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Mystery Find... Fossil Jaw Or Something Else...


Rustdee

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For your consideration,

A family member of mine just went on a cruise and found this on the beach of Half Moon Cay. (An island owned by Carnival).

I was initially skeptical because I did not believe that the Caribbean islands would have fossil bearing formations (I now know I am very wrong about that). Because this island is private I could find no geological information about the island.

I have also read from an online blog that states the company scatters artificial whale fossils on the beach for children to have a paleontological dig with; however, I have only seen this from one source.

Now as for the actual piece. My family member believes it to be a jawbone. I am not saying that it is not, but I see a few problems with it. First, it doesn't appear to have the internal structure of bone. Second, it does not appear to be very symmetrical. The "tooth" that would correspond to the other side of the jaw are of vastly different proportions.

Is this a jawbone? and if not what exactly could this be?

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Yup. And by coral we are talking 'fire coral' or Millepora alcicornis (not a true scleractinian [reef building] coral but a hydrocoral related to stinging hydroids).

Not a bad find beach combing but you wouldn't want to grab a piece fresh off the reef.

I had a friend who was a dive instructor in the Red Sea many decades ago. They had a small snorkel trail roped off for the tourists to splash around in and see some pretty corals and fishes. There were some underwater placards printed with pictures of some of the more common organisms that they might encounter along the way. All of these signs had warnings that this was a protected area and that tourists should not collect anything from the area (shells, etc.) but the lure of a remembrance was too much for some. This was a warm water area (the air temps could often top 100 degrees) and so nobody ever had need for a wetsuit so a bathing suit and possibly a t-shirt to keep the sun from immediately burning your shoulders was all that was needed. Some of you might see where this is going--one tourist couldn't resist the urge for a souvenir from his trip and broke off a small piece of coral to take back home with him. The thing about many hydrocorals is that the sharp harpoon-like barbs of the stinging cells (nematocysts aka cnidocytes) are often not strong enough to pierce the thicker skin on the pads of your fingertips and cannot inject the stinging toxins and so he didn't notice anything unusual when he broke of a small sample. The same cannot be said when he went to hide his ill-gotten 'treasure' for, having no place else to conceal his fire coral frag, he tucked it down the front of his Speedo swimsuit. :wacko::blink::faint:

Despite popular misconceptions (and movies) not everything in the oceans are out to get you--but some are!

Cheers.

-Ken

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It's one of my favorite stories that only needs the hint of the topic of hydrocorals for me to spin that yarn.

Glad it brought a smile to your face--the reaction on the snorkeler's face was likely anything but smiling (more like grimacing and tearing-up while your mask leaks and you try to inhale your snorkel).

Probably couldn't even have put the copious swelling to good use do to the searing pain (and then numbness).

Cheers.

-Ken

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Thanks for the id digit! That is interesting. I had never heard of fire coral before. I had just thought it may be some kind of staghorn or birds nest coral.

Anyway now if I would ever run into the live stuff I know to be extra careful around it. I don't even want to imagine.

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If you do a Google image search for "Millepora alcicornis" you will see lots of photos of what this stuff looks like when it is alive. it generally has a kind of mustard brownish coloration and grows with branching tips. It tends to occasionally overgrow seafans and other gorgonians taking on their shape. The image search will probably show you several colonies that will help you to understand how your sample looked in life. Also, if you look at your piece under magnification you should be able to see evenly spaced pin holes along the surface. These are where the hydrocoral's long "hairs" protrude which are covered with stinging cells. BTW: The genus name 'Millepora' refers to these 'many pores' in the skeleton.

If you go snorkeling this (and the very occasional long spine sea urchin) is something to steer clear of while in the water.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Half Moon Cay.

Cheers.

-Ken

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