Skip navigation

The NaturePlus Forums will be offline from mid August 2018. The content has been saved and it will always be possible to see and refer to archived posts, but not to post new items. This decision has been made in light of technical problems with the forum, which cannot be fixed or upgraded.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the very great success of the forums and to the community spirit there. We plan to create new community features and services in the future so please watch this space for developments in this area. In the meantime if you have any questions then please email:

Fossil enquiries: esid@nhm.ac.uk
Life Sciences & Mineralogy enquiries: bug@nhm.ac.uk
Commercial enquiries: ias1@nhm.ac.uk

Fossil Fish blog

4 Posts tagged with the fish tag
0

Hi all, it has been a busy few months for myself and others working with the fossil fish collections. You may have seen some updates on the @NHM_FossilFish twitter account that I have been away on fieldwork and at a couple of conferences, hopefully I will blog about these soon.

 

One big event the whole Museum is involved in is happening this Friday, it's Science Uncovered! This is a Europe-wide event and is something nearly all the staff in the Museum are involved in. It is a free event with staff and volunteers talking about their research, favourite specimens and hot science topics. There is even a bar where you can come and talk to us over a drink.

 

Team Fish will be out in force on the evening.

 

SU2014.jpg

Flyer and my 'I'm a scientist' badge. Look out for people wearing these during the evening.

 

Dr Zerina Johanson and her team will be presenting new research on the evolution of the shark dentition, how this was built from individual teeth to form a highly functional feeding unit. Shark dentitions are very diverse, representing a wide range of feeding strategies.

 

Squalus acanthias adult 4.jpg

CT scan of the jaw of the shark Squalus acanthias.

 

We will focus particularly on the sawshark dentition, with 'teeth' along an extended rostrum at the front of the head. These function during feeding (for example, slashing through schools of fish), but are they true teeth? Zerina will be in the Origins and Evolution Zone.

 

Have you heard of oceans called 'Tethys' and 'Panthalassa'? 

 

Dr Martha Richter will be explaining how fossil fishes and cephalopods can provide clues about the palaeogeography and salinity of ancient oceans as well as the past connections between continents. She will illustrate this with exceptionally well-preserved fossils from two continents, Africa (Morocco) and South America (Brazil), which range in age from the Early and Late Cretaceous c. 100-90 million years ago.

 

martha pic.jpg

Excavating fossils in the Crato Formation, Brazil.

 

Martha will be at Station 8: Oceans between 8:30pm and 10pm, in Marine Reptile Way.

 

Sharks, how big?


How do we know how big the biggest shark was when it is usually only their teeth that fossilise? Learn how to estimate the size of a shark from just their teeth and handle real specimens from Megalodon, one of the biggest sharks that ever lived, which could have swallowed a human whole. I will also be in the Origins and Evolution Zone.

 

Me & meg.jpg

Myself holding one of the Megalodon teeth.

 

Please do stop by and say hello to one or all of us. It promises to be a great night I hope to see you there! If you can't make it you can always follow events using the hashtag #SU2014.

0

As some of you might be aware myself and colleagues are organising an upcoming symposium to celebrate 150 years since the birth of one of the great palaeontologists - Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. Smith Woodward might not be as well known as others but he did a lot for palaeontology, particularly fossil fish.

 

ASW_photos_043Reduced.jpg

Sir Arthur Smith Woodward

 

Smith Woodward was born in Macclesfield on 23rd May1864. He started his long career at the NHM (then the British Museum - Natural History) when he was 18 years old in 1882 in the Geology Department. At this point the NHM had only been opened to the public for 16 months, so there was lots to do.

When he started at the Museum he quickly became involved in fossil exhibitions. Around the same time two large collections of newly acquired fossil fish specimens (containing thousands of specimens) previously belonging to two prolific collectors arrived at the Museum - Sir Philip Grey Egerton and William Willoughby Cole, (the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen). Smith Woodward realised how important these collections were and there were likely to be lots of new species and interesting specimens.

During his time Smith Woodward named over 300 different species of fossil fish and perhaps what he is best known for amongst fossil fish workers is a four part Catalogue of the Fossil Fishes in the British Museum (Natural History) published between 1989 and 1901. This was and remains a very important reference for fossil fish workers. I often refer to the Catalogue on a weekly basis for information about specimens. He also published on fishes from Wealden, Purbeck and the Chalk. Much of his work helped to form the foundations of current research on numerous fish groups.

 

Catalogue picture1.jpg

The Catalogue of Fossil Fishes, written by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward

 

Smith Woodward became Keeper of Geology in 1901 and spent his entire career here at the Museum, retiring in 1924 when he was knighted! He died in 1944. Over his lifetime he received many awards and medals including being made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1901 and the Lyell and Wollaston Medals of the Geological Society (there are actually too many to name here).

 

During the symposium we will have several talks about who he was as a person, his contribution to science and how his work has inspired generations of palaeontologists. There will also be poster contributions and a rare chance to see some of his type material described in the Catalogue and other key publications along with some of his many medals, which are kindly on loan to us from the British Museum.

 

The meeting will take place on Wednesday 21st May in The Flett Events Theatre of the Natural History Museum. Places are still available if you are interested and it is free to attend. However, you must register via the website.

Watch out for further posts about Smith Woodward and how the symposium went. We will also be working to produce a Procedings with a wide cross-section of papers next year. On the day I will be encouraging delegates to tweet and I will be doing the same from the Fossil Fish account and using the hashtag #ASW150.

 

Woodward logo.jpg

Our snazzy logo for the symposium

0

It has been a while since I last posted about our Moroccan adventure last year, (please excuse me) I've been rather busy in the collections and hosting students and researchers. I will bring you up to speed with some of that in later blogs!

 

Back to Morocco! We had been in Morocco for several days now and were loving every minute of it. Myself and Zoe will both be blogging about our trip to Goulmima as we both had strong interests in the area and the fauna. See Zoe's blog for her view of the day!

 

The day started off by looking around a fossil and mineral shop/museum which was attached to the hotel where we were staying. They had lots of great things and some great casts, if only I had enough room at home to have a Triceratops skull in my living room!

 

Tri SKull.jpg

Triceratops skull (reconstruction).

 

fishshop.jpg

Some fish from Morocco available to buy in the fossil shop.

 

After we had left the museum we were on the road again. Everyday we were travelling to different localities and seeing something new. It was great to see so much of the Moroccan landscape, it was amazing. The geology and landscapes which we were driving through changed everyday.

Me &Zoe Goul.jpg

Myself and Zoe ready for the day ahead!

 

Drive1Goul.jpg

Driving to Goulmima.

 

Drive2Goul.jpg

Just one of the many pictures I have of the Moroccan landscape.

 

Zoe was definitely the most excited about the trip to Goulmima as you get lovely ammonites from there. I was also interested in going there as amongst the ammonites you get fish in calcareous nodules and I knew we had nothing from that area in the collections so I was intrigued to find out more about the site and what we could find.


We stopped at a few sites on our drive but we didn't find any vertebrate material. Our team found some invertebrate material, bits of shells and ammonites, so after a while we moved onto another site.

 

Me Asfla1.jpg

Me at the Asfla 1 site. It was a steep climb to the top of the hill behind me!

 

The next site, Asfla 2, proved to be more fruitful. We discovered partial pieces of ammonite and Plesiosaur bones, but still no fish. Althought they were only scrappy bits of Plesiosaur we still collected them as they will be useful in the handling collections and in the Angela Marmont Centre (where you can bring fossils to have them identified) in the Museum.

 

Mark Asfla2.jpg

Mark at Asfla 2 site, trying to sniff out some Plesiosaurs!

 

Our last stop was a village settlement where most of the residents make a living out of fossil hunting, particularly from Goulmima. The rocks here are Cretaceous in age - about 90 million years old. Here were were taken by our local guide and shown some amazing specimens. What particularly caught the eye of TEAM FISH were the famous fish in nodules to be found in Goulmima!

 

These fish are called Goulmimichthys and are part of the class of fish commonly known as ray-finned fish (you can still find ray-finned fish swimming in the seas today e.g. cod). These fish are elongate and had numerous small spiny teeth. Some of the specimens we saw even had some soft tissue preservation, which is amazing. It is very rare you get soft tissue (muscles, skin etc.) fossilised, as it is usually eaten by predators or rots away very quickly after the animal dies.

 

Goulmimichthys looks very similar to fish (Rhacolepis in particular) that are found in the Santana Formation in Brazil. There has not been a huge amount of research done on Goulmimichthys and because we do not have any fish material from that area in Morocco in the collection we decided to purchase all of the specimens that` you can see in the picture below. The other flatter fish you can see are Ichthyodectes, which had a large mouth with pointed teeth. It was a fast swimming predator at this time.


I am actually going to start doing a research project on these fish which I am quite excited about. We are going to have the specimens CT scanned. This is a powerful machine which allows us to look inside the nodules (similar to an x-ray) instead of cutting the nodules (and the fossil) in half. I have not done this before so I am looking forward to learning new skills. Hopefully by doing this we can better understand how Goulmimichthys relates to other fish like Rhacolepis  from Brazil.

 

morocco-resize-feb14.jpgTEAM FISH: David Ward, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson and myself.


morocco-resize2-feb14.jpg

Fossil fish mostly in nodules collected from Goulmima. This picture does not do them justice, they are more beautiful when you see them for real!

 

We did very well visiting the local collectors and seeing what they had. We gained many new specimens for the Museum's collections and made some good contacts with the local collectors.

 

From here we headed to our next hotel and packaged up our specimens to be shipped back to the UK.

 

My next blog about Morocco will be a guest one from our ore curator who was with us talking about pretty pink minerals!

1

As I mentioned on my Twitter account @NHM_FossilFish, myself and several colleagues from the Museum and another institutions recently went on a collections-enhancing trip to Morocco. It was absolutely amazing! Over several blog posts myself and Zoe Hughes will take you through our adventures, so make sure you check out her Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!

 

Over the last few years lots of fossils and minerals from Morocco have flooded the market. We are even seeing an increase in people bringing them to events for us to identify. Currently our collections from Morocco are limited, so during the trip we wanted to:

  • expand the Museum's collections
  • see famous sites like the Kem Kem (famous for dinosaurs) and Goulmimia (famous for ammonites and fish)
  • collect some of our own samples

 

Over the last year the Museum's former Palaeontology and Mineralogy Departments merged to form the new Department of Earth Sciences, and because both minerals and fossils from Morocco are of interest to the wider scientific community we mounted our first earth sciences fieldtrip

 

The palaeontologists of the group were myself, Martin Munt, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson, Zoe Hughes, Mark Graham our fossil preparator, research associate David Ward and regular Fossil Fish visitor Charlie Underwood from Birkbeck, University of London. The mineralogists were Mike Rumsey, Helena Tolman and analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams.

 

Morocco groupCrop.jpg

Back row: Mark Graham, Zerina Johanson, Martin Munt, Charlie Underwood, David Ward, Martha Richter, Mike Rumsey, Helena Toman and Emma Humphreys-Williams. Front row: Myself (Emma Bernard), Moha (our guide) and Zoe Hughes.

 

On Wednesday 18 September our group arrived at Heathrow Airport for our flight out to Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived late at night and were met by our drivers and our guide Moha. We went straight to the hotel and settled in for the evening ready for our first day in the field.

 

On Thursday 19 we were all up ready for a trip to a farm near the town of Oued Zem. This area is known for the phosphate mining industry, a by-product of which is fossil material, specifically Cretaceous reptiles such as mosasurs and thousands upon thousands of shark teeth!

 

It was a warm day, about 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a farm where Charlie and David had previously collected samples and have a good relationship with the owners. Here we wanted to sample different beds to see what sharks and other marine animals were present in each layer.

 

We collected large samples and them put them through several fine sieves and then picked out what fossils we could find. This mainly consisted of shark and ray teeth and small fish bones. We collected over 20 bags of this sediment to bring back to the Museum so we can have a closer look.

 

fossil-fish7-oct-1.jpg

Charlie Underwood digging in the rock face and sieving for shark teeth.

 

fossil-fish7-oct-2.jpg

Emma and Zoe enjoying the sun and picking the sediment for shark teeth.

 

For lunch we went to another local farm where I think we all agreed, we had one of the best tagines any of us have every had. It was delicious. The farm also had a fossil shop and it was great to look around at what they had on offer.

 

fossil-fish7-oct-3.jpg

fossil-fish7-oct-4.jpg

Just some of the fossil specimens on offer in a Moroccan farm shop.

 

In the afternoon we were back at the farm with all the shark teeth and we were in for a real treat. Part of their land included an old phosphate mine which they now use for excavating fossils, and inside there was a near complete shark belonging to the genus Otodus of Yspresian age (Early Eocene in age, about 50 million years old). Shark skeletal material is cartilaginous and therefore rarely fossilised, but this specimen has several articulated vertebrae and lots of teeth preserved.

 

fossil-fish7-oct-5.jpg

All set and ready to go down the mine.

 

fossil-fish7-oct-6.jpg

Me with the shark skeleton, the round white circles are the vertebrae.

 

The mine was a lot cooler inside than outside which made for a nice change when we were still adjusting to the temperature difference. After we stumbled back outside we were greeted with some lovely saffron tea (a first for me) and we packed all our specimens and sediment into the van and headed off for the hotel discussing what we had found that day.

 

From here on, myself and Zoe Hughes will be taking each day in the field in turn, so make sure to check back to find out what else we did...