By Mark Carnall, on 30 June 2014
It’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month again. That wonderful time of the month where we take a look at one of the underwhelming fossil fish specimens in the Grant Museum collection. By staring at and reading about unloved, unspectacular fossil fish specimens I hope to increase global fishteracy as well as explore the question, why do we have material like this in museums? What is the point? What is the value? Maybe we also learn something important about ourselves. Something like, ‘I don’t find bad fish fossils particularly fascinating’. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s the journey not the destination that matters right?
That’s enough my-little-pocket-book-of-zen. It’s time to unveil this month’s specimen. The sound of anticipation is absolute silence (is it still a sound?). Some of the recent entries have been labelled in the national press* as ‘slightly whelming’ and ‘not as bad as I’d imagined’ so I dug deeper into the fossil fish drawers to bring you something particularly unspecial. No thanks needed, I thank YOU.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s a fossil caudal fulcrum, obviously. I’m going to be honest with you dear reader, this month’s underwhelming fossil fish has given me a bit of trouble. Normally, I find an underwhelming fossil fish, start to do some research and find that although the fossil itself isn’t particularly interesting there’s always some tidbit of information that will bring even the dullest dinner party to a new low. Not this time.
Looking at this specimen, it looks like the underside of a long slender lower jaw. That however would be too interesting. No what we have here is a caudal fulcrum. What’s a caudal fulcrum you ask? Well it’s a V-shaped scale at the front of the caudal fin (tail fin). I warned you didn’t I? The label for this specimen identifies it as Chondrosteus sp. and comparing this specimen to illustrations of caudal fulcra in the literature it looks like it matches. Chondrosteus is a very fish-looking ray-finned fish that is found in the Jurassic of the United Kingdom. From one of our inventories, this specimen is recorded as being collected from world famous fossil locality Lyme Regis which is consistent with where other fossils of Chondrosteus are found.
Preservation We don’t have a lot of the animal here but what we do have is rather nicely preserved. The shape of the surface of the fulcrum is preserved and it is distinctly caudal fulcrum-looking. The matrix for this fossil contains many small bone and shell fragments including what looks like a faint impression of an ammonite (sadly impossible to image) giving us some ecological information about the organisms that lived in association with the fossil fish we have here.
Research Despite Chondrosteus fossils being fairly common, from a quick literature search, there hasn’t been a huge amount of research on fish in this genus. As with so many of our Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month, this genus is regularly name checked as being ‘present’ but normally in papers describing more ‘interesting’ animals. It’s also mentioned quite a lot in those very dry ‘lists of fossil fish species’ from the 19th Century. Beyond this the only research interest seems to be in research trying to work out the affinities of living acipenseriform fish, represented today by paddlefishes and sturgeons. Acipenserifrom fish largely lack a bony skeleton and this has been interpreted to mean they are a ‘primitive’ group of fish. A number of references I found only mention Chondrosteus to note that it wasn’t being included in the study…
In Society Rumour has it** that acclaimed English alternative rock band and anatomy nuts, Elbow, were originally going to call their band caudal fulcrum. However, percussionist Richard Jupp disliked the term. After some discussion the band then decided to plump for the more quotidian anatomical term, Elbow.
In Society 1
* Artistic use of the term. May also refer to no press at all.
** Allegedly according to anonymous sources
Mark Carnall is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology