Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Fossil of the Week
2/24/10 – Ecuadorean Cone
Cone shells (in the gastropod, or snail, family Conidae and mostly in the genus Conus) have always been very popular with collectors, of modern shells and fossils alike. This one is Conus (Leptoconus) roigi Marks, 1951 (PRI 20498), from the Lower Miocene of Las Masas, Ecuador, in South America. This is a rather small specimen, only a little over 1 centimeter (approx. ½ inch) long, and is the figured paratype* [the holotype** is also in the PRI Type Collection]. Another paratype was deposited in the Stanford University paleontological collection – authors of new species are always encouraged to “spread their type material around,” so that original specimens are more widely available to other researchers, and so that if any disaster ever happens to one museum, some specimens will survive elsewhere.
The specimen: This and other specimens described in the original paper (published in the Bulletins of American Paleontology, no. 139) were collected during geological explorations for oil by the International Ecuadorean Petroleum Company (which was associated with the International Petroleum Company of Toronto). The author, Jay Glenn Marks, was employed by the oil company as its “megapaleontologist” and, together with three “micropaleontologists,” analyzed samples to help predict where oil might be found. This was once standard practice by many oil companies, and was a lucrative field for paleontologists and paleontological museums. The species was named for C. A. Roig, who collected most of the type specimens. Oil and gas mining is still an important industry in Ecuador, accounting for 26.8% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a basic measure of a country’s overall economic output) in 2008.
The author: Jay Glenn Marks was a graduate of Stanford University, earning a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and finally Ph.D. degree in 1951 – the paper that described Conus roigi, entitled “Miocene Stratigraphy and Paleontology of Southwestern Ecuador,” was his dissertation. His graduate advisor was none other than A. Myra Keen, one of the most respected American malacologists (scientists who study mollusks), who (according to one biography) “believed in blending the study of fossils with the study of modern faunas.” In 2009, a Stanford University School of Earth Sciences alumni newsletter reported that Dr. Marks was retired and living in Colorado, “where he plays golf and informs his fellow residents about interesting geological events.”
*See 10/14/09 - Atrypa aperanta Crickmay for a definition of paratype specimens. This one was illustrated in the original description paper, so is doubly important.
**See Fossil of the Week 8/19/09 - Cerithium gainesensis for a definition of "holotype."
Text by Paula Mikkelsen