Thursday, January 15, 2015

Indiana State Fossil - Elegant Sea Lily?

Recently I received an e-mail about a proposed bill SB114 to the 2015 Indiana State Senate that is listed on their website as "Designates the elegant sea lily (Elegantocrinus hemisphaericus) as the official state fossil of Indiana.". The name did not seem familiar and when I looked for it on the Internet not much came up. The reason is the genus was renamed in 2009 and it's old name is more in the literature: Platycrinites hemisphaericus. The Platycrinites picture I chose to lead off this post with is of a different species but it a beautiful specimen that was on display at the Indiana State Museum January 2010. It existed in the Mississippian Period and was found in the Edwardsville Formation of Crawfordsville Indiana. A natural science history professor at Indiana's Wabash College named Edmund O. Hovey first documented these fossils in 1836.

My feelings are mixed about this fossil choice. I grew up in southern Indiana and remember finding crinoid stems in the creek that ran through our property. At the time I did not know what time period or formation they were from. It was a distinct fossil and not impossible to find. The crinoid is a good choice but the one that was chosen is probably only found in a particular place in the state and may not be very common. So it will be hard to find one unless you want to buy it from one of the Crawfordsville fossil dealers. In it's defense, the Platycrinites does have a very nice stem as you can see in the picture. It forms a helix like shaft for the calyx to connect to.

While I have yet to make it to London's Natural History Museum or Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde to see what crinoid fossils are on display I have been to Paris's Muséum National D'Historie Naturelle Jardin Des Plantes Paléontologie et Anatomie Comparée. They had Platycrinites hemisphaericus crinoids in one of their cases and the fossils looked like they had been collected a long time ago. In addition, they had 5 other Indiana crinoids on display plus an Ordovician horn coral from Madison, Indiana.

I do not believe I saw one at the Smithsonian but I did see a beautiful Dizygocrinus indianensis there in August 2010. Which brings up an issue, Indiana has a lot of nice crinoids so it is wise to choose one species to represent the entire state?

A possible better solution is to pick something broad like the phylum Echinodermata which would include the famous crinoids of Crawfordsville plus the blastoids found in large numbers in southern Indiana, cystoids found in Napoleon Indiana. Thus a student looking for the state fossil will have lots of opportunities to find one from Indiana's rich paleontological past. If you want to get more specific, just the subphylum Crinozoa or class Crinoidea just to allow crinoid fossils could be the state fossil.

My preference would be the state fossil be just a phylum or class, then the Waldron Shale crinoids of Shelby County could be part of this. An index fossil for the Waldron Shale is a crinoid and not just a stem but the calyx cup. They preserve so well that they can be found in such numbers as to qualify as an index fossil! When I help people at fossil events held throughout the year, if I am in Kentucky I will point out the brachiopod and tell them it is the state fossil. It would be nice to do that when in Indiana to point out a crinoid piece and tell them this is the state fossil.

Below is an Eucalyptocrinites crinoid holdfast found in the Waldron Shale of Indiana on display Muséum National D'Historie Naturelle Jardin Des Plantes Paléontologie et Anatomie Comparée in Paris, France on August 2009. So crinoid fossils from Crawfordsville, Indiana are not the only ones to be world class to be on display outside the United States.

The link below leads to a newspaper article about this. It appears the committee the bill was sent to is not one it will emerge from. Hopefully, the bill will get some Hoosiers talking about fossils and help inform the public more about our fossil past.

Read more about this proposed bill at The Indy Star:

More info: