Virginia fossils in Pennsylvania

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For the last year I’ve been working with VMNH Curator of Mammals Nancy Moncrief on the eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, which resulted in the publication of a paper in JVP earlier this year. That paper was just the first step in a larger project that involves looking at Pleistocene and Holocene squirrels from all over the eastern United States. However, it happens that nearly all the existing collections of small Pleistocene fossils from Virginia are housed at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh (these specimens were collected before VMNH was founded). So Nancy and I spent today in Pittsburgh, looking a squirrels from Virginia, as well as West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Most of these specimens are isolated teeth or other fragments. We were very happy to get some specimens as complete as the one shown at the top of the page, a left dentary (lower jaw), shown in medial view. All of the teeth have fallen out, except for the incisor. Based on its size, this was from an eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, rather than S. niger. This particular specimen was collected at Natural Chimneys in Augusta Couny, Virginia.

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Believe it or not, we also considered this to be a pretty good specimen. This is the left maxilla and palatine (the front is to the right), seen in ventral view. Again, this is S. carolinensis, based not just on size but also on the presence of a socket for the 3rd premolar, which is absent in S. niger. In fact, all the specimens from Virginia that we examined were consistent with S. carolinensis. This one was was found in Jasper Saltpeter Cave in Lee County, Virginia.

In addition to my work with Nancy, for the last several years I’ve also been trying to tabulate all the reported vertebrate fossil occurrences in Virginia. This was my first visit to the Carnegie, so I also took the opportunity to examine some of the non-squirrel Pleistocene vertebrates from Virginia, such as this mandibular symphysis from a ground sloth, probably Megalonyx (from Saltville, shown in anterior view):

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Here’s a peccary tooth from Will Farleys Cave in Washington County:

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And a black bear dentary from Shires Saltpeter Cave in Craig County:

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I’d like to thank Alan Tabrum of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for helping Nancy and me find the specimens we needed and making our visit possible.

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3 Responses to Virginia fossils in Pennsylvania

  1. Doug says:

    probably Megalonyx, as he’s the only one with those caniform teeth. And cool, a black bear jaw!

    Also, whatever happened to the Rapahannock sperm whale?

  2. altondooley says:

    Still working on the sperm whale. I hope to have more to say on it this winter.

  3. BMI Surplus says:

    First let me say I’m not a paleontologist so this stuff is a little foreign. However, I find it extremely interesting how you can figure out what type of animal the above bones belong too.

    The black bear jaw is very interesting. It almost looks like a horses jaw because of the gap in between the front teeth and the back teeth. That front tooth also looks extremely massive in the picture, I definitely hope I never encounter a bear.

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