Sunday, January 15, 2017

A middle Eocene heart urchin

Heart urchins, also called spatangoids, are echinoderms (sand dollars, sea stars, etc.), which are generally characterized by having 5-rayed (pentameral) symmetry. This post focuses on a middle Eocene heart urchin known as Schizaster diabloensis Kew, 1920. It was named for its occurrence in sedimentary layers near Mount Diablo, just east of San Francisco.

A hand specimen of siltstone rock from the Llajas Formation has three specimens of
S. diabloensis on the same bedding plane. The hand specimen is 5 cm (2 in.) wide.
This species of heart urchin was common in northern and southern California during the middle Eocene (approx. 47 million years ago). The specimens shown here are from the Llajas Formation in Simi Valley, California. This formation was deposited in shallow-marine, warm-water conditions. The entire geologic time range for this species is late Paleocene through middle Eocene.

Five specimens of S. diabloensis from the Llajas Formation. The largest specimens are
  2 cm (0.8 in.) wide. All are top-side up.
Echinoderms, past and present, are strongly gregarious and can occur in great numbers on the ocean floor. Spatangoids have a fossil record extending back to the Cretaceous. They are burrowers and living below the surface provides protection against predators. During the Cretaceous, many new forms of predators evolved, which, which gave the force for some echinoderms (like spatangoids) to adapt to these adverse conditions by becoming infaunal (i.e., burrowers), mainly in fine-grained deposits, like siltstone.

You can readily see the five-rayed symmetry of the feeding grooves on the dorsal (top) surface of each specimen. The central groove, called ambulacrum III, is the longest and is sunken on most spatangoids, whereas the two posterior grooves are smaller. 

No comments:

Post a Comment