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New discoveries in North America's Great Plains bring ammonites to life


At one locality in South Dakota, the fossilized methane seeps are exposed on the side of a steep cliff of black rock. Landman and his team criss-crossed the cliff with bright white ropes, forming a grid-like pattern onto which the team mapped the distribution of fossils.

"The result looked like an enormous Christo installation," says Landman. "You have to imagine the underwater scene 70 million years ago: a cloud of zooplankton, with ammonites flocking to the vents, forming isolated communities surrounded by the muddy sea floor. Because the sedimentation rates in the seaway were so rapid, the ammonites and other organisms were buried quickly after death, preserving exquisite details of their morphology."

The new research, published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, redescribes the type specimens (holotypes) of two of the most common ammonite species that lived at the time: Hoploscaphites nodosus and H. brevis. The original specimens were collected over 150 years ago from what is probably South Dakota. Hoploscaphites nodosus, previously Jeletzkytes nodosus, is reassigned to Hoploscaphites because new, large fossil collections show that the traditional separation of robust, coarsely ornamented specimens from more slender, finely ornamented specimens is arbitrary. The paper also helps reconstruct the paleogeography of the epicontinetal sea that covered North America at the time as well as other seaways that covered parts of Europe.

Landman and colleagues argue that these ammonites were probably not fast swimmers. They lacked strong muscles which would have been required for strong propulsion. In addition, their jaws could only accommodate small prey and, as a result, they were probably sluggish filter feeders. Many of the ammonites also show injuries. Some of the injuries were healed during life but others resulted in death. Landman argues that the predators we

Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
American Museum of Natural History

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New discoveries in North America's Great Plains bring ammonites to life
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