Gemmellaro*´s ammonite – scratch one off the “Wanted” list !

Gemmellaroceras rutilans (SIMPSON, 1843), diameter 40 mm

Gemmellaroceras rutilans (SIMPSON, 1843), diameter 40 mm


In May this year, Byron messaged me a picture of an ammonite which had been found
by Ricky at Ravenscar (presumably the side towards Robin Hoods Bay, i.e. Wine Haven),
asking me for an identification.

The small ammonite has a diameter of exactly 40 mm and is preserved as a somewhat
pyritic internal mould on a small block of shelly matrix.

Significantly, this matrix also contains pieces of Pinna bivalves which is usually indicative
of the jamesoni zone, taylori subzone, of the lower lias – so no guessing necessary for
identifying the stratigraphy, which can be a big bonus when identifying ex-situ ammonites
from the Yorkshire coast.

At that point I was prepping another small specimen from this zone with an Apoderoceras
so I figured it had to be the same thing and identified it as such…

A few days later Byron put this ammonite up for sale and (you know me) I could not resist….
The ammonite was picked up from Byron´s shop in Whitby this summer and went home
with me. Usually, ready-for-drawer ammonites like this one queue up on my desk for final
identification and a label.

A few months later, until this weekend in fact, it was still sitting on my desk for
identification…It had turned out that identification was not as easy as I had hoped,
it was not an Apoderoceras, no nodes on the thin ribs, and from the small remaining
bits of shell it looks like the ribs would barely be visible under the shell…

The ammonite at 40 mm diameter is a mostly complete adult, as the crowding of the sutures
suggests, and has about half a whorl of body chamber preserved.

Trifid lateral lobe of the suture (marked L) and crowding of sutures towards the aperature, indicating an adult specimen

Trifid lateral lobe of the suture (marked L) and crowding of sutures towards the aperature, indicating an adult specimen

I had identified a possible match with Epideroceras sociale, especially with the style of
ribbing on the inner whorls, but since Epideroceras is getting much larger and develops
much thicker whorls when adult, this match fell through…

Having about half an hour to kill before lunch would be ready this Sunday,  I was
browsing Howarth´s 1962 “The Yorkshire Type Ammonites and Nautiloids of YOUNG
and BIRD, PHILLIPS, and Martin SIMPSON”, looking for something entirely different
and stumbled across the pictures of Polymorphites rutilans (SIMPSON, 1843)
(now Gemmellaroceras rutilans) on table 15 – a perfect match with the crenelated keel
of my ammonite.

The ribs crossing the venter created a crenelated keel

The ribs crossing the venter created a crenelated venter

I had not had Gemmellaroceras on my list assuming they would only be much smaller
(like Gemmellaroceras tubellum), but reading HOWARTH´s
“The Lower Lias of Robin Hood´s Bay, Yorkshire, and the work of Leslie Bairstow” again,
found that this is indeed the larger species and can be found,
(how blind can one sometimes be…)  explicitly mentioned, in Bairstow bed 530,
associated with Pinna folium…

There is another subgenus which is apparently similar, just stratigraphically slightly
older – Leptonotoceras – in which the lateral lobe of the suture is only split twice
(bifid) instead of three times (trifid) as in Gemmellaroceras – the lateral lobe is trifid
in this ammonite so we´re also clear about this.

So that´s about enough to round up this identification, and it´s also a species that can be
scratched off my “Wanted” list – done !

Scratched off the "Wanted..." list !

Scratched off the “Wanted…” list !

Now let´s see if I have the smaller species of this genus, G. tubellum, hiding in my collection


* Gaetano Giorgio Gemmellaro (1832-1904) was an italian paleaontologist and geologist,
founder of the Palermo Geological museum and researcher, among many other topics,
on sicilian pygme elephants. Alpheus Hyatt named the genus after him in 1900, presumably
to reciprocate for an honour which  Gemmellaro had bestowed upon him in 1887 by naming
a permian ammonite genus (Hyattoceras) after him…

Crinoid and starfish travel for a prep and a loan

Crinoid unprepped, picture courtesy of R. taylor

Crinoid unprepped, picture courtesy of R. Taylor

Another fossil travel story – but this time a crinoid and some associated starfish.

The story began when Robert posted a picture of a crinoid he found on the Yorkshire coast
in the Yorkshire Fossil Collectors facebook group. It looked very large and quite interesting,
so I asked him if we could meet when I would come to Yorkshire for our summer holidays
and take a “live” look. We agreed on a date and Robert came visiting with his crinoid,
see a pre-prep picture of it above.

Robert had protected the surface of the fossil with a thin coat of paraloid, but I could
instantly see the potential of this fossil, and also that there might be more in the rock –
starfish !

The surface of the slab was relatively soft, I could scratch it with a fingernail, which is a
good sign that this fossil can be easily prepared using an air abrader with iron powder
as an abrasive. I offered to prep it for Robert without charge and give it back to him on
our next visit to Yorkshire.

Now don’t get me wrong here – I neither do preparation as a business, nor do I encourage
readers to ask me to prep something for them -if I see a fossil that I see potential in and
I’m sure I can prep it well, I will offer to do so. So don’t ask me, I will ask you…

Anyway, Robert agreed to my offer and I took the fossil home to Germany with me at the
end of our holidays.Preparation commenced relatively soon after our return from
Yorkshire and it was as simple as I had hoped, the matrix covering the fossil melted
like butter under the low pressure stream of the abrasive.

When I first directed the abrasive across the crinoid remains, I was somewhat taken
aback because the crinoid arms suddenly appeared in a creamy white when the matrix
and the paraloid covering it were removed – I feared they would be soft crystallized
calcite, but they turned out to be stable and just fine.
Crinoid and starfish prepped
Crinoid and starfish prepped
Additionally, as suspected, the slab also contain the remnants of up to 6 starfish, with
two very decayed ones on top of the crinoid and 4 on the side of it. When most of the
matrix and paraloid was removed, which took about 4 hours of prep time,
I sent some pictures to Robert.

In September, Robert went to the Scarborough Fossil Festival at the Rotunda and
showed the pictures to Dr. Timothy Ewin, senior curator for Echinoderms at the
London Natural History Museum, who, in Robert’s words, got “very exited” seeing
the pictures and asked if he could see more detailed pictures of the crinoid and
of the starfish.

The Rotunda in Scarborough

The Rotunda in Scarborough

I sent some more pictures and an e-mail discussion between the 3 of us ensued with
the result that the crinoid has tentatively been identified as a large Isocrinus robustus
and the starfish needing a detailed inspection on the “live” specimen to identify them.

Since my family and I had planned a visit in London in October anyway,
I offered (of course conditional on Robert’s agreement to do so) to take the specimen
to London for Dr Ewin to see it.

Robert and Dr. Ewin agreed, so I finished the preparation of the specimen in an
additional 2 hours and packaged it very safely for the journey
(I luckily still had some foam left from the Ichthyosaur donation…)

Packaging material
Packaging material
Crinoid ready to go
Crinoid ready to go

The transport was relatively straightforward, of course you get the
“what the heck have you got in there ?” question from the x-ray folks at the airport,
but after opening the case and allowing a swab for explosives,the crinoid went
on the flight to London.

Natural History Museum, London
Natural History Museum, London

Later in the week, we met with Dr. Tim Ewin in the Natural History Museum, and after
a quick inspection we agreed that this was indeed a very complete and large
Isocrinus robustus, and the starfish were not Tropidaster, but maybe Uraster or
something similar but that would require further detailed inspection.

The material is surprisingly similar to the legendary Mickleton tunnel fossils,
which I could see later on in the collections.
Specimen will be on loan to NHM and be given back to Robert, maybe on occasion of the
next Fossil festival ? According to Dr Ewin, there’s  a good chance you might see this
specimen pictured in the upcoming Yorkshire Lias guide…


Many many thanks to Robert for entrusting  me with his crinoid, both for the preparation
and the transport to the NHM, it was a pure pleasure to prep. Many thanks to
Dr. Timothy Ewin for keeping the important contact with us collectors and of course
for the tour of the NHM crinoid and starfish collections 🙂

And the next post will again be an ammonite one, I promise 🙂