Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: August 2014
By Mark Carnall, on 29 August 2014
Welcome welcome to this month’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month. The mission of this blog series is to temporarily shine the spotlight on underwhelming fossil fish specimens from the Grant Museum collection. It’s not that the Grant Museum collection is particularly underwhelming, most fossil collections are made up of huge archives of fragmentary, broken and not-particularly-impressive material that have had their heyday in scientific research and are now just taking up space. This month, I’m taking a leaf out of singer-songwriter, actor, record producer, businessman, and philanthropist, Justin Timberlake’s book and I’m bringing SexyBack with this month’s fossil fish. Combing the drawers for suitable specimens this one stopped me in my tracks and got me blushing.
This specimen is bringing sexy back. The other underwhelming fossil fish of the months don’t know how to act. Warning, this month may not be suitable for those who are of a nervous disposition.
Take ’em to the bridge.
Feast your rods and cones on this and tell me that this fossil fish doesn’t cross your bedding?
According to the ever reliable label information on this specimen is an example of Proscinetes a Jurassic bony fish. Proscinetes is an extinct genus of pycnodontid fish, underwhelming fossil fish fans will remember this festive edition featuring related genus Stemmatodus back in December. What we have here appears to be the opposite of the business end of the creature (the errr, pleasure end? The personal end? What is the opposite of business?).
Complete and rather beautiful specimens of Proscinetes collected from the amazing Solnhofen Lagerstätte (geological sites of exceptional presevation) in Germany are a staple of many museum fossil fish displays. Unfortunately, this is not one of those ‘common’ pretty boy specimens but the allure here is far more smouldering in my opinion. According to the label, this specimen was collected from Solnhofen on the 12th of November in the year somethingsomething06. This specimen was originally labelled Microdon hexagonus but was subsequently identified as Proscinetes. Given the lack of much of the diagnostic regions in this specimen I’m hesitant to attempt to redetermine it, particularly as the taxonomy of Jurassic pycnodontid fish is particularly messy and confusing.
Take ’em to the chorus.
Preservation What we have here appears to be the worst half of fossil in two parts. There are some bone elements preserved but this fossil is mostly the impression of the skeleton and the fins with what looks like a fine detailed impression of the skin detail (see image below from the ever disappointing but cheap USB microscope*). Presumably there is a part to this counterpart in a museum somewhere which has the other half of the fossil with much more of the preserved skeleton rather than the impression. Having said that, this is still a sexy fossil fish that I’d have been extremely chuffed to have discovered, prizing apart the laminae of the Solnhofen lithographic limestone.
Research There hasn’t been a huge amount of research into fish in this genus. A lot of the early descriptions of pycnodont fish taxa were made in the 19th Century and early 20th Century. In the 1960s there was a spate of additional descriptions and muddling of names and spellings. More recently in the 1990s and the noughties (yuk!) there have been a series of papers adding a group here and there and smoothing out the chaotic groupings of the past. Proscinetes is mentioned in these but more often than not it is name checked as existing but not being of particular interest. Of the dozen or so references I’ve looked at, Proscinetes appears on a page or two in each. They say sex sells but apparently this isn’t the case for academic journal papers about fish palaeontology.
In Society Normally, I struggle to fill this section, however for this month’s entry I found some fascinating information by scanning microfiche articles relating to sexy fossils. Apparently, there was a minor scandal at the 1983 Sexiest Fossil in the World competition. The award that year went to a particularly alluring woolly rhino skull, however, after the award it was discovered that the skull was a sub-fossil and thus not eligible for the prize. Controversially, the award was not taken back despite the strict entry guidelines leading many fossil collectors to boycott the competition the following year**.
In Society 0/5
* I’ve been receiving a lot of letters and emails from readers to ‘stop laying into the disappointing but cheap USB microscope’. The thing is, dear reader, I was mis-sold this product. Claiming to allow for up to 400 times magnification, the focal length of the microscope is so small that essentially it’s a USB magnifying glass. Furthermore, the resolution on the images is so low that it makes everything look like an impressionist painting.
**This may or may not have happened.
Mark Carnall is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology