Steve O'Shea

TONMO Supporter
Staff member
Nov 19, 2002
Positively wonderful news. This fine specimen is winging its way over here.

Courtesy of Myopsida (on the Physio & Bio forum) we're going to try the following technique: : on both primitive octopods (cirrates), hopefully (a dream) a fresh specimen of Vampyroteuthis (we can procure magic here in New Zealand), and a variety of squid species; hopefully we'll be able to mimic the transparency in this fossilised Trachyteuthis.

It's going to take a while to get the results (to turn Recent squid transluscent), but I think the effort will be well worthwhile (what do you think, Phil, Neale?). Perhaps there are additional suggestions out there.

We'll get a detailed description of this magnificent Trachyteuthis online, as soon as it is in my shakey hands. This particular specimen will be accessioned into the collections of the National Museum of New Zealand; such a priceless specimen should be looked after, long after I'm pushing up daisies. I'll endeavour to procure additional comparative material.
This specimen of Trachyteuthis is absolutely astounding.

What Steve has procured here is an approximately 95 million year old fossil cephalopod, an incredibly rare fossil in itself and exceptionally so given its state of preservation. This animal dates from the Cenomanian Stage of the Middle Cretaceous. These lithographic limestones are a lagerstatt, or a site of exceptional fossil preservation, and hail from from the Hajoula mountains above Jbeil in Lebanon. Examples of earlier species of Trachyteuthis are known from the Solnhofen limestones in Germany from the Upper Jurassic.

The animal itself is believed to be a vampyromorph, and probably shared a common ancestor with the modern Vampyroteuthis, though the particular branch this Trachyteuthis lies on left no modern descendants post Cretaceous, as far as is currently understood. Some researchers have placed this animal on a branch that led to the cuttlefish.

More details to be forthcoming soon.


[Ed: Date edited above 11/12/03. Previously read Albian]
Ta Phil.

I've attached a pdf file of a paper I did a few years ago now .... [Ed1, no I haven't; pdf attachments not allowed a little message tells me; I've attached 3 pics to this message and one to a following; I'm sure Tony can edit and link to a pdf later. Ed2 - had to reduce the image size ... yikes ... and now the pics look horrid; all too be fixed up soonish].

Editor's note: Fixation-induced artefacts in octopus -- fixed! :smile:

The revision referred to in the opening paragraph of the paper has since been published:

O’Shea, S. 1999. The Marine Fauna of New Zealand: Octopoda (Mollusca: Cephalopoda). NIWA Biodiversity Memoir 112: 280pp.

And the species of Thaumeledone referred to in this old paper has now been named Thaumeledone zeiss (in the 1999 revision).

I've attached this pdf as it would be interesting, when sending the squid/octopus/vampyromorphs translucent, to try and duplicate the condition of the Trachyteuthis at the time of fossilisation.

Phil, Kevin, Neale, can you shed any light on how this Trachyteuthis could have fossilised? Was sediment deposition rapid? Do you think the environment was quite anaerobic? Do you think the specimen has been compressed in the fossilisation process? I ask because when sending Recent examples translucent I'm not sure whether I should be using relatively fresh (and rotund) specimens, specimens fixed post thaw (and relaxed, with their mantles slumping laterally), whether I should remove as much O2 from the solution as possible (or render it quite anaerobic), or whether I should let the specimens decompose a bit ... (heaven forbid) before fixing them (or try this technique anyway).

Has anyone tried making a fossil squid, duplicating the environment in which these animals are found? I would imagine fossilisation to have been a rapid process, otherwise the tissues would have decomposed quite seriously; if not then there couldn't have been much bacterial action on the sea bed where these animals fell.

Read the attached (and fall to sleep).
Steve O'Shea said:
Has anyone tried making a fossil squid, duplicating the environment in which these animals are found? I would imagine fossilisation to have been a rapid process, otherwise the tissues would have decomposed quite seriously; if not then there couldn't have been much bacterial action on the sea bed where these animals fell.

I've studied invertebrate palaeonology (although I'm more of an expert on mammal diagenesis) and the woman who taught us did her PhD on the Solnhofen limestone so we did dwell on it (and contrasted it with the Burgess Shale) and it is largely due to the conditions stopping decomposition - Architeuthoceras' links are a good start into the kind of thing.

I'll ponder this lind of thing - it may be possible to simulate the conditions and induce the kind of replacement with minerals that happens but I wouldn't put money on it.

And thanks for the picture - it looks to be a beautiful specimen :smile:

As for the context of the deposit, this is a direct quote from (Thanks for the link, Kevin).

...... the sublithographic limestone deposits of Sahel Alma, Hajoula and Haqel,........ these deposits are most famous for their exquisitely-preserved fish, but show a diversity of other well-preserved fossils such as shrimp and lobsters. The deposits are indicative of a warm and shallow sea that was made up of small basins only a few hundred meters across. These deposits now rest some 270 meters below the current surface.Geologists currently believe these basins had their origins at the intersection of block fault systems. The Baensch Fossil Atlas lists over 70 genera of fish found within these deposits, most all of which are known from unparalleled-quality specimens preserved in remarkable detail.
I have had a think about this and actual fossilisation would be tricky an difficult and possibly unnecessary - esp. trying to simulate fossilisation like the above with animals like squid.

My initial thoughts would be to try to inject some kind of dye into the squid and then compress it (I'd go a hrad layer, the squid, some kind of clear layer and then the top). You could then either allow naturaly decomposition to remove the soft body parts or you could use some kind of chemical. You would have to make sure the dye was the right kind so it didn't wash away..

Anyway just an initial thought but it might give you some directions to investigate - I remember seeing things a resin circulatory system derived from injecting resin into a corpses veins and I'm sure that the medical, forensic and veterinary profession are experts at dying all sorts of things - you could probably find a serious mailing list or newsgroup to ask further questions in.

The geology of Lebanon certainly helps to understand the context of this fossil. There is a very interesting website here which describes the geology in detail. However to draw out most relevant details:

During the Early Cretaceous period Lebanon was covered in a series of swamps, rivers and deltas, producing sequences of sands and shales that in places built up to levels of 500m thick. During the later part of the Early Cretaceous the sea level began to rise resulting in the widespread growths of reefs on top of these sands resulting in limestone deposition, the supply of sands almost completely switching off by the mid-Cretaceous. A major tectonic upheaval occurred in the mid-Cretaceous with the advance of the Africa-Arabia plate towards the Eurasian plate causing the closure of the Tethys ocean. Although not in the direct impact area, due to the compressional effects of the collision the first uplifting took place in Lebanon leading to the uplift of Mount Lebanon and the surrounding area. The fossil deposits such as the Mount Hajoula lagerstatt were deposited at this time, and there were widespread deposition of thick sequences of pale fine limestones and chalks. The lagerstatt formed in local areas of oxygen shortage close to the edge of the carbonate platform.

In common with the Black Sea of today and the comparative Solnhofen deposits it seems likely that there was a clear boundary between the oxygenated upper waters and above the stagnant anoxic sea-bed. This would explain why animals falling onto the sediment were free from predation. Any marine animal that dived too deeply would quickly find itself in trouble, and it seems likely that most fossils, such as this Trachyteuthis, were animals that probably drifted down after dying from natural causes. It is interesting that these animals show little sign of disarticulation which implies they must have drifted down quickly and become buried in sediment fairly rapidly too. Due to the abundance of fish fossils in these deposits it may be reasonable to suppose that the anoxic layer was probably close to the sea bed.

This lagerstatt, or site of exceptional preservation, is probably one the top twenty sites in the world for preservation. Lebanese fossil beds are exclusively marine and dinosaur fossils are practically unknown.

Geology of Lebanon:

Just a bit of VERY careful when purchasing fossils from certain localities (Green River, Lebanon, Solnhofen, Liaoning). Quite often the specimens are enhanced by painting them. This is especially common with certain Lebanese cretaceous specimens. I have photos of lobsters I have had fresh out of the quarry that are perfect, but they don't come close in appearance to what they look like after they have been painted and sold by other dealers. Not all dealers in Lebanese fossils do this, but many do, so be aware! The material I sell comes straight out of the quarry, and is never artificially enhanced.
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