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Conulariids and Fossil Bryozoans blog

Scanning electron micrograph of a fossil cheilostome bryozoan. Specimen originates from the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, West Mean Station, Hampshire, U.K.

With over 1.5 million specimens, the Museum’s Conulariid and Bryozoan Collections are a vital resource for the study of these fascinating marine animals. Both groups date from the Early Palaeozoic but, after the conualriids went extinct in the Late Triassic, only the bryozoans still survive today.

Read my blog to find out how we curate such diverse and large collections, use them for our research and to see examples from other historical collections in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Conulariid research at the Museum

Bryozoan research at the Museum

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There are colonies of cyclostomes and cheilostomes bryozoans with an exceptional preservation found on bivalve shells from the Red Crag Formation of Suffolk and Essex (SE England). This formation, as its name indicates, is red at outcrop, strongly oxidised, but unweathered samples from the subsurface are known to have a greenish colour. Therefore, to study green-coloured Red Crag samples is essential to determine the identity of the original iron-coating, oxidised to goethite in surface exposures.


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Red Crag Formation at Butley, Suffolk, England


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Bryozoans encrusting Glycymeris

The British Geological Survey keeps samples of these deposits in its core store. Therefore, to visit the BGS in Keyworth, Nottingham, was the first stage for this bryozoan research.



Professor Edward Forbes (1815-1854) welcomes you at the BGS. He was the first officer to be appointed as Palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain


Seven cores were analized looking for mollusc shells, preferably shedding bryzoans from East Anglia.



Cores as they are preserved at the BGS


Colonies of cyclostome and cheilostome bryozoans are commoly found encrusting shells and are exquisitely preserved with delicate articulated spines and calcified opercula. They are placed on the undersides of the bivalves shells which gives them shelter. This only explains partially their preservation.



Exceptional fidelity preservation on Escharella aff. octodentata seen under SEM


As the calcified bryozoan skeletons are absent and the colonies are very finely preserved by thin coatings of rusty red-coloured goethite, these coatings must have formed very early in diagenesis. Currently its original mineralogy is unknown but may have been the same green mineral (glauconite and/or chlorite) that gives unweathered Red Crag. Conversion of this mineral to goethite was apparently accompanied by dissolution of the calcitic skeletons of the cyclostome and most of the cheilostome bryozoans.



Javier Cuadros taking samples for lab analysis


During three hectic days from 25 to 27 October 2013 I attended The Munich Show, one of the most important fossil and mineral fairs in the world.



Marienplatz, in the heart of Munich, was home to medieval markets, celebrations, and tournaments in the 12th century.


We arrived Munich on 23 October to install the Museum's exhibition at the Mineralientage München (Munich Show), which this year was devoted to gold in celebration of its 50th anniversary. In the case of fossils this translated as golden discoveries in Palaeontology.


The Museum contributed by exhibiting some of our most valuable fossils, including the iconic first finding of Tyrannosaurus rex, an incomplete lower jaw with teeth, which is the holotype of Dynamosaurus imperiosus.


2013-10-24 11.58.02.jpgVenue for the Museum specimens at the Messegelände, the New Munich Trade Fair Centre.



Another important fossil from the Museum was Proceratosaurus, a small-sized carnivorous theropod.


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Proceratosaurus, theropod from the Middle Jurassic of England.

As well as fossil vertebrates the show included invertebrates, like this slab of Balanocrinus and Palaeocoma from the David Harvey Collection.


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Crinoids and brittle star of the David Harvey Collection at the Museum exhibit.


The Museum displayed specimens from 'golden palaeontological sites' like the Burgess Shale and Lyme Regis.


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Palaeocoma milleri, brittle star, collected by Mary Anning.


During the three days I visited all the stands concerning fossils in detail and I saw very striking specimens. Some of them were really uncommon and important scientifically. It was possible to see Edicarian fossils from Russia, really nice slabs of a whole colony of crinoids from Holzmaden or medusae from Solnhofen.



Ediacarian fossils from White Sea, Russia.



Well-preserved medusa Rhizostomites from Solnhofen.


On the other hand, this fossil fair has also been a very good place to see fossil fakes or “reconstructed” fossils.



Ammonite that has been half carved.



Eurypterid that has been 90% reconstructed - painted on.


The show also included activities for children, such as interactive workshops like fossil splitting and soapstone carving.



A 'caveman' working on cutting and polishing stones.


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Little raiders of the lost fossil.


We enjoyed not only the fossils but also a big party to celebrate the Golden Jubilee on 25 October, the first day of the show, with a Bavarian orchestra that was playing while we had our dinner with typical dishes and drink from Munich, like my favourites ones: Spaetzle with cheese and German beer.


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Bavarian orchestra to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Munich Mineral and Fossil Show.


Congratulations to Christoph Keilmann for organising the Munich show!


Paris is nice at any time of the year! This September has been very warm everywhere and especially in Paris. I have had a Leonardo da Vinci mobility grant to visit the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) to study how they cope with their digitisation plan.


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The Grande Galerie de l'Evolution of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in the Jardin des Plantes of Paris.

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Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-1788), Comte de Buffon, intendant (director) at the Jardin du Roi (1739-1788), now called the Jardin des Plantes.


I was based in the Département Histoire de la Terre, Laboratoire de Paléontologie, and my host has been Dr Didier Merle, curator of fossil molluscs and editor-in-chief of the palaeontological journal Geodiversitas.


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Main entrance of the Laboratoire de Paléontologie.



My main interest in this visit was to see how they manage the 'Typothèque', a place where type and figured fossils are housed, and how the MNHN publishes its database of these specimens online.


conulariids-post.jpgLeft: Dr Didier Merle showing us some types at the Typothèque. Right: Some of the facilities at the Typothèque used to study the specimens inside.


The Typothèque was created by M. Jean Claude Fischer in 1985 in order to keep all the type and figured specimens of fossil invertebrates together in the same room, making them more accessible to the visitors. This is a big advantage compared to other collections in the same department (fossil plants, fossil vertebrates and micropalaeontology) or other departments at the MNHN. It contains important specimens such as those of the d’Orbigny, d’Archiac and Cossman collections.


Currently there is a technician, M. Jean-Michel Pacaud, working full time at this Typothèque, maintaining it and recording any new type or figured specimen. More than 90% of the fossil invertebrates have been databased.


The database application used at the MNHN is the demonstrator program JACIM, linked to a paleo database supplying data to the website of the MNHN automatically. An xsp (eXtensible Server Pages Processor) is used to make their collection visible on the website.


The JACIM website.



Specimen labels produced and immediately visualised by the user interface of JACIM.


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Information visible about the specimen through the MNHN website.


Curation at the Typothèque involves using different colour labels depending on whether specimens are types (yellow labels) or figured specimens (white ones), making them visible immediately. Specimens are ordered:


      • principally by the main invertebrate groups as gastropods, echinoderms, corals, bryozoans, etc
      • secondly by stratigraphy
      • thirdly by geography
      • finally by alphabetical order of the species name


typotheque.jpgLeft: Fossil coral label at the Typothèque. Right: Drawer with Palaeozoic corals from Europe.


This organisation is really useful as you can find any specimen kept there immediately. Another advantage  is that the MNHN policy does not allow loans of type specimens. Consequently they are always available for visitors.


Congratulations to the MNHN for their well thought out and planned in advance Typothèque!


I have just returned from the 16th IBA meeting, held in the Palazzo delle Scienze, 10-16 June. The meeting is held every three years and this one was the turn of the University of Catania, Sicily. Antonietta Rosso (Profesor of Palaeontology in the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, Universita'degli Studi di Catania), jointly with Rossana Sanfilippo, organised the meeting and was our host. And they have done it really well.


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Statue at the main entrance of the Palazzo delle Scienze, Catania, Sicily


It started on Monday 10 June with a session on Bryozoan Taxonomy, which was a really good beginning.

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We are welcomed to the meeting


On the same day we had a reception - a cheese-party - in the lovely Botanical Garden of Catania, which was founded by a Benedictine monk, Francesco Tornabene Roccaforte (1813-1897) in 1858.


The Botanical Garden of Catania


We have enjoyed a nice conference with 82 participations from many different continents. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet bryozoologists and to get to know their latest research. Since I joined the IBA, this group has become more and more international, and now includes students from the Middle East.


My own presentation was on Tuesday 11 June in the Cenozoic Bryozoans session and was about the Pliocene Bryozoans from Gran Canaria. This research started several years ago with a field work trip to Gran Canaria where Juan Francisco Betancort [Tachi] and Joaquin Meco, both of them from the Univeristy of the Las Palmas of Gran Canaria [ULPGC], showed us the locations where Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) collected fossil invertebrate fauna in order to falsify Leopold von Buch's (1774-1853) catastrophic theory of Craters of Elevation.



The first slide of my presentation on Pliocene bryozoans from Gran Canaria



Another slide from my presentation with taxonomical information


Some of the taxa found in the Pliocene fauna are still present in the Mediterranean Sea today. They allow us to infer the recolonisation of the Mediterranean from the North Atlantic, after the Messinian desiccation and subsequent flooding. There is an illustrative video on the BBC Earth YouTube channel that is related to this.



BBC video on Messinian desiccation


On Wednesday 12 June, we visited the archaeological area of Neopolis and the archaelogical museum, Paolo Orsi, which is very close to the Madonnina delle Lacrime in Syracuse. We even found bryozoans on some of the sculptures at the Museum!

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Left: Neopolis. Right: Realistic image of an old fisherman at the Paolo Orsi Museum


We continued our visit by walking around Syracuse. What a lovely city! I have to highlight the famous Cathedral of Syracuse, and the temple dedicated to Athena. Finally, we finished the day with a wonderful Italian-Sicilian dinner by the Mediterranean.


2013-06-11 10.32.01 (Custom).jpgView of the Piazza Duomo, Syracuse


The next day, I visited the Geological Museum in the Dipartimento Scienze Geologiche of the Universita Degli Studi during a meeting break guided by Rosella Bruno. It keeps hundreds of specimens and two of them caught my attention. One of the original specimens was a dwarf elephant skeleton found in the Grotta di Spinagallo, near Syracuse. The other one was a faked fossil of a recent dog.


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Geological Museum entrance


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Left: Elephas falconeri, a dwarf elephant from Syracuse. Right: a faked fossil of a dog


On Friday 14 June our host Antonietta Rosso gave a talk on recent Mediterranean bryozoans, open shelf soft bottom bryozoans from the Ciclopi Marine Protected Area (E. Sicily, Mediterranean) and we finished the day with a concert at the Palazzo Biscari, considered the most beautiful and well kept palace in Catania. It is the kind of palace that makes you feel to live in other times!


2013-06-14 14.43.50 (Custom).jpgAntonietta Rosso during her talk on recent Mediterranean bryozoans


It has been a really nice conference with many kind of details, starting from the dinner by the sea, continuing with the tours and finishing with the closing dinner. Thank you so much for this 16th IBA Meeting and congratulations to the organisers and speakers!


Specimens in the historical collections housed at the Museum's Palaeontology Building are an invaluable resource for historical research and were the founding core of the British Museum and later the Natural History Museum. They mark the progress of early palaeontological exploration and the collections containing fossils were from:


  • Hans Sloane (1660-1753)
  • Carl Dietrich Eberhard König (1774-1851)
  • Thomas Pennant (1726-1798)


They are not only the core collections in the Department of Earth Sciences today, but also - through Sir Hans Sloane’s specimens - formed the basis of the British Museum and, ultimately, the Natural History Museum. The collection of König (or Koenig), first Keeper of the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities, refers to the fossil and mineralogical core collections that he described in his Icones fossilium sectiles (1825). Lastly, there is the Pennant (1726-1798) Collection, which is from the 18th century zoologist, antiquarian and correspondent of Gilbert White, and was donated to the British Museum in 1912 by the Earl of Denbigh. It has more than 1,000 specimens, some of them described in Pennant’s manuscript Reliquiae Diluviannae, or a Catalogue of such bodies as were deposited in the Earth by the Deluge.


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Marta Martin Mendoza curating the Pennant Collection as part of her internship in the Department of Earth Sciences.


These collections contain fossils of multiple groups: bryozoans, molluscs, echinoderms, brachiopods, sponges, corals, arthropods, worms, fishes, reptiles, mammals, plants and artefacts.


The curation of the collections has just finished completely thanks to Marta Martin Mendoza and Jane Barnbrook’s help. Marta is performing a 6 month internship sponsored by the Spanish Government and Jane is a volunteer in the Department of Earth Sciences and the best reboxer ever! While Marta has been databasing and registering the specimens, Jane was reboxing all these with new trays and cutting the plastazote foam used for protection and storage to the shape of each fossil.


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One of the drawers containing Pennant's specimens that has been reboxed by our volunteer, Jane Barnbrook


The fossil information has been uploaded to our Collection Management System (KE EMu) and is now accessible to other researchers from the Museum website. There are more than 1,300 specimens (with over 1,000 from the Pennant Collection).


Among these specimens, there are nice bryozoans such as the lectotype and paralectotype of Blumenbachium globosum Koenig, 1825 in the Koenig Collection, and specimens still unpublished of Cupuladria Canu & Bassler, 1919 in the Pennant Collection.


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Lectotype (on the left) and paralectotype (on the right) of Blumenbachium globosum Koenig, 1825 from Coralline Crag of Suffolk [Koenig Collection].



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Specimens of Cupuladria Canu & Bassler, 1919 from Paleogene (?) [Pennant Collection].


About the author

Conulariid and bryozoan

Dr Consuelo Sendino is the Curator of Fossil Bryozoans in the Department of Earth Sciences.

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