I'll be heading up north on a big dig at numerous locations. Today I was able to get out to my Amherstburg/Lucas Fms spot with a focus on Lucas Fm. Why? The Lucas is pretty blank, crystalline, or riddled with nothing but Eridophyllum-esque corals and domic stromatoporoids with a dash of tiny rostroconchs or Amphipora brachs. The sandier layers contain rostroconchs and poorly preserved low-spired gastropod steinkerns. My goal was to perform due diligence as I start filling in the chapter in my Devonian trilobite guide on the Lucas.
Well, the Lucas was not lucky today. Instead, I became distracted with some Amherstburg blocs. Not too much to show, but some lichid pieces.
This is the positive and impression of a lichid fragment with the telltale tubercles. The positive side is almost impossible to make out.
Hypostomes. These are all the same size (about 7 mm wide). The one on the left would likely belong to Acanthopyge contusa on account of how the "divots" are spaced apart, whereas the positive and negative specimen on the right looks more a fit for Echinolichas sp. as the divots are closer together. Again, nothing complete (and likely nothing ever will be in this material), but I think I have more Ontario Devonian lichid material than just about anyone!
Nothing all that exciting or new, but a nice send-off before it's 5-10 days up north to dig into some Ordovician and Silurian material. If I can't come back with fossil riches, I'll at least come back with good memories breaking rock with a great field comrade. Until then...
I spent the last two days in the field, prospecting about nine different spots and coming up fairly empty-handed. I'll chalk this up to practice, and performing due diligence in crossing off possible locations to better identify the productive ones.
The first day was close to home, mostly sifting through glacial erratics.
These would be a positive and negative of a poorly preserved pygidium in Amherstburg Fm material (and the thinly-bedded, bituminous, crumbly, trilo-poor stuff). Judging by size and other morphological clues, I would label this a Trypaulites sp.
The remainder of the day morphed into a challenging three hour hike in the woods, so not much by way of further fossil opportunities for the day.
On the second day, Deb and I met up with our dear field comrade to inspect about seven prospective spots beginning with an outcrop section of the Dundee Fm listed in a relatively recent dissertation, and then to the lower Devonian Bois Blanc Fm, and finally to a number of Silurian locations around the Niagara region. I am not one to post location photos anymore for obvious reasons, but it would be hard to place this location and it really doesn't have much to make going back there worthwhile as it is mostly just reefal madness. This is Dundee Fm, and it had absolutely nothing but coral and a few bryozoa. Not even brachiopods.
That is a single coral with likely a second branching off it. The length extends to the full frame of the first image.
This location is all Bois Blanc Fm, but sadly not the right horizon. In terms of biodiversity, a single brachiopod was found, and two scarce gastropods; everything else was entirely reefal material of corals, crinoids, and bryozoa.
Case in point would be these hashes. There is virtually nothing here but the coral, crinoid, and bryozoa salad here.
And let's not forget giant coral colonies.
The Niagara region is filled with likely hundreds of creeks vermiculating across its landscape. This is one of them. The strata on the right is quite distinct, and not gradational. The yellowish dolostone is likely Lockport Fm.
A giant millipede. We did find a good chunk of Rochester shale, but it was entirely blank, and not even the hard-ground limestone lenses had any fossils. This stuff would be brutal to try and work with, as it is wet and just weathers out as chips -- a bit like some intervals in the upper Widder Fm.
This would mark my second big attempt to find anything of interest in the Silurian of Ontario. I've covered a good stretch of it in the north (Bruce Peninsula area) and now the south (Niagara), and have yet to hit proverbial pay dirt. In this recent trip, we covered about 500 km and did not prosper. To my disappointment, I have yet to collect a single fragment of Silurian trilobite from Ontario despite a great deal of research and effort. Perhaps the Silurian is a cursed geological period for me! We do have to keep in mind that just about over half of the Silurian exposed in a narrow band in Ontario from St Catherines up though Tobermory is Salina and Bass Islands -- both unfossiliferous units when this part of the world was salty sabkha. Of the other half that are fossiliferous units, about half or more of those were very poor preservation conditions, and the other half is generally inaccessible. I may just have to cheekily rename the Silurian formations in Ontario along the lines of "and here we have the Bugger All Formation, which lies conformably over the Utter Crap Formation, and contains the Nada, Bupkis, and Blank Members."
I will leave the Silurian alone for a bit and refocus on the Devonian and possibly the Ordovician as early as next week.
It's been a bit of a fossil famine as of late. The heat has been pretty fiercely oppressive, but it has been more the issue of not having much collecting opportunities on account of sites that are tapped out, temporarily or permanently inaccessible, and the need to prepare for the upcoming school year by pre-recording a monstrous amount of lecture content. But it is also a dry spell I hope to break in the coming days and weeks.
For now, a few minor trilobitic items just to keep the blog warm.
A fairly sad ensemble, but these were pretty much all that was to be found at my Devonian salad location. Upper left is likely a ventral cephalic fragment of an Anchiopsis anchiops, and the lower left is a busted butt of a Burtonops cristata. I may have effectively drained the site of its riches. These samples above were not worth taking home.
A snapshot of a section of my Amherstburg/Lucas Formations fill area near my home. This would be the area I would concentrate on, with understandably low expectations given how hard and often I've hit this place since I bumped into it last August.
The productive rocks are scarce at this point. Above we see the typical proetids of the Amherstburg: Pseudechnella sp. and Crassiproetus crassimarginatus.
This is culled from two of the productive rocks. Nothing I don't already have numerous examples of. Top row is Crassiproetus crassimarginatus, second row is an unknown, a Trypaulites sp., and a Mystrocephala stummi. Third row is a big Crassi, another Mystro, and some disarticulated Crassi thoracic segments. Bottom row is Mystrocephala stummi, Pseudechenella sp. Acanthopyge contusa. At least I found a lichid bit.
This was a purchase from a forum friend. An effectively complete, albeit somewhat roughed up, Odontocephalus aegeria from the Needmore shale of Pennsylvania. Given my excitement over the genus after locating fragmentary specimens here in Ontario, I was hankering for a complete one to function as a kind of lucky charm for when my Moorehouse Member site becomes accessible again, once the water levels drop.
I have two more trilobites coming from the Purchase Formation, so to speak, but right now the operative focus is on getting back out there, and prospecting new sites. Fingers crossed that this blog doesn't go into another prolonged radio silence!
I haven't really gone anywhere since the big field trip. Instead, it has been more at-home activities. I finally went through my trip finds and can show the "safer" items, although they are not spectacular. So, this entry will include trip finds, trip gear, a book, and prep.
The top image is a Rusophycus from the Georgian Bay Formation. There are several intervals within the formation where there are just trace fossils, and this was one of them. As opposed to the more vermiculating sorts of traces, we can at least identify who made this one on account of the bilobate appearance. Also from the GBF was this hash of Isotelus maximus -- another new one for me, at least on account of my not having as much ready access to this formation as those who live near "Turrawnah." The long genal is nice, but I'd chuck it in the garden if I could find a much more complete, diagnostic piece.
The bottom two are just fragmentary cranidia of a Ceraurinus marginatus (a new one for me; and note the four lined up glabellar lobes), and a Flexicalymene croneisi that I picked up only because of its bone white appearance. Both of these appear in the Cobourg Formation. I also bumped into a Flexicalymene granulosa bit in the Georgian Bay Fm, but it wasn't worth the hassle to break down the block. In the Cobourg outcrop, tons of Isotelus "mafritzae," Ceraurus sp., Thaleops sp. / Nanillaenus (I don't want to get dragged into that debate!), some Pseudogygites latimarginatus. Keep in mind that all of these were just fragments in a very high energy environment.
This tactical field backpack that I ordered back in mid-April finally made its way by boat from China just a few days before my big trip. Nice timing. Tons of pockets and good capacity (50 litres), but I may only get a year out of it just like my last field pack. Just from one trip, a small tear and a pooched zipper. It would be nice to find a proper, well-made canvas backpack rather than have to plunk down 100-150 bucks each year for these disposables. Old man grumble, grumble.
How about a book? I've been seeding my paleo library as of late with physical books as opposed to just relying on digital copies -- which are fine for in the field as reference, or a commute, but having a book is something special. I'm a bit of a bibliophile as my many rooms of bookshelves attest! This one was a special purchase. I've been a fan of Jay Matternes' paleo-art since I was a kid looking at the photos of his classic Smithsonian murals of the Cenozoic in the Time-Life book, North America. I get lost in dioramas and murals like that.
New tools for the lab. Pardon the dusty photo on the left, but I didn't feel like opening up the blast box to snap a pic of the Vaniman. So far, it works far better than a Paasche for air abrasion, with good flow. And, rather than push down on a button to fire, I operate it with a pedal. On the right is a very splendid scribe indeed: the German-engineered Pferd MST. It puts most other companies to shame. This thing is a precision tool for detailing, so not for bulk matrix removal.
Good timing, too, as my good friend and field comrade put this in my hands just as our trip was over. The next day, the new tools arrived. So, what do we have here? This is a Morocconites malladoides, and like most Devonian bugs from Morocco, it is discovered by breaking very hard rock and revealing a trace line of shell. The matrix can be incredibly hard, and even a trilobite with a relatively simple body plan like this is going to take time. If an Eldredgeops rana from Penn Dixie takes at most an hour to prep, the equivalent phacopid in Moroccan matrix will be about 50+ hours.
This one took me about 70 hours spread out over a week. I could have trimmed about 10-15 hours if I had a better functioning mid-scribe between the ME-9100 and the Pferd. So, the process... As the bug is about an inch or so down into the rock, I scribed to the highest point where the bug's shell would be (in this case, the pygidium). I then scribed guidelines. This is using the ME-9100 as this is tough matrix.
Then, ensure both halves are clean of all dust/debris, using a brush, let dry, and then glue the halves together with cyanoacrylate. Clamp together for a bit, and then wick more cyanoacrylate all around the crack. Clamp again and leave to cure for about a day.
So begins the long scribal work. I first trace from the pygidium across the axis to the cephalon and eventually reveal the median spine (take care here because it curves upward on most specimens -- so don't plane across!). I switched constantly between the ME-9100, Pferd, Aro clone, and the Vaniman. The crack runs from the midpoint of the pygidium in northeast direction taking a bit of the right eye with it. I managed to get the eyes perfect regardless. Early in the process, once I had a good sense of the bug's size and orientation, I took the angle grinder and lopped off the excess area to make it a bit easier to move around in the blast box.
The Pferd got put through its paces on this one. Some areas were so encrusted with sticky calcite that abrasion was not an option. This meant very patient kiss-scribing by the micrometre under the microscope. In fact, I do all my prep under the scope anyway.
Result after several more hours of abrasion and fine scribe work, some matrix shaping. It's not 100% perfect, but as far as I can take this -- which is likely a few steps up from the typical quick commercial prep of Moroccan bugs that one can find at many rock shops.
So, not freestanding shenanigans here -- just a straight-up prone prep. There are definitely areas I could improve, but sometimes one should just know when to say something is done enough to one's satisfaction. I didn't butcher it, which is something to be said about what commonly happens with this material for lack of proper tools, or the massive amount of patience required to do it right. The trilobite looks even better in person than in these photos.
I'll be managing things a bit differently here.
I just returned from a near week-long trip with a field comrade, covering near a thousand miles of territory. We hit quarries, roadcuts, and creeks. Armed with the literature, we read the strata at many locations, confirming if some sites were still productive.
We didn't come away with much of anything at all, but the contacts we made, the information obtained, and the camaraderie made the adventure more than worthwhile.
I simply can't say publicly where we went. In the fossil world, posting sites and contacts can mean less than scrupulous collectors swooping in or destroying the goodwill we have built with property owners. Since we've done all the footwork and door-knocking, why just give that away and risk losing a viable site?
I've been very generous about sharing my finds and sites with others, but only those I can trust, those with whom share the same collecting ethics and that I have collected with. I've even been generous here, but over the years become more circumspect about details such as specific locations. For this trip, even posting my finds might give the game away, so I'm going to be Mr. Disappointing by not doing so this time.
Couple this with the ever diminishing opportunities in Ontario. A steady decline in quarry access, an increase in development, overhunting, all contribute to those dedicated few to keep those hard-won sites private. Sites have to be found through a lot of recon and exploration, and they may require days of work to open. They may just as easily be so small as to be quickly exhausted. The fossil world is also filled with mercenaries looking for any and all leads. Even some of the more publicly known sites have steadily become victims of their own popularity, making visits there a pale shadow of what these places once were.
There will be some future extensive trips that span a week. There will be plenty more exploration. We expect to come up empty nine times out of ten. I also expect that my great, and secret, sites will yield up specimens of beauty and scientific significance. If I have a site that can, say, produce exceptional and full lichids, I'd be a fool to post specifics publicly just for a few "attaboys" and to have others pick the site clean. If there is money to be made, the vultures swoop in. It simply is not worth the broader validation to disclose information, as I have enough validation among the inner circle of collectors I trust and with whom I share my leads.
I am privy to a lot of proprietary information that I am sworn never to share. This kind of cloak and dagger situation is not one I enjoy, but it is a necessity. There is a good reason for the secrecy.
Beyond that, I have work to do. My work on the field guide on Devonian trilobites of Ontario is gradually making me a bit of a subject matter expert. I've also been accepted to present a trilobite-related conference paper that will now need its R&D. I've purchased new and better prep tools. I have exclusive and proven sites for some of the world's rarest trilobites. I hope to continue contributing to science while preserving the sustainability of fossil collecting in Ontario given these major headwinds.
There will be more posts as the month rolls along, no doubt1
It's been a bit of a dry spell as of late, but I'm hopeful that the big multi-day trips will happen this or next week. I did manage a walk along the Ausable River with a great field comrade, but did not find much among the fallen talus (the cliffs are completely vertical, so any excavation was out of the question). It was a bit of a muddy slog, and I nearly lost my shoe a number of times in the sucking mud.
This was the only notable encounter. No, I wasn't going to lug this home, but it is an impressive coral dome. We checked underneath to see if there were any crinoid holdfasts, but no dice. Any of the trilobites were just bits of Eldredgeops rana and tons of Greenops widderensis. Nothing complete, but finding the former in the upper Widder material was a first for me. The real prize is to find both of them complete in association -- something that has, and likely will always, elude me. Much of the rest was fallen blank slabs, and heavily picked over talus. But at least I can say I've been to Arkona this year.
I am hopeful that the next while will mean digging into strata that will be entirely new to me. My wishlist of Ontario trilobite species is still quite long, and with any luck I might be able to cross a few off that list. Only time and opportunity will tell!
As I will likely be out in the field with no internet access, it may be some time before I can provide new trip updates.
Not much of an update this time around, but a few odds and sods, as well as some exciting developments I’m not allowed to talk publicly about yet.
In the last week, I prospected a few sites that turned out to be rubbish, went back to one spot that was not very good, and ditto for another spot where the only thing I picked up were ticks. Yes, ticks. One got dug into my arm, and I had to pick off a few others. Fortunately, these were American dog ticks, or wood ticks, so not the Lyme disease carrying black-legged deer ticks. Here is a photo:
I did multiple full body checks and threw all my clothes on high heat in the dryer. That was a creepy-crawly scare I could do without!
I got nothing completed in the prep lab, as my midline tools are just not up to the tasks I need completed, so I have material that needs to be flipped to a preparator friend of mine. But, boy, it will be glorious!
I also received in the mail the classic Moore “Treatise O,” which is 560 pages of trilo-bliss. I have read this and the 1997 revision cover to cover digitally, but it is nice to have and to hold the actual book, which I got for a song.
My ongoing project to create a definitive field guide on Devonian trilobites continues apace. I mostly have the tedious stuff to complete, such as the stratigraphy sections. I will be accumulating images of each of the trilobites from many sources. I should be very clear and forthcoming that this is not “new research” involving new formal descriptions that introduce new species as I am simply not qualified to perform that kind of work. It is more of an aggregation of current and long unrevised knowledge.
There are so many multi-day trips in the works. I am hoping to tuck into the Silurian and Ordovician as the season continues to unfold. I’m 81 days deep into the season and have yet to wander outside of the Devonian, save for some very light poking around the Silurian back in April. I’m looking forward to hosting one of my favourite field comrades for some very daring adventures. I foresee camping, beer, and much hammering as we chew up the many of the back country miles.
For now, I'll leave off with this Anchiopsis anchiops pygidium found in the heart of tick-land. No, I didn't bring it home, but that's an impressive caudal spine:
Spent four hours yesterday at my Bois Blanc location specifically targeting Terataspis. Overall, it was a great day for it -- sunny and warm. In fact, it was the first time this season that I've had to strip down in the field as I was actually sweating, and now bringing water to digs is essential. That weighs one down, but dehydration can impair a good dig.
Let's kick it off with Deb's lovely find. A lot of it is still buried in matrix. The telltale small, rough tubercles are present, which says Terataspis.
A field shot. Likely a portion of the pygidium, thoroughly eroded. The character of these rocks make it a challenge to find nice pieces if one were to rely solely on just surface collecting. The real trick is to investigate breaks in the rock for long lines where their parts are still buried, or to find a small piece showing on the surface that continues under the matrix.
Another in the field eroded piece. It appears to be a a disarticulated series of thoracic segments, but there is some work in the lab to determine if that is the case.
An isolated pygidial spine with the characteristic barbs. There could be more, but doubtful much more. Some time in the lab cleaning it up will say.
What looks like a pitiful, junky rock may actually be covering over a nice piece here. The more obvious component with the tubercles may point to this being a glabella.
More rocks that many people might not even bother noticing. But this is the trick with these rocks: anything that has a chance to be complete will be under a few thin (but tough) layers. Since the whole trilobite is covered in tubercles, any time I see a few tubercles isolated across the surface, that suggest the possibility that it could very well turn out to be impressive.
I suspect this is showing a glabella and a right cheek. With close inspection, one can make out that the tubercles appear at a few places on the surface, again suggesting a much more complete piece underneath the matrix.
These are not small trilobites, so the rocks one brings back will not be small. Be prepared to fill a bucket very fast. In this broken rock, at the top appears to be an outline. Ventral? Eroded?
Here is a lateral view of the break in the rock, the lower piece. Note the jagged line in the middle. That is the continuation of the trilobite. This will likely be a horribly difficult prep where at some point both halves will be glued together after I determine the orientation (ventral or dorsal). The obvious question might be, "why not trim a bit in the field and separate the overlying matrix from that line?" Absolutely not. The nature of this rock does not allow for that kind of easy separation; instead, going that route will just destroy the specimen.
The trick to finding good Terry specimens in this material is to look for traces on the surface and lines on the side, taking home the most promising pieces to be worked on in the lab with a scribe, abrasion, and eons of patience. Given the high percentage of hard chert, splitting these rocks is going to yield virtually nothing but disappointment or heartbreak. Anything good will shatter right through due to the chert that comes apart in jointed blocks and not clean bedding planes.
Do I have a nearly complete specimen in the last big rock? I won't know for a while. Unlike much easier formations and lithologies, one cannot just rely on clean splits or what is obvious. With this material, you have to take chances and bring what may be promising home for further work.
Spent about four hours today at the new spot I visited yesterday (see that post here). Didn't come away with as much, and mostly the same from yesterday. I didn't take many pictures, but there were more Terataspis grandis pieces to be had, of which I took a good many. It certainly isn't easy to find the right rock, and even less easy to break them. Hands on learning was also had as a sharp edge of chert went right through my glove and left a deep bleeding gash in my finger. Now I know from direct experience why chert was the material of choice among prehistoric hunters!
So, just one highlight:
Just slightly covered in matrix, and with the impression, the hypostome of a Terataspis. I'll need to do some light repair as two pieces broke off while trying to extract it from a much larger rock. That's what glue is for! It's not very large and impressive for the species -- about the size of a thumbprint; the specimen at the ROM is about 7 cm wide.
I have digital versions of this one, and it is free to download online, too. However, there is something to be said about having a physical copy. It wasn't cheap, but nowhere near for as much as I've seen these go for online. This is the classic green trilobite bible, and in pretty good shape.
It is supposed to rain for the next two days (it is still spring, after all), so any fossil activity will likely be lab prep stuff. Saturday is looking like a sunny stunner, so perhaps another outing. It's been 66 days since my season started, of which I've spent 22 out in the field. In that time I've bagged representatives of 15 trilobites, with at least one undescribed species and a boatload of Terataspis parts.
I felt the need to get out do some collecting today, but not having wheels means I have to keep my trips local for now. London is not known for many things other than my internationally famous cat, and geologically it is post-glacial vomit of sand and erratics several hundred feet deep. That being said, those erratics get sorted and used for all sorts of purposes. Today I visited a spot I had written off five years ago. Upon closer examination with my now more knowledgeable eyes, I bumped into all the Devonian formations up to and including the Dundee, as well as possibly bumping into an Ordovician oddball.
Beds of Leptaena. There were also beds of the common red and white Devonochonetes. This tells me Dundee.
Bits and pieces of Eldredgeops rana and Crassiproetus also says Dundee Fm.
Still on the Dundee kick, here are some wee Coronura aspectans bits.
Appears jet black when opened, but browns when it is exposed to air. It doesn't quite behave like shale, but more like black chert. There were some other segments (not pictured) that looked very much like asaphids.
Just this one rock was mostly sand and purple brachs. That may be an Anchiopsis anchiops impression, so it is possible this is the Oriskany.
Turreted gastropod steinkern, matrix-free Paraspirifer with both valves, a free cheek imprint, and a calcite encrusted nautiloid.
Anchiopsis again, platycerid gastropod, and a bunch of dumpy Anchiopsis.
A Calymene platys pygidium from the Bois Blanc. It may continue into the rock.
The surprise trip-maker was these two Terataspis fragments. What is amazing is they are about a 20-30 minute walk from my house. There were other smaller bits of this species around, but I left them in the field.
So, Bois Blanc, Amherstburg, Lucas, and Dundee formations were represented in this material, of which I only made a six hour surface scan of half the area. A return trip is now a must. I'm not expecting riches, but it is convenient with just enough to keep me interested. And, yes, there were rostroconches, but I didn't take pictures of them... or the crinoidal packstones, the blue cherty corals, the tabulate corals, the zillion other types of brachs and bryozoans, etc.
I can say for certain that I bumped into these trilobites: Anchiopsis anchiops, Crassiproetus crassimarginatus, Pseudodechenella sp. (not pictured), Burtonops cristata (too fragmentary to bother photographing), Coronura aspectans, Eldredgeops rana, Calymene platys, Terataspis grandis. And, possibly that Ordovician oddjob. Of the known, eight species of bugs. Not bad at all.