X Close

UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014

By Mark Carnall, on 26 November 2014

It’s that time of year, reindeer who are different are being bullied by their peers, Jack Frost is biting noses again, Saturday morning TV is back to back toy adverts with the odd cartoon in between, Sainsbury’s remind us exactly why our ancestors fought and died in the Great War and Z list celebrities are turning lights on in high streets up and down the land. Yes of course, it’s November, a month so average they named it only once. But do you know what’s even less average than the month of November? It’s only UNDERWHELMING FOSSIL FISH OF THE MONTH, our monthly foray into the uninspiring world of forgotten fossil fish whose heyday, if they even had one, is long past. These fossiliferous fish now remain largely unused in museum stores and this blog series is a monthly window into their esoteric and marginal at best world.

Last 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 may not be forthcoming. To recompense and please the execs, I’m bringing out the big guns. I’ve chosen a pretty exciting fossil fish for November. We will get that third season fanatic fossil fish fans.

To keep it spicy here’s a slightly new format, we’re calling spot the fossil fish! Can you find our fiendish fossil on this grid? Here’s a hint- it’s not H8.

Image of LDUCZ-V826 Lanarkia sp fossil fish from Grant Museum of Zoology


Did you find it? Of course, it’s the brown blob in C3 I think [highlight to read]. According to the label for this specimen, which I’ll admit, I’m blindly trusting, this blob is in fact some part of a fish identified as Lanarkia sp.  Lanarkia is a genus of thelodont fish (only the second thelodont fish featured in this blog series, I told you I was bringing out the big guns) that existed way back in the Silurian over 400 million years ago. Thelodonti are a group of extinct jawless fish, the taxonomic validity and position of which is debated, whose schtick is a skin covered with spiny tooth like scales like that which we may have here.

Preservation Because thelodont fish do not have an bony skeleton and because their scales aren’t overlapping, whole individuals are found comparatively rarely compared to isolated scales and sections of scales like this specimen. Indeed, we have a whole run of drawers just like this specimen, tentatively identified as Lanarkia. I’ve had a look at this specimen under magnification but I can’t discern a particularly distinctive shape to the scales, if that’s what we have here, so I imagine this specimen was identified by locality rather than directly from the specimen. Alas, it’s not made that much clearer with the use of the ever-dissappointing-but-cheap-USB-microscope, once again producing an image that resembles an impressionist painting.

Image of LDUCZ-V826 Lanarkia sp fossil fish from Grant Museum of Zoology

Ever-dissappointing-but-cheap-USB-microscope image of LDUCZ-V826 showing a small section of skin with some spiky bits.

Research Although not very much a research star in it’s own right, the genus Lanarkia is frequently name checked as a vaguely primitive thelodont fish when describing more well preserved later relatives. One paper from 2001 has found Lanarkia to be useful in biostratigraphy in the Silurian of Canada (Soehn et al. 2001). Biostratigraphy is a branch of stratrigraphical geology that aims to identify assemblages and communities of fossil organisms to correlate and age rock sequences. The presence of Lanarkia fossils are used as one of the indicator organisms for the division of the Silurian of the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada (Soehn et al. 2001). Even if the fossils aren’t pretty they are sometimes useful.

In Society Unlike most of the fossil fish I feature here, Lanarkia, does seem to have something of a cult following if inspiration for forum usernames, gamertags and the odd deviantART creation is any particular measure. Perhaps my favourite ‘deviation’ is this image of Lanarkia spinosa synchornised swimming with trilobites by talented artist avancna whose dedication to creating representations of the lesser known and how shall I way, more underwhelming fossil organisms, is to be applauded!

Lanarkia sp.

Preservation 0.8
Research 4
In Society 1.5
Underwhelmingness 7


Soehn, K., Märss, T., Caldwell, M,W. and Wilson, M.V.H. (2001). New and Biostratigraphically Useful Thelodonts from the Silurian of the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec. 14, 2001), pp. 651-659

Mark Carnall is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology

One Response to “Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2014”

Leave a Reply