Fossil Friday 3/4/16: A fossilized fruit (Oreomunnea grahamii)


UF 00621-59109, the holotype of Oreomunnea grahamii. The specimen is shown in a lateral view (A), an apical view (B), and in cross section (C). Figure modified from Herrera et al. 2014.

For this week’s Fossil Friday post, I would like to show you a fossilized fruit called Oreomunnea grahamii. It was found in 2007 at the Lirio East locality of the Cucaracha Formation and is Early Miocene in age. This fruit belongs to the Family Juglandaceae, which is commonly known as the walnut family of trees. Before the discovery of this fossil fruit, the occurrence of the modern Neotropical genus Oreomunnea was mostly restricted to the microfossil record in the form of pollen.

To learn more about this fossil fruit discovery, download the publication by clicking here.


Herrera, F., Manchester, S. R., Koll, R., and Jaramillo, C. 2014. Fruits of Oreomunnea (Juglandaceae) in the early Miocene of Panama. Pages 124-133 in W. D. Stevens, O. M. Montiel, and P. Raven, editors. Paleobotany and Biogeography: A Festschrift for Alan Graham in His 80th Year. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St Louis, MO.



Identifying Fossil Wood

Hello! My name is Carolyn Thornton and I’m a recent graduate from the College of Wooster in Ohio and a new museum intern in paleobotany. I’ve already had the opportunity to work on projects with fossil wood and leaves from Central America, as well as modern fruits from the family Chrysobalanaceae. A 19 million years old version of these fruits was described by Chris Nelson for a Fossil Friday a few weeks ago.

We’ve made the most headway with the fossil wood project. The wood was collected from the Miocene of Panama at Lago Alajuela and we’re working to describe them in enough detail that we can identify them and use their features to understand paleoclimate. So far we’ve definitively identified one wood to the family level.

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Fossil wood that would later be revealed to be a member of the family Elaeocarpaceae.

I started with a particularly well-preserved piece of fossil wood (above) and cut it so that we had the three views necessary to completely describe it. Continue reading

Same old bones, just a different day.

Guess who’s back for a second round with the PCP-PIRE project! Yes, this time I find myself here in scenic Gainesville, FL at the Florida Museum of Natural History to experience the next step in the fossil specimens’ journey from the field to becoming integral parts of the Panamanian Collections. So far I have spent a good deal of my time divided between three primary tasks: my research projects, fossil preparation, and cataloging of the specimens amongst their peers in the endless sea of cabinets they’re housed in. My first days were dedicated to the cleaning of an assortment of artiodactyl, protoceratid, and horse mandibles, as well as a titanothere tooth. Continue reading

Fossil Friday 8/28/15: A Fossil Fruit and its Tree


For today’s Fossil Friday, we have two plant fossils belonging to the genus Parinari in the family Chrysobalanaceae. Paleontologists always get excited when they find fossils from multiple parts of an organism, like finding the jawbone and vertebrae of a mammal, or in this case, the wood and fruit of the same tree. Continue reading

Tennessee Road trip!

This past weekend June 19-21, 2015 I finally had the chance to visit Dawson Clay Pit at Henry County Tennessee, where the fossilized leaves that I am studying were collected. I was accompanied by Nathan Jud, Terry Lott, Dawn Mitchell and Kefren Arjona. We departed from the Museum at 8:30 am towards Tennessee….


Well, its a long way from Gainesville, rollin’ north on 75. We pass through the state of Georgia, heading towards Milan, Tennessee. It was a 14 hour drive to reach Dr. Roger Moore’s house whom was kind enough to give us a place to spend the night. He guided us through the Dawson Pit locality, were we spent most of the day on Saturday collecting new specimens for the museum collection. Most of the fossil leaves were collected from a dark colored shale which is part of an oxbow lake deposit interpreted by Dilcher (1973) . We didn’t find any new species from which we didn’t already have in the museum’s collections but we did find leaves with well preserved cuticle which we will analyze under a epifluorescence microscope.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cuticle shows the cellular or epidermis details of the leaf’s surface. The cuticle is like a waxy layer that prevent excess water loss and it help controls the gas exchange from the leaf to the atmosphere. Studying the cuticle can be very useful for the identification of plant species, since each species has its own epidermal features and pattern IMG_20150620_142501533_HDR We had a great weekend up in Tennessee, now to analyze the cuticle of the leaves and if possible add them to my research manuscript.


Taylor T. N, Taylor E. L., Krings M., 2009, Paleobotany: The biology and evolution of fossil plants, second edition,  USA, 13-15pp

PCP PIRE Fall 2015 Museum Internship Application Now Available!

Ariel Guggino

Spring-Summer museum intern Ariel Guggino examines leaf fossils in the paleobotany collections at FLMNH.

PCP PIRE’s museum internship application for Fall 2015 is now available!  Fall 2015 museum interns will be able to explore questions dealing with the paleobiology of the Neotropics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Applicants interested in all aspects of paleontology including paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, and vertebrate paleontology are encouraged to apply.

Justy Alicea

Spring-Summer museum intern Justy Alicea 3D scanning a fossil turtle skull.

This internship for undergraduates/post-baccalaureate students coincides with the University of Florida Fall Semester (August 24 – December 18). A monthly stipend is provided, as is assistance with locating housing in Gainesville, FL.  Applications are due July 1, 2015. Click here for application instructions.

Fossil Friday 4/17/15: Fossil Plants preservation and Identification

We all must have had in a point of our life heard about how extinct organisms remains become fossilized, either by books, movies or even in the Discovery or History channel. There are many different types of fossilization processes including Permineralization, Cast and Molds, Replacements and Crystalization,  and Carbonization, We often encounter these in the context of animal shells or bones, but what we hardly ever hear about is the preservation plant fossils. Plants, just as the megafauna, can be preserved in the rocks. Typical plant fossils are wood, seeds, roots, flowers, pollen, and leaves which are by far the most commonly preserved macroscopic plant part. Continue reading

Adventures in Panama!!


Dawn, Justy, Me, Andrea, and Will

It’s been a little more than a week since my last blog, and boy a lot has happened… Last week I and another 14 participants from the Florida Museum of Natural History visited Panama for spring break. Our goal was to extract fossils from the canal and gain experience in the field.

Sunday, March 1

Our first day in Panama we woke up early to visit the tropical canopy of Parque Natural Metropolitano, and use the crane access system to propel us towards the canopy of the trees. Nathan, Chris, Victor, Mike, aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd I were the first to ascend; at the tree top we could see in the far distance the whole of Panama City, we saw the never ending race of the skyscrapers reaching towards the heavens. We also saw a sloth peacefully sleeping in the branches, a flock of toucans flying as the wind, and beautiful blossoms covering the canopy. When we reached the ground we went for a hike and saw howler monkeys playfully jumping from branch to branch in the tropical forest.  We ended the day at Punta Culebra where we saw the sunset in the Pacific.

Monday, March 2

We spent most of Monday’s morning at the offices of STRI filling out paper work for our access to the canal as well as transportation. During the afternoon we headed towardOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAs the canal where we met the field interns (Jeremy, Sophie, Adam and Sonia) and their mentor Jorge, who gave us a tour to the different excavation site. We started at the Centenario Bridge then move to the Las Cascadas Formation. At the Las Cascadas Formation I followed Nathan and Chris towards the fossilized leaf deposits while the others stayed at the bottom layers looking for vertebrate remains. At the leaf site the outcrop was divided in a top layer of oxidized sediments and a bottom grayish layer. Nathan tells us that that last time he visited the site he had found fossilized leaves in the oxidized layers.  So I sit and commence to excavate with him, but the outcrop crumbles in my hands and I don’t seem to find anything. After a while I decide to excavate in the grayish layer just for curiosity, so I grab my hammer, hit the outcrop with all my strength and take out a big block, when I flip it I discovered the most beautifully preserved leaf. In my excitement I show it to Nathan and he practically starts jumping with joy on one leg!  We then visited the Empire site looking for some crabs. AtOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA this locality we had to be aware of our surrounding because it was being worked with bulldozers extracting sediments. It made it difficult for us to extract fossils with all the dust in the air that would get stuck in our eyes, but that still didn’t stop us for making great findings. We ended the day at Hodges Hill collecting fossilized wood.

Tuesday, March 3

Chris, Nathan, Roger, Will, Cristina, and I went back to the Las Cascadas Formation to the leaf site. Roger, Will and Cristina were looking for arthropods; Nathan, Chris and I were looking for botanical fossilized remains, and we spent most of the day there digging a quarry.

Wednesday, March 4

For the first half of the day I was with Nathan and Chris collecting fossilized wood in Hodges Hill. We found a large trunk and some crabs. In the afternoon Victor and I were sent to the Las Cascadas Formation to dig up some vertebrate fossils while Roger, Nathan, Chris, Cristina and Jorge went to the east side of the canal to explore the new sites containing fossilized crabs and leaves. Once I was in the Las Cascadas Formation all I could find was fossilized roots, so every time I would call John  to check what I had found he would say it was a root. After I had gotten tired of the spot I was given to excavate I decided to move towards the shale. At first all I could find was matrix when suddenly I come across something shiny, I called out for Jon saying “Jon I found something!!” He tells me “What is it?” I respond “I don’t know”. Jon sends Aldo to check what I haOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAd, after a while of Aldo looking at it Jon asks “Well, what is it?” Aldo responds “I think you might need to look at this” Jon practically came running towards us to see what we had. To make a long story short there are three possibilities of what my findings are. Jon and Aldo strongly believe it might be a horse tooth but we won’t know for sure until the whole tooth has been cleared from the surrounding matrix…. I knew I had found something.

Thursday, March 5

This time I went with the group from the day before to the east side of the canal. After the previous day of exploring the site Nathan had an idea of where the fossilized leaves and fruits might be, so Nathan, Chris, Jorge, Sonia and I started exploring the jungle of elephant grass, it was so high and thick that we could barely move through it. We had to use our hammer or throw ourselves in the grass to lower it down and make a path; we couldn’t use a machete becauseOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA we had left it at the west side of the canal so we had to manage with what we had… made me feel like if we were in an episode of Man vs. Wild! After walking through the grass we finally found the site.

Friday, March 6

Cristina, Sophie, Nathan, Chris and I tried to enter the east side of the canal again but our permit had expired so we had to return to the west side of the canal. We notified the others of our group and made an exchange of people, Chris for Jeremy. So Jeremy, Nathan, Cristina and I went to Empire site to find some fruits, we spend half of the day there and found plenty of seeds. During the late afternoon we visited the Biomuseo.

Saturday, March 7

We renewed our permits and spent the day at the east side of the canal digging a quarry for the new leaf site and collecting good samples. At the end of the day Nathan, Justy and I went to Casco Viejo and explored Panama City. We had a great time on our last day in Panama.

Visiting Panama has been an extraordinary experience filled with new adventur10988434_857802634281131_7377436034996016052_oes, experience and culture. Plus, now that we have collected so many fossilized leaves I can try to identify them and compare them to the ones of Tennessee. Also, we can make a booklet of the collected leaves for when we return to Panama so that we can find them again in the field and can easily know which leaf was discovered.

Until next time!

Spring Break in Panama

Group photo

Photo of the Spring Break Panama Canal participants at the Canopy Crane.

This week 15 additional people descended on the Panama Canal – the University of Florida Spring Break crew has arrived. For the majority of participants, this is their first experience in Panama.  We arrived Saturday afternoon and took Sunday as a tourist day to see the sights – the canopy crane and Punta Culebra were both great activities.

The first group is hooked up to the crane, which lifts them into the tree canopy.

The first group is hooked up to the crane, which lifts them into the tree canopy.

The view from the crane.

The view from the crane.

This iguana was sunbathing in the treetops.

This iguana was sunbathing in the treetops.

Punta Culebra

Vista at Punta Culebra.

Monday morning brought us to the Panama Canal.  We depart our hotel at 7AM, get to the canal around 8:30, and work until 3:30.  Quite a few fossils have been found – lots of new vertebrate, invertebrate, and paleobotanical samples are filling the lab at STRI!

AndreaVictorRachel Emperador

Andrea De Renzis, Victor Perez, and Rachel Narducci search the Empirador Formation for sharks teeth and invertebrate marine fossils.

Dawn Mitchell searches for vertebrate fossils in the Las Cascadas Formation.

Dawn Mitchell searches for vertebrate fossils in the Las Cascadas Formation.

Museum Intern Will Tifft takes a swing at a difficult layer of Las Palmas along the Panama Canal.

Museum Intern Will Tifft takes a swing at a difficult layer of Las Palmas along the Panama Canal.

Paleobotanist life for me


These past few days in the prep lab I have been reconstructing the shell of a turtle known as Pleurodira sp. It has been very exciting to see the form of the shell after all the little pieces have been glued back together. I have also been working on my research, sketching the vein characters of my leaves for easy identification. Some of the specimens are so well preserved that it seems as if a modern leaf had been glued to the rock! And the detail of the veins under the microscope leaves me speechless! Every day that passes I become more amazed with my findings.IMG_20150204_164131691

After a week of knowing my project, the paleobotany department was going to renew the student research exhibit, and I was asked to construct a poster on my research. I only had a few days to put my poster together, so I had to work fast, and last Friday it finally became part of the exhibit. In my poster I briefly explain the depositional history of the formation and describe the different morphotypes that were found in the collection (A digital copy of my poster will soon be available at this site

I am also excited for the upcoming trip to Panama, last Monday we had a meeting about the trip and learned that new fossilized leaves were discovered! I can’t wait to see them and compare them to the leaves form Tennessee.