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Found 14 results

  1. Had another busy and enjoyable afternoon volunteering at the FLMNH vertebrate paleontology warehouse which was part of the reason why Tammy and I moved up to Gainesville. This afternoon started out with sorting the bones from non-bone for the last couple of bags of the > 1/4" chunky matrix pieces from sandbags collected at the Montbrook site in 2017. Now they can start screen-washing 2018...and then 2019...and maybe someday get caught-up to the present. In some of my first 1/4" matrix bags, sorting the complete bones (to be cataloged) from the scrappy broken bones, I had missed identifying a dentary (lower jaw) piece of the very common slider turtle (Trachemys inflata) and while pieces of the shell (carapace and plastron) are ubiquitous at this site cranial bones are much more rare. Armed with a new search image for this bone I was able to keep my eyes peeled and recognize it not mistaking it for a broken fish skull bone this time. The first bag provided me with first the left dentary and then the matching right dentary split into two pieces along the symphysis (mid-line). I wasn't going to allow these to slip through my fingers again. Turtles have no teeth so they have rather edentate (toothless) dentaries. They just have a rather sharp ridge along the top edge instead of individual teeth. When I got to the second bag I spotted an even nicer specimen complete across the symphysis with both halves connected. That bag also produced a really nice alligator claw core (ungual). Having finished sorting the last of the chunky matrix bags from 2017 I moved on to picking through some bone bags from March of 2019. This bag had several smaller bags with associated fragments that were bagged separately in the field by the collector to keep them from getting disassociated. The first small bag had the end of a gator bone with the articulating end broken off as it was poorly mineralized. It didn't take too long to orient the end piece and smaller chip to restore this to as good as it will get. Isolated slider turtle bones (Trachemys inflata) have to be virtually complete to make the collection as the Montbook site (and now the FLMNH collection) are chocked full of them. Gator bones are not as common and so even an identifiable gator bone with one reasonably complete articulating surface are still of interest for the collection. There is a layer at the Montbrook site that we call the "Turtle Death Layer" which is virtually paved with Trachemys shells. If we ever discover a similar "Alligator Graveyard Layer" with an embarrassing abundance of gator bones we may grow more choosy but for now we take what we can get. The next little bag of associated fragments turned out to be fragments of the Xiphiplastron and articulating Hypoplastron from the left side of the bottom part of the shell (plastron) of the slider turtle (Trachemys inflata). While I started with quite the bag of puzzle pieces, the individual fragments started lining up. Armed with a very VERY slowly growing knowledge of this part of the turtle's anatomy (having seen a few of these already) I'm beginning to recognize where the various bits should be going. Before long all of the two fragmented bones had been Frankensteined together as best as could be from the pieces. I ended up with virtually the complete left Xiphiplastron and Hypoplastron and the few remaining bits that were bagged in the field turned out not to be from these bones and were mixed in with the rest of the bones from this batch to see if they might connect to some other bone. This last bag of bones I was sorting through this evening turned up an odd bone that I couldn't place (not that my knowledge of fossil bones even scratches the surface of what there is to know). It had some characteristics of a vertebra but it was not symmetrical in any way and it seemed to be a complete (unbroken) bone so it had me confused. At this point it was only Richard Hulbert (the vertebrate paleontology collections manager) and me left at the warehouse--the few other students had gone home around 5pm and I was still trying to finish up this bag so I could put things away and go home for dinner as well. I showed the bone to Richard and told him I had failed to make the bone a vert since clearly it was not and asked him what the heck it was as I'd not seen anything like it before. (There are still so many many bones I'm unfamiliar with so this is not at all surprising.) He looked at it and his eyes quickly widened as he pronounced that it was a carnivore bone. Carnivores are relatively rare in most ecosystems and are likewise rare in the specimens found at fossil sites--other than places like the ancient tar pit site called La Brea ("tar" in Spanish) in downtown Los Angeles which is noteworthy for the many Saber-toothed Cats (Smilodon californicus) found there. And saber-tooth cats proved to be the key to this strange bone. A few years back at the Montbrook site an ancestor was discovered to the large and and fierce predatory cat with incisors that were indeed saber (or at least dagger) shaped. This cat was a formidable predator but its incisors had not yet evolved into the very distinctive dentition of its descendant. The Small Saber-toothed Cat (Rhizosmilodon fiteae) is known from this site from the initial partial skull that was found in 2017 and several additional bones that have turned up over the years including a femur and several wrist and finger bones. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/news-saber-tooth-cat-skull-find-in-montbrook/ Richard and I located the cabinet and the particular drawer containing the collection of bones for this species and the preservation coloration of this mystery bone was clearly very similar to the other bones already cataloged. Additionally, we checked the collection label and the grid coordinates indicated it was found right at the epicenter of where the other bones were recovered so it was another clue that our hunch was looking promising. We compared it to the existing Small Saber-tooth Cat wrist bones but weren't finding a match. We went back to another cabinet in the back of the warehouse where the comparative material is stored and pulled out a drawer with a disarticulated modern skeleton of a Florida Bobcat (Lynx rufus). We looked through the box that contained the complete set of wrist bones for this cat species and none of them looked a match for the mystery bone. After consulting some osteology books with drawings of cat wrist bones we still weren't finding a match and so Richard figured he'd have to take the specimen back to his office at Dickinson Hall on campus and consult additional books and collections to get an ID on this bone though he was sure it was felid. We went back to look at the drawer where the Montbrook saber-tooth was stored and found a small bone from a second smaller species of cat that was found at the site and it was a match for the shape of our mystery bone--not a wrist bone but an ankle bone known as the ectocuneiform. We then went back to the drawer with the modern bobcat and looked through the box with the foot bones in it and found the matching (but much smaller) bone from this species and the articulating third metatarsal (toe bone) for comparison. This confirmed that we had the first recorded ectocuneiform for the saber-tooth from the Montbrook site. It is difficult (likely impossible) to find a good diagram of saber-tooth cat foot bones so here is a much more readily available human foot bone with the cuneiform bones labeled. The Medial cuneiform bone (aka entocuneiform or "inner" cuneiform) is attached to the first (big) toe bones counting from the mid-line of the body. The Intermediate cuneiform bone (aka mesocuneiform or "middle" cuneiform) is next connected to the second toe bones. The Lateral cuneiform bone (aka ectocuneiform or "outer" cuneiform) connects to the third (middle) toe bones. Oddly, there are no additional cuneiform bones and the last two sets of toe bones articulate with a bone called the Cuboid is not surprisingly the most cube-shaped of the foot bones. Always fun to learn something new each day at the warehouse. This bone had been dug up by another volunteer and had been sitting in a bone bag for over 3 years till that bag's contents were recently retrieved from storage, rinsed, dried, and re-bagged awaiting another volunteer to pick through the bag to see if any interesting specimens were hiding within that needed to be cataloged. In this particular case that volunteer was me and the specimen was an exciting one and an important one for the collection. It won't be cataloged with my name associated with it in any way but I'm happy to have been fortunate enough to have played a minor role in seeing it make its way safely into the proper drawer with the other associated bones from this particular Small Saber-toothed Cat. Cheers. -Ken
  2. Anybody who has read my recent posts already knows that Tammy and I moved from South Florida to Gainesville so that we could volunteer more with the paleontology department of the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). Moving out of hurricane prone South Florida and downsizing to a more manageable size house with less yardwork were additional considerations. I've been picking through micro-matrix from the Montbrook site where we often volunteer to dig in the field. It's a late Miocene site which looks to have been a river system much like the modern day Peace River. The site primarily contains freshwater fossils (fishes, turtles, gators, etc.) and some mammalian land animals (gomphotheres, rhinos, tapir, peccary, horse as well as some interesting little critters like pygmy mice, squirrels, rabbits, etc.) but, like the Peace River, contains some marine specimens like shark and ray teeth that are likely reworked from older deposits in the banks. The marine specimens are often in very good condition indicating that they have not traveled far from the banks from which they eroded. For a couple of months I've been picking Montbrook micro-matrix from home. I have a camera-microscope setup that allows me to pick the very fine brass-screen micro-matrix very efficiently--viewing the active area on my picking plate in a large flat-screen monitor which is easy on the eyes and easy on the neck muscles. Because I had this setup at home (which I've used to pick Cookiecutter Creek micro-matrix for the last couple of years) I was able to volunteer my time and efforts working for the FLMNH while the new vertebrate paleontology warehouse was closed to volunteers. Recently, with the new school year starting, the VP warehouse was now open to volunteers. The large building has a very low occupancy rate during the pandemic and the very few volunteers, students or staff are spread out throughout the building and masks are worn at all times inside the building. I've been able to diversity my volunteering expanding on simply picking micro-matrix from home and adding some additional helpful tasks in the VP warehouse. One of the tasks that they need volunteers to help with is sorting through the chunkier end of the collected matrix. The museum collects matrix from the Montbrook site in several ways. They have found that certain layers within the dig site have a more coarse gravel which likely corresponds to stormy periods with an increased flow rate that carries and deposits heavier particles. The very fine sandy/silty layers are thought to be deposited during slower flow rates of the river. These more grainy layers have proven to be more productive for micro-fossils and so when we are volunteer digging at the site we are instructed to collect the coarse layers and pour them into sandbags. These sandbags eventually get processed by wet washing and sifting the matrix through a series of screens with varying mesh sizes. Usually, it is the "window screen" micro-matrix or the even finer "brass screen" matrix (which I've dubbed "nano-matrix") that I end up picking. In a similar manner to how I collect micro-matrix using a 1/4" screen to hold back the larger chunks, they also separate out the coarse bits with a 1/4" mesh and this > 1/4" "extra chunky" matrix has to be picked through as well. The other source of matrix comes from jacketed specimens. As the specimens are prepped out of their jackets the matrix that is removed is also washed and separated into various size classes. These samples are usually much smaller than the amount of material gleaned from full sandbags of collected grainy layers. I just returned from the warehouse a little while ago and decided to write up a report on today's activities. My workspace was out in the area where some of the larger fossils are stored on open racks. You may see in the background some interesting specimens of mastodon skulls which make a splendid background to work by. The > 1/4" extra chunky matrix comes over from the main museum building (Dickinson Hall) on the university campus where the screen-washing station is located. Today there was a couple of big plastic bins with a number of sample bags of chunky goodness to pick through. I work through the bag by pouring out a little at a time into one of the larger cardboard containers that they use to store fossils in the drawers of the cabinets. My task--somewhat mundane but nevertheless important--is to separate fossil from non-fossil, bone bits from matrix. Any complete (or mostly so for the rarer) specimens get put into a "choice" items container while the broken bits go into a "fossil scraps" container. Sometimes a relatively complete bone with a fresh break might mate up with the matching fragment after a bit of searching through this scraps bin. When a match is made the pieces are glued back into a whole specimen and promoted to the "choice" bin--always fun when you can match puzzle pieces and make another catalogable specimen for the collection. Here's the resulting classification of the chunky bits of a "sandbag" sample. The choice bits go into a smaller bag with the collection label and that is sealed within a larger bag with the scraps from this batch. Someone with more experience will review the fossils tossing out any common fossils that are not choice enough to be cataloged or matching up fragments from the scraps to salvage a specimen from the scrap heap. You can see that the bulk of most samples are the non-fossil matrix bits that are discarded. While picking through a batch that was collected back in April 2019 I spotted something that interrupted my picking and brought a smile to my face. It was a partial Notorynchus (Sevengill Shark) tooth. I have never found one of these "in the wild". They are vanishingly rare down in South Florida (Peace River) and I've only seen 1 or 2 that have some from the southern peninsula. Apparently, they are a bit more common in central (Orlando) Florida and further north for some reason. I was volunteering at the Montbrook site a couple years back when someone pulled a beautiful complete lower tooth from the grid square in which she was digging. This is the only time I've even been able to hold such a unique shark tooth before just recently. Last week I was picking samples of the > 1/4" matrix when I spotted a partial lower tooth only missing the last couple of cusps. I didn't bring my camera to the warehouse that day but I no longer make that mistake. Spotting another partial Notorynchus today was a really enjoyable find (even though it was in poorer shape than my last find of this type). I continued to pick through various sample bags of matrix sorting fossil from non-fossil and finding mostly the usual items I've learned to expect from this site. Occasionally, I'd pull a complete specimen and since Richard Hulbert is also in the warehouse I can quickly learn about the species and anatomical location of the novel bone I've found. It's a great way to accrete fossil knowledge one bit at a time. A great teachable moment came not long after when I spotted a (somewhat worn) vertebra that was unusual as it was horizontally oval on one face and vertically oval on the opposing side. Richard quickly recognized this as one of the verts located very near the skull on a species of fish known as Snook (Centropomus sp.). Snooks are a marine species but they are known to venture well into brackish or even freshwater environments. I've seen Snook while hunting fossil in the Peace River (many miles upstream). Richard was able to pull a more complete specimen (also recovered from the Montbrook site) for me to compare my find to and it was easy to see that they matched. Another nugget of fossil information lodged its way into my memory--but for how long? Not too long after I spotted a curiosity that I've seen before. It's an interesting shark tooth with a pair of side cusps on either side of the primary cusp (when these fragile bits are not broken off). I've spotted one of these before picking Cookiecutter Creek micro-matrix and wondered at the ID of this novelty. Some tentative identifications have been posited but the true identity of this cuspy little tooth remains elusive for the moment. It is assumed that this is an older tooth--possibly Eocene in age--that is being reworked into this Miocene site. Hopefully, this little mystery will be solved before long and I'll have a good name to apply to these when they turn up (few and far between). My fun and interesting finds for the day had not completed as the most spectacular was yet to show up. A little over two hours into my task I spotted another novelty sitting among the gravel I was searching--and this time it was complete! A really pretty upper Notorynchus tooth decided to brighten my day and make me question the rarity of this species at the Montbrook site. This was now 3 specimens from this species in only a couple of days picking through this chunky matrix. I've learned that rare fossils can sometimes defy the odds and turn up in clusters with no rational explanation--and then not be seen again for months. I hope I have not seen the last of these as they are such unusual and distinctive shark teeth to find. The particular batch that this curious little shark tooth came from also produced a nice gator osteoderm and tooth, the Snook vert, a few random shark teeth and myliobatid ray plates, a few fish verts and some neural carapace bones--one each from a softshell (Apalone sp.) and slider (Trachemys sp.) turtle. Before I left I had processed 2 large batches of (sandbag) matrix and 7 smaller bags mostly from jacketed specimens. It was a good day "at work" with some nice rarities as well as some great learning opportunities--like I now can recognize the lateral processes of sacral turtle vertebrae. Cheers. -Ken
  3. Still fossil hunting indoors during the summer (and the pandemic) amusing myself (and helping the FLMNH) by picking through micro-matrix from the Montbrook dig site in Florida. I've made some other posts featuring the interesting micros I've been finding to try to share a bit of the world of micro-fossils with a wider audience (Florida has more than megalodon teeth). I was picking through a sample of Montbrook micro-matrix. It was collected back in 2018 and was subsequently washed, dried, and sat in a zip-top bag for years awaiting someone to spend about a dozen hours picking through it for interesting specimens. In addition to the monotony of the very abundant common fossil types (fish verts, fish teeth, gar scales, Rhizoprionodon and Dasyatis teeth) my efforts are occasionally rewarded by spotting something out of the ordinary. Sometimes the novelties are just a rarer type of previously seen fossil--a tiny ray dermal denticle the size and shape of an asterisk * or a pretty little serrated Galeorhinus (Tope Shark/Houndshark) tooth. What really makes the long hours pay off is when I encounter a good mystery. Some of the mystery finds are only mysterious to me as they are answered promptly by Richard Hulbert when I send him micro-photographs of some "unknown". I am slowly crawling up the learning curve and broadening my knowledge of the micro-fossil types being found at the Montbrook site. The real fun happens when I get something that's a stumper--a real novelty for the locality. The Montbrook micro-matrix material has a large amount of marine (and freshwater) fish material hiding in it. There are teeth from drum, barracuda, porgy, pinfish and several other marine fish families found floating loosely in the matrix. Tiny button-shaped teeth that resemble those from drums are likely the pharyngeal teeth from wrasses. One of the former mysteries that I now have locked into my set of search images is the tiny (only a few millimeters across) pharyngeal tooth plates for a small species of wrasse. Here's one I found which was full of these little button teeth. About two weeks ago I spotted an unusual little specimen in my picking plate. I could tell from the bone structure that it was "fishy" (in a good way ) but the attached tooth type was something new that I had not encountered before. I could see that this piece was a (mostly) complete lower left quarter jaw--you can see the zipper-like symphyseal suture at the midline of the lower jaw indicating that it was not fragmented and there would be no additional teeth expected in this portion of the jaw. My first thoughts about fishes I knew that had a single tooth in each quarter jaw led me to think about parrotfishes but this was quickly dismissed because I knew that parrotfish "beaks" were composed of tiny tooth plates which are continuously added from the base as the plates wear and break-off on the occlusal surface while the fish feeds by scraping algae from the surface of the substrate. BONUS FACT: Parrotfishes ingest a large amount of calcium carbonate (old coral skeleton) while feeding and the majority of tropical white sand beaches are in fact composed primarily of parrotfish poop. Richard forwarded my photographs to a student who specializes in osteichthyan (bony) fishes and I went back to picking more micro-matrix. I had a feeling that the answer would be blindingly obvious in hindsight. Had I thought about it for a moment or two more I probably could have arrived at the answer myself but so many of these mystery finds turn out to be something unexpected that I just trusted that an expert would soon solve the mystery for us. Our fishy expert was in the process of a long cross country move to continue her education at UC Berkeley but before long we got our answer--as obvious as I'd predicted. In her opinion the jaw piece belonged to a member of the order Tetraodontiformes and likely in the family Tetraodontidae (pufferfishes). The answer is right there in the scientific name (Greek, tetra = four + Greek, odous = tooth, teeth) referring to the 4 large teeth fused into a beak-like structure for feeding on hard shells of crustaceans and mollusks. A little bit of searching online quickly turned up images that closely matched my find confirming this diagnosis. A related family in the Tetraodontiformes is the Diodontidae (known as porcupinefishes, balloonfishes, blowfishes but also confusingly as pufferfishes). The mouth plates for this family are fused into two plates, upper and lower (Greek, di = two + Greek, odous = tooth, teeth) and are relatively common finds in the Florida fossil record. Anybody who has hunted the Peace River long enough has encountered at least one of these solidly constructed mouth parts with stacks of tooth plates edged in fine maxillary teeth. @Harry Pristis has a fine example of Florida finds in his library of images. There are copious additional images available online with a simple search. These diodontid tooth plates also occur occasionally in the Montbrook micro-matrix but it appears that the tetraodontid jaw specimen likely represents a new family group for the Montbrook faunal list. It is great fun when a tiny find starts as a micro-mystery, serves as a learning example to expand my knowledge base, and finishes by expanding the envelope about what is known of the taxonomic diversity of the site. Cheers. -Ken
  4. Gopher? Go figure!

    Since moving from South Florida up to Gainesville I've finally been about to help the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) with some volunteer effort by picking through washed and dried matrix that was collected back in 2018 from the Montbrook site just a little way south of Gainesville. Tammy and I have spent several days over the last couple of years volunteering to dig our assigned 1 m x 1 m squares at the site bagging up the smaller fossils and excavating pedestals for larger specimens to be jacketed. Most of the sandy/silty matrix does not have very interesting micro-fossils but there are a couple of distinctive layers where the matrix is a more coarse fine gravel instead of sand. The understanding is that this probably represents a horizon where there was a faster water flow due to something like a tropical storm (similar to what Florida is experiencing at the moment). The Montbrook site is assumed to represent a river environment and the faster current during a flooding situation would transport and then deposit this more coarse material (possibly along with a more interesting and denser bunch of fossils). Richard Hulbert has me on the lookout for specimens from several taxa that are known from the Montbrook site only by a few micro-fossils. The most interesting micros are the rarer types of animals. There are lots of shark (and ray) teeth and plenty of tiny fish teeth to keep things interesting while picking but the real prizes are things like mammal fossils or the even rarer bird bones. There are several rodent taxa that are represented in the Montbrook faunal list by a just a few teeth and bones so Richard has me keeping an eye out for any rodent material. I spotted something interesting yesterday that had that rodent look and feel but was unlike anything I'd encountered before while picking Florida micro-matrix. I've seen plenty of very distinctive Cotton Rat (Sigmodon sp.) as well as vole teeth and even a single mole tooth but I was uncertain what had just turned up so I took some photos--composited together with my photo-stacking software to allow for a decent depth of field beyond what is available from any one single image. I sent these photos to Richard and received the reply today that this specimen is tooth from a gopher (family Geomyidae) and while this taxon is already known from Montbrook it was previously only represented by 2 teeth and this new third tooth is much more complete than the previous ones and so it a scientifically important specimen for this site. The volunteer that bagged the matrix from the Montbrook site back in 2018 goes in the database as the collector of record and gets credit for this really nice find (though they had no idea of what might or might not be in the matrix material while filling the sandbag with the material nearly 2 years ago). While my name won't be associated with this specimen, I did have the thrill of seeing it appear on my picking plate yesterday afternoon and the added rush of learning what it was today (and that it is something special). That's the true reward. Cheers. -Ken
  5. After a year and a half of searching followed by 6 months of time and effort related to buying, packing, moving, unpacking, and selling, Tammy and I are finally translocated to the Gainesville, FL area and out of South Florida. Hopefully, we'll have less hurricanes to deal with and significantly less year-round yard work to tend to. I'm leaving the riding lawn mower behind and hope to do less weeding and yard work in the new house. We specifically looked for a house without a lot of grass to mow and our house has only a narrow strip adjoining our neighbor's lawn. Our neighbor's son owns a lawn and landscaping business and is nice enough to cut his dad's lawn. It would be literally 2 passes with the mower so we're working out a deal with him so I never have to cut the grass again. The new house is on a little less than an acre but is surrounded on three sides by dense trees. The backyard slopes down to a creek that delimits the back boundary of the property. I had it on good authority that this was a fossiliferous creek and a few minutes a couple days back with a shovel and a sifting screen were sufficient to prove that assertion. Pretty fine gravel and so the shark and ray teeth are mostly pretty small (megs may be scarce here) but as a proof of concept I can state that I now have a continuous supply of fossils from my very own yard. Not the deciding factor in choosing this property (location, the neighborhood, and the wooded low-maintenance lot were more important) but nice to be able to have friends with kids over for a fossil hunt without leaving the yard (when that becomes a reality again post-pandemic). Other than to escape hurricanes and yard work, our motivation for relocating to a slightly higher latitude was to be closer to the University of Florida. We enjoy going out to the volunteer fossil digs and I've been eager to start volunteering more with the FLMNH (Florida Museum of Natural History). Due to the unusual times we find ourselves in the midst of presently, the volunteer program at the FLMNH is somewhat suspended. They can't have volunteers coming into the prep lab to work on jacketed specimens or doing the other volunteer efforts for the museum. Fortunately, I enjoy picking fossils from micro-matrix--I've processed countless 5-gallon buckets of matrix from Cookiecutter Creek, the Peace River, and other locations. I have a stacked set of sifting screens for classifying matrix and very functional lighted magnifier for looking through the more coarse material. For the finer (millimeter scale) micro-matrix my digital camera microscope and a large flat-screen TV monitor make efficient work of picking the finest material for interesting tiny treasures. http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/95821-optimizing-my-search-technique-for-picking-fine-micro-matrix/ I've been waiting nearly 2 years to be able to volunteer some effort into working down the large backlog of accumulated bags of matrix from the volunteer dig sites. One of these days I'm sure I'll come across a bag of micro-matrix from one of the grid squares that I myself have dug at some time in the past. Till then I've just gotten started looking through my first batch of washed and dried matrix from the Montbrook dig site SW of Gainesville. This is a really interesting late Miocene site with some really remarkable finds. A goodly amount of the described taxa in the faunal list for this site are represented only as micro-fossils. It is very interesting to see what is hiding in the micro-matrix as usually we only see the larger "macro" fossils that turn up while digging in the assigned grid square (ubiquitous turtle pieces, gator teeth and bones, the occasional large gomphothere bone, and other interesting species). Picking through the screen washed and dried matrix (which removes the sand, clay and fine silt) turns up lots of tiny bone fragments but aslo surprising number of complete toe bones (phalanges) from turtle, gator and other species. These weight-bearing bones are often very dense and fossilize unusually well as complete specimens. There are also enough ganoid garfish scales to pave an airport runway. One of the most common millimeter-scale fossils is the extremely abundant stingray (Dasyatis) teeth which along with tiny Rhizoprionodon shark teeth make picking the finest matrix continuously interesting. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/montbrook/faunal-list/ I'm still learning the faunal composition of this matrix (different in many ways from Cookiecutter Creek) and hope to soon find some the less common taxa like rodent teeth and some of the more unusual amphibians. I did start seeing an unusual type of fossil turning up with regularity. I had no idea what it was but a continuous supply of these tiny (just a few millimeters) cupped structures which look like microscopic canoes kept showing up in the finest size class matrix. I took a group photo of these little oddities and inquired with Richard Hulbert to see if they had been identified. Richard thought they appeared to be part of some invertebrate and sent the specimens to Roger Portell who is in charge of the invertebrate side of the FLMNH collection. They did analysis and found them to be composed of calcium phosphate which is usually (but not always) associated with vertebrate fossils (inverts tending to use calcium carbonate more commonly for their skeletal structures). For a while they thought these might be some sort of mouth part from a shrimp or other type of crustacean but that lead didn't pan out. Finally, they managed to contact someone who was well familiar with these objects and a certain identification was made. I'd have never guessed what these were in a million years thinking initially that they sort of resembled some sort of botanical seed pod (which they clearly were not based on their composition). It turns out that these little ovoid cupped structures are from frogs and are the vomerine (upper palate) teeth located behind the maxillary teeth which are embedded in the jaw. These teeth are thought to help in grasping prey items. None of the frog's teeth are actually used for chewing as prey are swallowed whole. I don't believe frogs shed vomerine teeth the way sharks go through a continuous supply of renewable teeth so I'm guessing that frogs must have been pretty common in this fossil habitat and that these solid vomerine teeth preferentially fossilize better than the thinner and less calcified other bones of the skeleton which are not as well represented at the site. Frog vomerine teeth! Who'd have thunk it? This nearly rivals the famous Merritt Island micro-matrix in which Julianna @old bones found her tree frog phalanx, thus giving it the alternative name of "frog toe micro-matrix". Cheers. -Ken
  6. Peace River fun!

    After a long long wait, the periodic heavy rains that have repeatedly pushed the water level of the Peace River up and out of range for Florida fossil hunters, our "dry season" is finally starting to act like the non-rainy part of our year. Tammy and I got out two weekends ago with a group of SCUBAnauts from the Tampa/St. Pete area. While checking the levels right before that trip, I visited one of my favorite spots along the river to see if it would be accessible for the group. The water two weeks ago was nearly a foot higher than at present but even with the higher level the locality worked for the group (11 canoes of kids and their accompanying adults). I like this site because it has more chunky gravel which results (on rare occasions) in finding larger items. I've pulled substantial chunks of mammoth molar from this site several years ago--as well as a gold wedding band (no inscription) and a gold tie tack (no Jimmy Hoffa jokes, please). The main draw though is dugong. Though fossil hunters who've spent any amount of time on the Peace generally have their share of the solid rib bones from these cousins of our modern-day manatee, newbies to the concept of fossil hunting in Florida never fail to enjoy these large and substantial items. Tammy and I went back this weekend without the crowd of two dozen we were guiding on the river at the end of March. We went on a Sunday and the river was reasonably quiet and peaceful. We met another couple on the bus ride up to the put-in and gave them some tips on hunting the river as it was their first time. They were the recipients of many fossils and fraglodons that (while interesting) would probably would have either ended back in the river or handed out to kids in passing canoes. I was prospecting around my "dugong" site (that's what it is called in my GPS ) and could feel with my feet the little pits and piles of chunky rubble left over from our last visit stripping out countless dozens of dugong ribs now scattered in the nascent collections of those we took down the river on our previous visit. Most of the site is still too deep to get to even with the river 10" lower than last time. The air and water temps were much more pleasant than last time and it didn't take as much motivation to walk into chest-deep water. I dug for about 4 hours and had little to show for it other than a bag of nice specimens of dugong ribs (to reload my "paleo paperweight" gifting stockpile). After a break back at the canoe for a drink and some more salty snacks, I ventured off in the direction where I used to dig but which was now probably too deep to dig. En route to that spot I passed a rise in the bottom that was so steep that it looked like I was walking up submerged steps till I was only thigh deep in the river. My trusty probe--which I carry like a walking cane, probing the sand with each step to test the subsurface composition of the river bottom--detected the delightful crunchy sound indicating some substantial gravel deposits not far below the sandy covering along the bottom. I did a test screen from this spot and was rewarded with a nice little Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) molar. These are not as common (in my experience) as the Equus horse molars that are occasional finds in the Peace. This one came complete with a reasonable portion of the roots intact and will bolster my meager number of these in my collection. A few screens later would end up bringing in my trip-makers and the high point of the afternoon. While picking through the contents of that screen I spotted the very distinctive shape of a peg-like tooth from a member of the order Xenarthra ("strange joint") aka Edentata ("toothless"). I have just a few similar but larger teeth from ground sloths which are highly valued by Florida collectors. A few years back I found a similar but smaller peg tooth that turned to be from the armadillo Holmesina floridanus. I assumed this tooth might be from a larger individual but was pleased to learn more in a quick response to my query from Dr. Richard Hulbert from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, FL. Richard confirmed that the peg tooth was from a Holmesina but that it was from the larger (2 meter long) species, Holmesina septentrionalis, that roamed Florida from the middle to late Pleistocene (500,000 to 11,000 years ago). The smaller H. floridanus that preceded it was in Florida from the late Pliocene to the early Pleistocene (2.5-1.5 mya). Contained in that screen was a very oddly shaped bone with curved parts and flat articulating surfaces. I assumed this was one of those odd bones in the leg like the navicular bone that I hear about but haven't seen enough examples of to fully understand or recognize. Richard commented that, the odd-shape bone that appeared in the same sifting screen was, coincidentally, from the same species (H. septentrionalis) and that it was an astragalus which articulates with the navicular so I get points for being close. Then he added something that made my whole morning: This is actually a rare find, especially in the southern half of Florida, for which we do not have a single H. septentrionalis astragalus in our collection. Please consider donating it. I quickly replied that I'd set this aside and would bring it up with me next time I visit Gainesville (where Tammy and I are looking for our next house). You can bet I'll be keen to get back up to the Peace to see if any other Holmesina bits might be hiding in the gravel nearby. These two items are likely not associated and it was probably just luck that I'd come across two very different items from the same rare species in a single sifting screen. If the two pieces were closely related in the skeletal structure I'd believe that they might from the same individual but I believe this is probably just a happy coincidence. A couple more hours of digging in the same area turned up no further identifiable bits from this species but you can be certain that I'll devote some extra effort to that spot next time on the river. Enjoy the wrinkly finger tips in the in-river photos below. Cheers. -Ken
  7. For several years now we've been fortunate enough to be able to take part in volunteer digs with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), University of Florida (Gainesville). The site was discovered at the end of 2015 and we've been participating during the dig seasons (the drier cooler part of the year) since 2016. The site is on private property but the landowner is very enlightened and understands the importance of this site which gives a rare glimpse into the Hemphillian North American Land Mammal Age (NALMA) period dating around 5.0-5.5 mya. The owner has been very supportive of letting the museum (and its staff, students, and volunteers) onto his property and even helps quite frequently using his excavators to clear the overburden and manage the site for drainage. You can learn more about the site and the finds here: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/montbrook/ We were previously out to the site last November digging in the main pit. Tammy found some nice gomphothere bones and I dug a rather sterile sandy grid square but happened upon a cache of over a dozen associated gator osteoderms--both the larger circular ones from the back and the elongated ones from the border of the tail. The site is closing for the season at the end of March so we found some time in our schedule to make the trip north for a final dig before the site gets tarped for the summer. We had planned on heading up on Sunday evening for the dig on Monday through Wednesday but it is nice to have flexibility in our schedule. Tammy and I are looking to relocate to the Gainesville area so that I can volunteer more with the FLMNH (and attend these digs more often). We've been looking at houses in the Gainesville area for several months now and periodically make the 5 hour drive from South Florida to see properties of interest. Late Thursday a property that looked interesting popped-up. We decided to modify our schedule to drive up early Friday morning instead. Unfortunately, (as is often the case) the house and property looked better online than in person. We visited a few other newer properties in the area and then decided to head up to Jacksonville (about a 1.5 hour drive) to stay with friends over the weekend. Hotels tend to bump up their rates over the weekends--We've seen hotel rates triple in Gainesville when the alumni return for Florida Gators home football games. We spent an enjoyable weekend with our friends up in JAX and headed back down on Sunday (getting in an open house viewing before checking into our hotel in Gainesville). We were ready for our 3-day dig at Montbrook starting the next morning.
  8. Archaeohippus mannulus, sp. nov. Monroecreekian/Harrisonian terrestrial claystone Arikareean, late Oligocene/early Miocene Pinellas County, Florida On permanent display at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, Fl. I discovered this particular specimen back in 95 while collecting fossils in a shallow creek. Initially thought to be a new species of Miohippus, it was sent to the Museum Of Natural History in Gainesville Fl. for further studies. In 2003 it was determined to be a new species of Archaeohippus rather than Miohippus.
  9. I am packing my bags for a Friday fossil hunt in Belgrade Mine (Quarry) in North Carolina. The trip was coordinated and planned by the Florida Museum of Natural History. I feel honored to get to go on this trip. There is a 3 foot layer in the Miocene that has mammals fossils that we will be hunting. The mine stripped the layer and has it in 5 huge piles for us to search. About 10 known mammals have already been found in Belgrade. Persons from throughout the US were invited along with those from the FLMNH and the Smithsonian. There is a utube video discussing the objects of the hunt. https://www.myfossil.org/video-tutorials/#Belgrade It has been raining alot in the area recently so I plan on having a great trip. We will also be attending the Yearly Fossil Festival in Aurora.
  10. I've written trip reports before about volunteering with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) at their various dig sites in Florida. The currently (very) active site is called Montbrook for a small town that used to be in the area (but is no more). Here are a few links from FLMNH which provide some contextual information about the site: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/museum-voices/montbrook/ https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/sites/mont/ https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/museum-voices/montbrook/2016/09/07/why-montbrook/ The site has yielded an impressive number of specimens and is very important scientifically as it provides the best view of Florida fauna from the late Hemphillian (Hh4) North American Land Mammal Age (NALMA) from approximately 5.5-5.0 mya. The other significant locality for this age is the Palmetto Fauna a couple hundred miles south of the Montbrook site. More info here for those interested in the stratigraphy: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/land-mammal-ages/hemphillian/ https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/sites/palmetto-fauna/ Here is a link to my Montbrook posting from 2016 showing the couple of times I managed to get out there--the last time with TFF members Daniel @calhounensis and John-Michael @Brown Bear: http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/63056-volunteer-dig-with-the-flmnh/ Now, enough of the links and time for a few pictures! The Montbrook site has changed quite a bit over the last year since I've been able to get out there. We had plans to return to Montbrook last October but Hurricane Matthew was an uninvited guest to Florida that week and the dig site was tarped down and the dig cancelled. Thankfully, the hurricane left my house untouched (didn't really even get rain or wind of note) and didn't mess-up the Montbrook site but we did miss an opportunity for one last trip to Montbrook in 2016. When we returned in February 2017 it took some time to get my bearings. The deeper pit to the east where several gomphothere skulls, tusks and long bones had been removed did not weather the rainy season well. This section has been backfilled with about 5 feet of sand and clay from the higher levels during the summer rain storms. For now they will concentrate digging on the main pit to the west and hope to get back to the lower "elephant" layer some time in the future--though the prep work to remove the overburden and get back to the original level will be significant. So much material has been moved from the upper western dig area that it was hard to picture exactly where we had dug nearly a year ago. I'm still not quite sure where we were in 2016 as the site has evolved greatly since our last visit. On Thursday and Friday there were mostly just a few volunteers who could make it to the site on weekdays--mainly retired folks or those with flexible schedules like us who could volunteer during the week. On Saturday there were a lot more volunteers and the dig site became a bit more crowded so you had to be aware of others digging sometimes in the grid square adjacent to yours. Here are some overall site photos I took on Saturday and you can see the line-up of cars that brought a full capacity of volunteers.
  11. The Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) at Gainesville, FL has announced the schedule of digging at the new Montbrook site near Ocala, FL. This is a great opportunity for volunteers to assist in excavating this site alongside representatives from FLMNH who are very knowledgeable in the types of fossils found at the site. I've volunteered for FLMNH digs several times in the past couple of years and always found it a rewarding experience. I managed to make it out twice to the new Montbrook site before the site was closed-up for the summer (heat and rains). The new dig season will kick-off October 1 and run through December 18 (and after a holiday break will run through May 2017). This site is on private property and the museum is eager to pull as much fossil material from this important site as possible as soon as possible as they don't have the luxury of owning the site like they do with the Thomas Farm site. So far the owner of this new site has been very gracious and accommodating in letting FLMNH retrieve many important fossils from the site and seem to be willing to let the dig continue (but you never know how things could change). As this is a volunteer dig for the museum, all fossils get bagged (or jacketed) and go back into the museum's collection. You will be listed as the collector on record for all of the specimens that are accessioned into the museum's permanent collection. A great way to contribute to the knowledge of the Florida fossil record from the late Hemphillian (~5.5-5.0 mya) and learn a lot while doing so. Check out the links below for a more detailed description of the site and a the schedule and application form to submit (if you haven't volunteered with FLMNH before). If you want to dig on an important fossil-rich site in northern Florida don't let this opportunity pass you by. Plenty of dates over the next 8 months so pick a date if you are local or plan a trip if you are coming in from out of state. Trust me--it'll be an experience you'll long remember. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/sites/mont/ http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/volunteering/field/ Cheers. -Ken (Photo shamelessly stolen from the FLMNH page on Montbrook--don't think they'll mind.)
  12. I took the opportunity to volunteer with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) in April of 2014 and had a great time (though it was off to a rough start with a rain out on the first weekend we tried. We finally did manage to do some digging and found a spectacular carnivore mandible toward the end of the dig which was our "trip-maker". For anybody who missed this tale, you can find it here: http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/45220-thomas-farm-volunteer-dig-spring-2014/ I missed the Thomas Farm dig in 2015 as I was out of the country playing a coral reef scientist on TV (one of my numerous avocational interests). When the opportunity came around this year I jumped on it. Because of the new Montbrook site that the FLMNH is working this year, they are spending a limited time (5 days) at Thomas Farm this year--so not wanting to miss any of the fun, I signed up for the entire 5 day dig. The new Montbrook site dig will continue through mid-May and I encourage any who have the opportunity to give it a try. I'll probably try to get back there once more before the end of the season. Here is my report from a month ago: http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/63056-volunteer-dig-with-the-flmnh/ So anyway, back to Thomas Farm. The section I was digging back in 2014 (which they continued in 2015) was now dug down deep enough that they wanted to balance out the area by going back to a section that they haven't dug for several years. When I was there last it had an aluminum frame car port with a canvas top covering a cache of sandbags and some other stored gear. They moved all of those sandbags up out of the digging area to ground level near the outbuilding on site. The plan is to dig this area down to match the level of the adjacent section which is now quite a bit lower. They like to try to keep things relatively level as it promotes good water run-off during the rainy season (though Florida seems to have nothing but a rainy season this year). For anybody who has been to the Thomas Farm site in the recent past, here is what the site looks like now:
  13. Over a month ago I mentioned the opportunity to volunteer for a dig with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). In addition to the Thomas Farm sinkhole locality, this year a new opportunity opened up on a small-scale sand mining operation on private property. Some interesting bones were uncovered and the university's vertebrate paleontology department was called to come have a look. They did some initial digging and uncovered rhino and Gomphothere bones with some of them partially articulated. This sounded exciting enough for me to check into. Here's the link to the earlier posting just in case this excitement is infectious: http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/60662-volunteer-opportunities-with-the-flmnh/ My wife Tammy and I had planned on going in mid-March but a scheduling conflict for the weekend we'd chosen made us move it up a few weeks. They did most Saturdays but not every Sunday and we wanted to make best use of the weekend so we chose the 4-day block of time from March 3-6. We drove up from South Florida the night before and booked into our hotel in Ocala. Following the well-written directions from Dr. Richard Hulbert, we found the quarry and joined the volunteer team precisely at the appointed time of 10:00am (they work from 10:00am-4:30pm). We were introduced to the layout of the site and picked up our tools: flat-blade screwdriver, small trowel, pill jar for small finds, small plastic bags for finds that come out in pieces (to facilitate reassembly), and a larger bag to contain all of our finds. We decided to work together on a single square meter of the plot and so Dr. Hulbert found us a grid square where we had room to work from both sides. It was a square that was partially leveled and our job was to complete the leveling and recover whatever fossils lay within. Some of the other squares had interesting finds visible in them. One had a plaster-jacketed partial alligator skeleton (with skull) and another that was being worked on had Gomphothere (shovel-tusker elephant relative) bones including several associated ribs. The area we were digging in had been turning up lots of snapping turtle remains and as we progressed in our grid square we found more. Here's a look at the work site:
  14. I'd like to post a trip report for a different kind of fossil hunting adventure. A few weeks ago my wife and I made a trip to Gainesville to celebrate our anniversary. Yes, fellas--if you marry well you can get away with a fossil hunting trip instead of buying a bouquet of roses. We met-up with TFF member Kara (Khyssa) on Saturday to collect some micro-matrix in Rattlesnake Creek. On Sunday we returned to the creek for a little bit to top-off our bucket of micro-matrix and then did some sightseeing in the Gainesville area. The Devil's Millhopper is an interesting geological feature well worth the short drive. On Monday we planned a trip to the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) to briefly meet with Alex Kittle and Dr. Richard Hulbert for a quick tour of the invertebrate and vertebrate collections (respectively) at the museum. For those of you who think I forced my wife into doing something this geeky on our anniversary--she chose this among several options (and we did make it back home in time for a romantic dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants--complete with cheesecake ). We found parking in one of the larger lots on campus (parking is a nightmare at the University of Florida and we had no desire to be ticketed or towed). The weather was gorgeous outside and the short walk over to Dickinson Hall was pleasant in the slightly chilly morning temps (a tad bit cooler than South Florida). After signing-in and receiving our visitor's badges at the reception desk, we were met by Alex. We got another chance to talk with Alex on the following weekend when we made a second road trip north for the field-trip/meeting of the Florida Paleontological Society (FPS) for which Alex is the Membership Secretary. Alex escorted us down to the working area of the museum. Dickinson Hall has named after Joshua "J.C." Dickenson, Jr. a former director of the museum in the 1960s and under his management the museum's collections, research and education grew impressively. The Seagle Building in which the museum was located quickly became too cramped and Dickinson spearheaded a drive for a new building. In 1970 Dickinson Hall was completed and the collections were moved to the new building with the top floor housing educational programs and public exhibits. Continued growth over the years lead to the need for yet another expansion. This time a new facility, a couple miles west of Dickinson Hall, called Powell Hall was built and the public exhibits moved to the new facility which opened to the public in 1998. I was previously unaware of the history of growth of the FLMNH and thought the research collection was held someplace behind the scenes at Powell Hall. I quickly came up to speed as we walked down to the lower level of Dickinson where the scientists do their work and the research collections are stored. As Alex brought us into the invertebrate portion of the museum's collection we were first shown into an office area where numerous boxes of a variety of invert specimens were being reorganized and records checked and updated. It was a splendid sight to see boxes of fossils of all types covering just about every horizontal surface. It kind of reminded me of the tables of fossils you might see at a rock and fossil show except that each box had accession numbers instead of prices. Just behind one of the tables were an aggregation of suitcases. These held some of the specimens from a collecting trip to Panama which had just returned. You may have heard about the recent project to enlarge the Panama Canal to allow larger container ships to traverse the isthmus. The new excavations have been of interest to the museum as it cuts through some fossil bearing layers. As I've dragged 80 pound roll-on suitcases full of Green River fish plates through airport security so I know how much fun these must have been to get home. I asked Alex if he could provide a clue as to the identity of the silicified fossil corals I had collected with TFF member John (Sacha) and Jim (coralhead) last year on the Withlacoochee River in southern Georgia. Alex took us back to his desk and looked through a bookshelf till he found a pamphlet from 1973 from the Bureau of Geology entitled "New and Little-known Corals from the Tampa Formation of Florida". There we found photos of the coral I had described to him. I mentioned that, from what little polyp structure remained on the pieces I collected, it appeared to me to be similar to extant corals I'm familiar with in the genus Siderastrea (specifically S. siderea). I was moderately pleased with myself when Alex found the plates he was looking for which he knew to be found in the Withlacoochee--Siderastrea silecensis (a perfect name for my silicified coral). A link provided here for those interested: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00000252/00001 While I waited for Alex to locate this pamphlet I was intrigued by a collection of fossilized cowries (Cypraeidae) that he was trying to key-out using the latest diagnostic texts. There are relatively few features on these smooth shells and so it is quite the challenge. -Ken
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