning that one valve is much larger than the other.

To learn more about this bivalve, check out the Fossils of Panama here.

Fossil Friday 3/11/16: A corallum (Flabellum sp.)

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UF 8906, the type specimen of Flabellum chipolanum. This specimen is from the Chipola Formation in Florida and is early Miocene in age. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

This week’s Fossil Friday feature is the fossilized corallum, or coral skeleton, of a coral (Phylum Cnidaria, Class Anthozoa) called Flabellum. The fossil in the photograph is from Florida, but a specimen identified as Flabellum sp. (UF 222226) has been recovered in Panama from the Gatún Formation and is middle-late Miocene in age.

Flabellum sp. (Hard coral) with extended polyps at night

A modern day Flabellum sp. Photo © Nick Hobgood, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

Flabellids (Family Flabellidae) are solitary corals, meaning that they consist of only one polyp with a mouth surrounded by tentacles (colonial corals are made up of several polyps). They are found from the Early Cretaceous up into the present-day. Today, they can be found worldwide.

 

 

Reference:

Cairns, Stephen D. 2002. Flabellidae Bourne 1905. Version 28 October 2002. http://tolweb.org/Flabellidae/19103/2002.10.28 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

Fossil Friday 1/22/16: A turrid snail

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UF 208176, the shell of Hindsiclava consors. Many turrid snails are venomous and can inject venom into their prey using their specialized radula. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

This week’s Fossil Friday post features the turrid snail Hindsiclava consors (Family Turridae). H. consors would have been found in both on the Caribbean and the Pacific sides of Panama from the early Miocene to the late Pliocene. This specimen was found by Gary Morgan in the Gatún Formation and is late Miocene in age.

Christmas tree worm

Two Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteus). Photo by Nick Hobgood.

This family of predatory snails is known to prey primarily on polychaete worms (Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta). One modern-day polychaete worm is the Christmas tree worm, which uses its Christmas tree-shaped appendages for respiration and for filter feeding.

To learn more about this turrid snail, see the “Fossils of Panama” post on it here.

Fossil Friday 12/11/15: a Springvale Cup and Saucer Limpet

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UF 214431, a Springvale cup and saucer limpet. (Photo © IVP FLMNH).

This week’s Fossil Friday is the Springvale cup and saucer limpet, Crucibulum springvaleense. This specimen was collected from the Gatún Formation and the mollusc that inhabited it would have been found filter-feeding while attached to rocks in Late Miocene oceans. Although this mollusc looks similar to a limpet, it is not a true limpet and is not closely related.

Studying Panama’s Microfossils

Hello from the lab!

While I spend most of my time in the field looking for new fossils, I also have the opportunity to work on original research while I am working with the PCP-PIRE project. I have previously worked with microfossils, specifically ostracods, so I decided to look at the types of ostracods preserved in the Canal deposits.

In particular, I am looking at the ostracods from the new locality we discovered two weeks ago that is full of gastropods and bivalves. When we returned to the site, I discovered nummulites, which led me to believe that foraminifera and ostracods would be present in the deposit as well. However, these fossils require a microscope to see in detail. I collected four sample bags of sediment from different rock layers in the outcrop, and returned to the lab to process them.

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The new invertebrate locality, in which I am searching for microfossils.

Another intern at the Smithsonian Center for Paleoecology and Archaeology, Andrés Ríos, also studies fossil ostracods, and helped me prepare the sediment to view under the microscope. We used a dilution of hydrogen peroxide to disaggregate the rock. Andrés sieved the sediment into different grain sizes and let the sediment dry in the lab’s drying oven.

Under the microscope, I use a small paint brush to sift through the grains to locate ostracod individuals and place them on a microfossil slide. Though I have only just begun going through the sediment samples, I have found several types of ostracods, both juveniles and adults. The following ostracods are from a portion of one sediment sample I collected.

I will continue to comb through my sediment samples in search of ostracods, and then work on identifying all the different genera present in the new outcrop. With this information, we will be able to identify the type of environment in which the locality was deposited–whether it was marine, brackish, or freshwater–as well as its relative age based on the microfossil biostratigraphy. I’m looking forward to learning more about this new site based on these minuscule fossils!

-Dipa Desai

Exploring the Panama Canal

Hello from the Panama Canal!

I’ve been in Panama for a little less than two months, but every day we head to the field seems like a new adventure uncovering fossils. We usually head out to the field early in the morning, choose a locality, prospect the area, and we dig until lunch. This past week, however, we deviated from our normal routine to scope out some of the new cuts being made along the Canal, and to see if any looked like promising fossil-bearing localities.

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Paris Morgan (left) and Jorge Moreno (right) looking from the east side of the Canal across to the new cuts.

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Close up on the freshly exposed rocks on the west side of the Canal.

We explored both sides of the Canal for outcrops, and ended up finding several potential localities based on their lithology. My personal favorite was an invertebrate site full of gastropods, bivalves, oysters, and even small nummulites!

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Gastropods found at one of the new localities.

We plan on adding these new sites to our PCP-PIRE database, along with each one’s formation, rock type, and a description of the fossils one can find. Hopefully they will yield new fossils that will augment our understanding of Panama’s paleoenvironment!

-Dipa Desai

Fossil Friday 11/20/15: A beaded whelk

UF 224615, the shell of Solenosteira dalli. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

This week’s Fossil Friday post features a whelk called Solenosteira dalli. This specimen was found in the Gatún Formation and is late Miocene in age. The temporal range for this species is restricted to the late Miocene and it was found on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of Panama. This species belongs to the family Buccinidae, whose modern members use chemosensory abilities to smell and hunt prey. Solenosteira dalli was a predator and it likely used these abilities in a similar manner.

To learn more about this specimen, check out the Fossils of Panama page on it here.

Fossil Friday 11/6/15: A Venus clam

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UF 222942, a valve of the Venus clam Chionopsis tegulum. Photo © IVP FLMNH.

For this week’s Fossil Friday we have a Venus clam (family Veneridae) from the Gatún Formation, Chionopsis tegulum. This Venus clam can be found throughout the Early to Late Miocene (20 million years ago to 9 million years ago). It is only found on the Caribbean side of Panama and not on the Pacific side.

To find out more about this specimen, read the Fossils of Panama page on it here.

 

Gatún and Empire with the Invertebrate Crew

This trip to Panama has been a little different than normal – we have a group predominantly composed of invertebrate paleontologists and paleobotanists, but have few vertebrate paleontologists. Where do you go in Panama if you want to find invertebrate fossils? Well, you can’t go wrong with the Gatún Formation, which has enchanted malacologists (mollusc-workers) for over a century.

Panoramic photo of the San Judas locality, near the town of Sabanitas in Panama.

Panoramic photo of the San Judas locality, near the town of Sabanitas in Panama. Photo by C. Robins.

We headed to Gatún on Thursday. It was an incredibly muddy day, with thunder often rumbling in the background, but we were lucky to have a wonderful collecting day. We ended up with over 1,000 invertebrate fossils; mostly molluscs, but with a few decapods, too.

Post doc Adiël Klompmaker keeps his paleo-paper easily accessible for fossil-wrapping. Photo by C. Robins.

Post doc Adiël Klompmaker keeps his paleo-paper easily accessible for fossil-wrapping. Photo by C. Robins.

Turritellid gastropods dominate some areas of the Gatún.

Turritellid gastropods dominate some areas of the Gatún.

We tried out multiple localities within the Sabanitas area, but found many had become overgrown and inaccessible in the last few years. This is a constant issue in Panama, where the erosion rate is high and the plants are constantly reclaiming the open space.

We have Prof. Jon Hendricks with us on this trip. He is a specialist in cone shells, and has been working on their phylogeny. He uses UV light to see their color patterns, which have long-since vanished from our visible color palette. We managed to collect around 500 cone snails for him, which was about half of the day’s total haul! (That’s not a true representative of Gatún diversity.)

Dr. Jon Hendricks sorting his fossil cones after a long day in the field.

Dr. Jon Hendricks sorting his fossil cones after a long day in the field.

After a productive day in Gatún, today we stayed in the canal zone. We were able to access the Empire Locality, a locality full of decapods that had previously been within the construction zone, and thus inaccessible to collecting.

Collecting in the Panama Canal - the crabs are too good to pay attention to the scenery!

Collecting in the Panama Canal – the crabs are too good to pay attention to the scenery!

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Roger Portell and Adiël Klompmaker hunt for decapods alongside the Panama Canal.

An anteater even tried to help us find fossils. He quickly headed back into the vegetation. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker.

An anteater even tried to help us find fossils. He quickly headed back into the vegetation. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker.

Friday proved to be an incredibly hot day, and we almost welcomed the torrential downpour that arrived around 1PM. The excessive lightning, however, forced us in for an early end. Tomorrow (Saturday) is our final field day, which we will spend as a divided group – part of the group will hunt for crabs, and the museum interns will finally get a chance to test their vertebrate paleontology skills at a few canal sites!