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Fossil Sharks, Ammonites Among Additions to Paleo Collection

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From the Collections posts

Thanks to a major donation from Ohio University, 15,000 pounds of marine fossils hundreds of millions years old recently have been added to the Museum’s collection, filling a chronological gap in the Museum’s existing fossil collection. 

Watch this video to learn more.

“This collection is from the upper Paleozoic, roughly 230 to 320 million years ago, an era that is under-represented in our current holdings,” says Neil Landman, curator-in-charge for the fossil invertebrate collection in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology, who studies ammonites and other invertebrates to better understand the evolution of life on the planet. “These spectacular specimens will provide rich opportunities for scientific research far into the future as we investigate the record of marine biodiversity throughout Earth’s history.” 

Devonian Ammonoids
Once one of the most common invertebrates in the oceans, ammonites went extinct more than 65 million years ago.
© AMNH/S. Thurston

The fossil material mostly consists of invertebrates such as ammonites, trilobites, gastropods, and bivalves, but also includes vertebrate specimens such as exquisitely preserved fish skulls. The specimens were collected primarily from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas over a period of 45 years by Ohio University professors Royal and Gene Mapes and their students.

Museum scientists have been studying the Mapes specimens for years through collaborative work with Ohio University. “The Mapes collection is an extremely valuable scientific collection, from which we’ve already described two new fish species,” says John Maisey, curator-in-charge for the fossil fish collection in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology. 

The latest is a 325-million-year-old shark-like species named Ozarcus mapesae.

3D reconstruction of skull of an extinct shark-like fish, Ozarcus mapesae.
A 3D reconstruction of the skull of Ozarcus mapesae. The braincase is shown in light grey, the jaw is shown in red, the hyoid arch is shown in blue, and the gill arches are shown in yellow.
©AMNH/A. Pradel

An exceptionally well-preserved specimen of Ozarcus mapesae was analyzed in a study led by Alan Pradel, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum, and Maisey, which is published today in the journal Nature.

A version of this story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.