It was sunny and warm today, a perfect day for excavating. The biggest issue (besides the traffic snarls caused by today’s NASCAR race in Martinsville) is the fact that the museum is currently closed on Sundays and Mondays due to the state’s budget difficulties. That means that my dining room table is covered with fossils until Tuesday.
We spent the day peeling back the upper layers of the particular sedimentary cycle we’re excavating (there are 17 of these cycles exposed in the quarry). The upper parts of the cycle tend to have Tanytrachelos and fish, like the one below:
As much as I like Tanytrachelos, and as important as it may be in understanding early diapsid reptile evolution, it may not be the most significant type of fossil at Solite. Near the bottom of this sedimentary cycle is what we call the “insect bed.” The Solite Quarry has produced a larger number of complete Triassic insects than any other site; several thousand specimens have been collected across a whole range of taxonomic groups. Andy is an expert on fossil insects and spent a good part of the day examining perhaps 1 square foot of the insect layer, finding several specimens including this beetle:
Insects are not the only things found in the insect layer. There are lots of plants, and occasional Tanytrachelos (and in this layer they sometimes have soft tissues preserved). But I don’t think we’ve ever before found anything like the specimen below. Andy and Nick think (and I agree with them) that the specimen below represents a baby Tanytrachelos. The head and neck are missing, but the front foot is at the 5.5 cm mark, and and the knee is at the 5 cm mark. Compare this to the “Tany” foot shown above, which is about 2 cm long. If this is Tanytrachelos, its total length would only be about 3.5 cm.