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Found 7 results

  1. 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
  2. We are both very inexperienced college kids and have not had a whole lot of luck so far. Just the occasional shark tooth and Seabiscuit. I thought it might be worth while seeing if anyone around here wanted to show us some cool spots. I'm sure we could make it worth your while lol
  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. Stingray City

    No, not named for the famous dive/snorkel spot in Grand Cayman where tourists can interact (usually quite safely) with swarms of Southern Stingrays but instead referring to the abundance of Dasyatis sp. teeth from the Montbrook fossil site in north-central Florida. While this site is a treasure trove of fossil material providing huge numbers of specimens of turtles as well as other creatures like alligators, gomphotheres, tapirs, peccaries, llamas, and ever an early saber-toothed cat, many taxa on the faunal list are only known from micro-fossils. In addition to valuable and scarce fossil remains providing evidence for things like snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders as well as several species of birds, the micro-matrix is loaded with huge numbers of more common fossils. A variety of tiny fish teeth and vertebrae (and lesser numbers of more delicate ribs and skull fragments) are common finds. There are a number of species of minuscule shark teeth as well--though the majority seem to be from a species of sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon sp.) with a few novelties tossed in to make it interesting. By far and away the most common chondrichthyan fossil at this site are from stingrays. In a report of the relative abundances of chondrichthyan specimens from this site (encompassing nearly 13,000 specimens) the vast majority (well over 9,000) are tiny Dasyatis teeth. The preservation colors at this site are quite different from the phosphatic black/gray coloration predominantly found in Florida creeks/rivers. Most are tans and light browns with a number of creamy white teeth that are so bright and clean that they look like they could have been shed yesterday. I'm presently picking through some finer material that was washed through a fine brass screen so the finds tend to be around a millimeter in size (requiring a microscope to spot on my picking plate). Last night I finished a batch and was amazed at the density and diversity of color, form, and size (some really tiny juvenile teeth in there as well). I decided to take a "wallpaper" image of a spread of these tiny teeth for fun. For reference, the field of view in this image is roughly the size of a US postage stamp. Cheers. -Ken
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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