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  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: October 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 October 2014

    October has been a bumper month for not-so-underwhelming-fossil-fish with show off species Microbrachius dicki making headlines early this month for inventing penetrative sex (although of course you and I know that this hyberbolic reporting conflates the ever so slight nudging of oldest evidence of internal fertilisation in our branch of the tree of life with the invention of sex but, hey, at least it got reported). However, it does mean that in order to keep the fossil fish hype-ometer at a steady level we’re going to have to go really underwhelming in this month’s exploration of underwhelming fossil fish to even it out.

    I think I’ve done it though. Be prepared for the dullest underwhelming fossil fish of the month ever. It’s less exciting than this image of the reverse of 2013’s Loganellia scotica. Yes, it’s duller than the fossil most notable for its similarity to a pavement slab. I’d recommend painting a wall and watching the paint dry after reading this because you’ll need something to get your heart racing again.

    Ladies, gentlemen and the ever present alien overlords watching us from space and monitoring our Internet traffic whilst deciding when to invade or not, I present to you a bunch of fossil fish fragments, AKA LDUCZ-V1157

    Image of LDUCZ-V1157 Fossil fish fragments from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

    The dullest picture I ever took. LDUCZ-V1157 Fossil fish fragments?

    Of course, the downside to finding such an awful collection of specimens is that there isn’t much to say about them. Palaeontologists better than I could probably have a stab at working out what these bits are anatomically. the long ones could be ribs, jaws, fin ray or fin spines I guess. They have striation-like striations on them. I’d describe the flat square bits as definitely being flat and square shaped and possibly bits of a skull. There’s a white chalky, clayey substance on the jaw/rib/fin spine which could be chalk or clay. It is definitely white. The two smaller triangle pieces could be the neural spines of vertebrae. Curiously, our old card index and fossil catalogue archive both end on the specimen numerically before this one seemingly as if the cataloguer gave up after numbering them and couldn’t bring themselves to add these to the archive.

    Preservation Slightly poor at best.

    Research [PADDING THIS SECTION OUT BEGINS HERE] Believe it or not, in palaeobiology, more has been done with even less than we have here, entire species described from a single vertebra or finger bone. Palaeobiological species stretch the definition of what we confidently call a species. With organisms still alive today, we separate species by their DNA, anatomy, morphology and also their habitat and ecology. Species also exist as political concepts with individuals attributed to certain species being protected, controlled, illegal to own, illegal to hunt or even illegal to breed in a laboratory (think bacteria and viruses). In palaeobiology however, we examine and identify remains in an attempt to recreate the biodiversity and ecologies of long gone ecosystems. Even though reconstructing an entire new species or animal from a single tooth or bone is obviously a stretch, sound principles in comparative anatomy allow palaeobiologists to confidently recreate the kind of organism a single bone came from given current available evidence. Later it may be that a whole organism is found in the fossil record and then we can reassess previous reconstructions. This happens a lot in palaeobotany where you can’t necessarily unite isolated root, stem, leaf and flower fossils until you find a complete fossil. In the past this system was abused by palaeobiologists trying to make a name for themselves by describing every fossil as a new species. Today, most palaeobiologists only describe material that we can ‘objectively’ say is different enough to probably represent a distinct species. Back to these fossils then, no [PADDING ENDS]. No there’s no research on these and nor will there ever be (although I’d love to be proved wrong). Firstly because the material is rather fragmentary and secondly because we don’t know where these fossils came from. Even if we had a rough locality, we could ‘cheat’ by comparing it to other fossils found in that area and assess whether this represents a kind of organism never described before but alas we don’t even have that.

    In Society When there’s nothing to say in this section, I do what every palaeobiologist does when faced wth such a dire situation, I turn to poetry:

    Fragments of My Fossil Drawer

    The long bits could be ribs

    The square bits could be skull

    As an assortment with a number

    These fragments are quite dull

    Unidentified fossil fish fragments

    Preservation 1.5
    Research 0
    In Society 0.2 (for the above poem)
    Underwhelmingness 9.8

    Mark Carnall is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology

    5 Responses to “Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: October 2014”

    • 1
      Daniel wrote on 31 October 2014:

      Brilliant! đŸ™‚ I see that at 9.8 you’re leaving room for an even less whelming fossil fish. Is there such a thing as a perfect 10? Or, like absolute zero, is it an abstract ideal that can never quite exist? Would a preservation score of 0 mean that the fossil in fact completely fails to exist at all?

    • 2
      Ryan wrote on 3 November 2014:

      Lovely chalk fish fragments – if you really wanted to you could probably extract microfossils from the chalk that’s left on the larger pieces and determine when (if not where) it’s from but it’s probably not worth it :p

      Look’s a bit like the remnants after someone dropped a nice chalk fish or bits that fell off during dodgy prep :p

    • 3
      Isabelle wrote on 21 November 2014:

      This was truly underwhelming. So underwhelming in fact I almost did’t finish but I am glad I did or I would have missed out on that wonderful little piece of poetry by the end.

      Thank you.

    • 4
      Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014 | UCL UCL Museums & Collections Blog wrote on 26 November 2014:

      […] months’ fossil fish proved too underwhelming for many leading to a number of network executives to hint that a third series of underwhelming fossil fish […]

    • 5
      Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: May 2016 | UCL Museums & Collections Blog wrote on 31 May 2016:

      […] We got a looker this month boys and girls. Underwhelming fossil fish come in all shapes and sizes, some are virtually nothing, others inspire great works of art but once in a while we get one that is surprisingly […]

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