Readers’ wildlife photos

Please keep your photos coming in; I have a decent backlog, but you know how I worry. . .

Today we have some photos of fossilized wildlife, all taken by reader Mark Sturtevant. His notes are indented.

As a change from the usual stuff that I have been submitting, I thought to share pictures of some specimens that I keep in what I call my Cabinet of Mystery. Most objects are fossils or bones that I have either found or purchased over a lifetime.

I expect that a good percentage of humanity has at one time possessed a fossil fish known as Knightia from the Eocene Green River formation. But this Lagerstätten is also rich with other fossils. The first two pictures are of aquatic insect larvae from that location. Although it was labeled as tsetse fly larvae from the gem and mineral show where I picked this up, these are more likely horsefly larvae. The second picture is a close-up view showing the paired posterior spiracles that fly larvae often have, which in this case would have been used for breathing air while under water.

1horseflylarvae

The second picture is a close-up view showing the paired posterior spiracles that fly larvae often have, which in this case would have been used for breathing air while under water.

2horseflyclose

I lived in San Diego for many years, and exposed areas of Quaternary sandstone are common over much of the area. While hiking in a park, I found this large fossil clam in a cliff about a mile inland from the ocean. I do not know the age, but it does strongly resemble a modern clam known as Tresus.

What is interesting about this specimen is that it appears that the clam had survived a serious injury which had healed.

3clam

The large fossil that follows was purchased, and it is a portion of a Cretaceous mollusk known as a Baculite. The total specimen would have been several feet long. I am a little mystified of their technical classification and anatomy (and so I would like to be corrected by any reader), but as I understand it these were a kind of shelled cephalopod, related to the modern chambered nautilus, only Baculite shells were straight instead of coiled. What is actually seen here is not really a preserved shell, which I think was paper thin and had dissolved away long ago. What remains is really a mold formed by sediments that infiltrated the interior of the shell after the animal died. One can still see that the shell was segmented into a series of chambers, and articulated together by intricate sutures. Some of the segments of rock actually wiggle a little, but are still locked together.

4baculite

The Cabinet of Mystery also contains various skeletal remains. Here is a skull of an American opossum that I had since I was maybe 14. Through that time I would sometimes pick up road kill and learn what there was to learn of it by dissection in my bedroom/laboratory. With this one I eventually cut off the head, and waited for my parents to leave the house for the day so that I could boil the head in a pot on the stove, thereby making it a lot easier to remove the soft tissue. I am sure that I am not the only one who does not tell my parents everything! I do not know of many skeletal characters that identify a marsupial, although some obvious ones here are the small brain case and the numerous premolar and molar teeth. The spatters of paint were from a painting that I did of something many years later.

5possumskull

55 Comments

  1. David Coxill
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Hi ,how do i post photos on your site ?.

    • Posted January 11, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Google Jerry’s name and University of Chicago and find his email address. Email them to him.

      • David Coxill
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Thanks ,i will try that.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Email address is also behind the “Research interests” link in the header of this site.

  2. Posted January 11, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    These are really fun photos Mark!

    We have a “cabinet of mysteries” as well, and I love it. Your items are very special. We only have a few that we have collected ourselves. Mainly from the formations along the Shell Rock River in Iowa (Devonian sediments, loaded with marine fossils).

    Reminds me of the “Curiosity Cabinet” that Bruce Chatwin’s grandfather had that motivated him to travel the world.

    Pride of place on our fireplace mantelpiece goes to a Cambrian trilobite (both positive and negative casts, paired, on stands) about 10 inches long. It is spectacular.

    I expect that a good percentage of humanity has at one time possessed a fossil fish known as Knightia from the Eocene Green River formation.

    I have one right here on my work desk!

    I am sure that I am not the only one who does not tell my parents everything!

    Indeed! I sure didn’t. My Mom (81) is still hearing about things she never knew before. 🙂

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Thank you. Perhaps I had visited Shell Rock river, since I grew up in Iowa. We had a couple school field trips out to someplace to a site that was full of brachiopods and crinoid stems and small trilobites. I still have a bunch of it in the C.’o M.

  3. Dominic
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Nice – my mother boiled my hedgehog skull for me – it took me 40 years though before I stuck the teeth in!

  4. Merilee
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Very cool, Mark, but I hope you scrubbed that pot out really well afterwards😖

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Nothing more than boiling a small amount of porridge in the pot is necessary.
      The boiling disposes of all (non-extremophile) bacteria. The oats (oatmeal for porrdgeophiles) will absorb any remaining organic gunge, to sufficient levels for unconcern.
      Personally, I don’t hose my posterior with red-fuming nitric acid after excreting. Even after smellily excreting. The human (well, mammalian ; humans are mammals, even if feline ultra-mammals treat us as cupboard monkeys) disgust reaction has it’s uses, but most people over-react. I’d still do two thinks before taking up sewage diving as a trade though. Not three thinks.

  5. Kevin
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Cool bones. Though I would never take road kill and boil it for study. You are truly a brave scientist.

  6. Darren Garrison
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Ammonites and nautiloids both had straight and coiled morphologies. Baculites are classified as a type of ammonite, not nautiloid, defined by the complexity of the sutures. See this:

    or this:

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Thank you! I was very uncertain about the terminology.

      • loren russell
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Also, it’s likely that the original was likely reasonably thick, not papery, in a large ammonoid. I think these very complicate [in the literal sense of the word] sutures were supposed to make it possible for the shell to be relatively thinner. The strength of the shell would be partly for protection, but also to resist its exploding or being crushed during vertical movements in the water column. Like the living nautilus, these shelled cephalopods would have managed their buoyancy by adding or removing gases in their empty chambers. Via the siphuncle, running the length of the shell.

      • Darren Garrison
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        BTW, the word of the day (if you aren’t familiar with it) is “steinkern.” The internal mold of a fossil left behind when the original shell dissolves.)

    • Posted January 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Cool! Thanks.

    • Merilee
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      What a great chart!

  7. Charlie Jones
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I especially like the clam fossil, because it was such evidence of life history that allowed Nicolas Steno in the 17th century to conclude that fossils were in fact the remains of ancient life.

    At the time many natural philosophers felt they formed in a manner similar to minerals, ie via some sort of plastic force. Since a plastic force presumably would have no reason to create fossils with varied healed injuries and signs of wear-and-tear, Steno concluded fossils must in fact be remains of life.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I had read that in Galileos’ time a popular idea was that fossils were remnants of biblical creation. That life came from the soil, emerging in a big pulse of creation and vitalization. Fossils would be remnants of creatures that did not quite make it and were still stone. Kind of poetic, really.

  8. Cate Plys
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I love all the reader wildlife but this is the best ever. Boiling a opossum skull in your parents’ kitchen, priceless.

    • Darren Garrison
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Then you’ll really love this site:

      https://svpow.com/category/stinkin-mammals/badger/

      • loren russell
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        A friend of mine as an undergraduate in college had quite a large personal museum of mammals. A dental student, he went to professional conferences in places like Las Vegas and Tampa with a carry-on containing his trapline of mousetraps and a container of peanut and returned with it full of recently killed rodents packed in dry ice.

        All of these were prepped in the standard museum study-skin with boiled-out skull on the side.

        And this went well until he decided to make a road-kill coyote into a study skin. Even with liberal applications of alum and a fan, it quickly got foul. So he put the kitchen oven on low and set the coyote inside, facing out. His landlord, who was in the habit of snooping, smelled the odd cooking odor, let himself in and opened the door to see the hair-on “dog”. Some shock; the two were able to come to an agreement — no more snooping if no more study skins in the oven…

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted January 11, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          I used to bake inflated caterpillar skins in our oven. These were done with permission.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      While preparing the parent’s living room for Xmas day meal, I was seen strewing the skulls in the “skullery” (go on – guess what was in the “skullery”) with tinsel and the occasional plastic Santa hanging from convenient deer fangs or antlers.
      Most of these, including the muntjac, had been prepared in the kitchen. One of the birds had spent almost as long in the freezer as the bunny labelled as “Blackie”.
      Many of the skeletons have been sore abused at local schools. Often to the horror of the parents. And the delight of the kids.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    A paleontologist once gave me a small stone slab marked with little blobs that he said had been paleozoic raindrops. I don’t know if what he said was true or not.

    Are you by chance related to Alfred Henry Sturtevant?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      People find sandstone slabs that preserve raindrop impacts. I have seen them in rock shops. Also ripple marks, etc.

      No relation. I used to be asked that a lot since in my research days I worked on Drosophila development.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Some people (not me – I was being closely watched) have casts of salt crystals where the fine groundmass of crystals preserves the pattern of raindrop impact. Avarice was stirred. I was being closely watched by people who well understood lithophilia.

  10. Christopher
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic stuff. I spend a few hours almost every weekend grubbing around in Pennsylvanian deposits picking up all sorts of inland sea life, primarily Crinoids, Bryozoans, and Brachiopods. I don’t have a cabinate of curiosities or whatever, just boxes and heaps and piles all over the place. Plenty of non-fossil bits and bobs and bones too. Deer skull & vertebra, tortoise shells, a cardinal’s beak, a mummified tree frog… The bet part is not having to explain why I have this odd and occasionally oderous stuff to my parents anymore! Haven’t boiled anything yet, I just leave it out for the bugs to clean.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Get thee to an Ikea. They have some passably nice ones.

      • Christopher
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        Will do, once I move (yet again) in a few months. I need some bookcases anyway, as they’re also heaped hither and thither.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t have a cabinate of curiosities or whatever, just boxes and heaps and piles all over the place.

      Don’t let it accumulate in the attic. Three PhD geology students in a department house is a recipe for roof collapse.
      Makes a change from chemistry students blowing houses up.

      • Christopher
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        Duly noted. Most are in my room, next to the bed, next to boxes of books, in containers under the turtle tank, and the rest are in the basement with the ones I inherited from my great uncle, also a rock hoarder, who failed to write down where he found them. I assume they are from somewhere around the Ozarks, but I can’t be for certain. Most of my stuff is small and light weight, unlike my record collection and my ever-expanding library.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          A friend’s brother was a serious record collector – something to do with Grateful Dead bootlegs, IIRC – to the extent of having to put additional joists into the floor of his record collection room.

  11. ChrisB
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I would agree the fossilized insect larvae aren’t likely to be tsetse. Tsetse larvae aren’t aquatic, but they do have an interesting lifestyle. Adult tsetse females fertilize one egg at a time and carry the larva around internally in a uterus-like structure. They ‘give birth’ to 3rd instar larvae which pupate within a few hours on the ground.

    The larvae could be horseflies, although they also look like Tipulid (crane fly) larvae.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      I agree, and had not up to now considered that.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      Fascinating! I had no idea any fly did that!

  12. Mark R.
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    These are really great, especially the skull. Thanks for submitting something different. Heritage Auction house sometimes offers fossils. I’ve bid on some specimens but never have won.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Brought is nice. But “I found this myself” is a story with which you can bore visitors to tears (if you’re good, to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”) for decades to come.
      A millennium from now, some poor archaeologist is going to have some really perplexing “grave goods” to cast into the bucket of “ritual”.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      It is easy to get fossils on ebay. Tons of material.

  13. Posted January 11, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for these – and the scale markers – these are always helpful to us who don’t always quite know what we are looking at!

  14. Lars
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Baculite fossils were quite common in a couple of my old field sites (Bearpaw shale, SE Alberta). They were always broken; however, the shell was almost always preserved, and frequently the nacre had preserved enough of its microstructure that it would refract light (although the chambers would be filled with sediment). Apparently, in life, the shell started out coiled, like a regular ammonite, then became straight. However, I’ve only ever seen one specimen that had retained the coiled initial part – it was about the size of a quarter – pretty small when compared with the total length of an adult shell.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Quoth the student “that didn’t ought to do that”. Or, in Canada, “Eh?”
      Only spent one afternoon fossicking in the Cretaceous, and only found a couple of fragmented sea urchins. But Baculites sp. is high on my list of search images. High in the sense of “have torch, will excavate in the dark” and “coins will cut rock. Slowly.”

      • Lars
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        I was supposed to have my eyes on the ground anyway; I was hunting lizards.
        My Bearpaw sites were also excellent for ammonites (Placenticeras), which were not only well-preserved but abundant in spots. The biggest complete specimen I collected myself was about 40 cm in diameter; locals told me of specimens as large as car tires, that had been dragged off by professional collectors.

  15. darrelle
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Nice pics and even better stories, Mark. I usually share the Reader’s Wildlife Pics posts with my kids, but I think I might skip this one. I wouldn’t want my daughter to get any ideas.

    Years ago I told my kids about how our German landlord cleaned deer skulls for mounting by hiking out into the woods and burying the head in an appropriate ant colony for a good while. Some months later a Great Blue Heron died on the shore of our community “lake.” My daughter, then 7 or 8 years old, borrowed a cheap pocket knife from her twin brother, cut the head off of the Heron, carried it about a 1/2 mile to a nearby abandoned orange grove, and buried it in an ant colony.

    Some weeks later she retrieved it and showed it to us, which is when we (parents) first found out about it. We had seen the dead Heron on the shore of the lake but weren’t aware that our daughter had taken the head.

    I don’t know if the ants had anything to do with it (don’t know if any local species eat animal remains) but the skull was in great condition and pretty well cleaned. After a bit of final cleaning she took it to school for show and tell. It now hangs on her bedroom wall with several other skulls, vertebrae, snake skins, bugs, feathers, etc..

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      This is how it starts! I would encourage that sort of behavior.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        [STRONGLY encourage]
        And if “Flopsy” the family bunny, or “Fangs” the cat, goes the way of pets as an education in mortality, then extend the lesson into taphonomy then anatomy. Even “Dumbo” (the pet dog) could do something useful, for once in it’s life.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely!

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Ah, fossils. The only thing better are ichnofossils (fossils of something alive, not of something dead).

    What is interesting about this specimen is that it appears that the clam had survived a serious injury which had healed.

    Hmmm, I think not so serious.
    (1) It survived.
    (2) The large scar traces back to a single point. I think this is like … (searches for human example) if you cut into the cuticle of your nail, it’s not a big deal. But the nail develops a “vee” shaped pattern of damage as the growing root of the nail develops from the cuticle. Maybe in the point of damage, the nail grows more slowly. So a point of damage affects the growth a mm to either side a couple of weeks later. And another oupl of weeks later, those affected regions are retarding the growth of their adjacent regions. It leaves a “vee”-shaped scar, for a fairly small injury.
    The large “V” is a trace of a small injury over some considerable period of time. I estimate 8 or 9 years (each one laying down a fast-growth/slow-growth pair). Any other estimates?
    A perfect fossil may be beautiful. But each imperfection relates a little of the history of that individual. Palaeontology becomes personal.

  17. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    These went over well.

    A small critique : for presentation it would be helpful for those who don’t know what baculites are if a picture of what a complete baculite would look like was next to the fossil.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Here is a photo that Google Image found for me.

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted January 11, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

        Never came across a site quite like that. Clicking does bring up the photo.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:42 am | Permalink

        Yes of course one can do Internet research on their own to find out what one looks like or learn more. However if an audience is looking at this as a self-contained presentation – which can work – it doesn’t go over well.

  18. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    On the topic of fossils:

    Tom Holland (@holland_tom)
    1/12/17, 11:55
    The heel bone of a man crucified outside Jerusalem, 1st century AD. The nail bent on hitting the ground after going through bone & wood…

    pic.twitter.com/LFpLOnqc0d

    Or try :

    https://mobile.twitter.com/holland_tom/status/819588659968151552

  19. Diane G.
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff and info, Mark! All the pics well-rewarded double-clicking. It amazes me how well those insect larvae fossilize!

    Maybe 10 years ago or so a raccoon somehow electrocuted itself on one of our utility poles (with a transformer on it), then fell to the ground remarkably intact. I wanted to boil parts of it but had nothing to boil it in, so I went to our local Wal-mart-type store to find an appropriate pot. I just happened to run into my son & his friend–they were high schoolers, then–who were trying to find some metal polish for a sword they’d obtained as part of some fantasy game. They were giggling about “what would the clerk they’d asked for help have thought had he known the real reason they wanted the polish.” I thought, “if they only knew…”

    (I later shared with my son, of course; just wasn’t sure if his friend would understand or not…)

    Never did find a pot I liked; ended up putting the carcass in a plastic bin with drain holes, wrapped in wire cloth I hoped would let nothing but insects in, placed on a tilt in the pine grove…

    So let’s not stereotype all Moms/parents…

    😀

    I should really round up all the odds & ends of natural history cached here & there (mostly in the basement) and make my own Cabinet of Mystery; certainly lends a certain cachet to the curiosities.


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