The Penn-Dixie Fossil Park & Preserve has been in existence since 1993. During that time, countless fossils have been unearthed, but it was not until this April that the rare “Lazarus taxon” (two carpoid fossils) was discovered, which had a singular impact on how we view this particular kind of creature.
Two off-duty members of Penn Dixie’s educational team, Jonathan Hoag and James Hannah, stumbled upon the well-preserved fossilized remains of a very rare prehistoric marine invertebrate. Carpoid. Carpoids (extinct echinoderms) are considered a “Lazarus taxon”, animals that disappeared from the fossil record and reappeared much later. Found in rocks from the Devonian period, this fossil site (approximately 382 million years old) belongs to a small invertebrate that once lived in the area. The time is older than the dinosaurs, when ancient oceans covered these lands.
Carpoids are related to living starfish, urchins, sea lilies (crinoids), and sand dollars.
What makes this discovery particularly important is that the fossils were unearthed in rocks from the Devonian period. The discovery extends the geological range of the solute, a carpoid branch previously thought to have died out about 410 million years ago in the early Devonian, by more than 25 million years.
Think of it this way. The current finds are her two fossils of a creature thought to be extinct more than 25 million years before Penn-Dixie’s rock deposits.
“I feel very fortunate and honored to have found such a wonderful animal,” said Jonathan Hoag, site manager at the Hamburg Natural History Society/Penn Dixie. “This is a breakthrough discovery that anyone could have discovered, but we were just in the right place at the right time. The fact that I was able to find it with my best friend makes it even better.”
The Penn Dixie carpoids are a ‘Lazarus taxon:’ an animal that disappears from the fossil record, then reappears much later.
“This discovery is not only the most important in our organization’s history, but it is also an incredibly special moment for science in western New York,” said Dr. Phil Stokes, geologist and executive director of the Hamburg Natural History Society/Penn Dixie. “It’s been an honor in my career to be a part of this ongoing process.”
“I’ve been collecting fossils at Penn-Dixie since 2001, but I’ve never heard of carpoids or cystoids being discovered. [related animal] In the park,” said Malcolm Thornley, a fossil preparation professional based in Ontario. “Indeed, a relatively complete echinoderm is a rare find. As soon as I received the preparatory fossil from Jonathan, I realized it was an important discovery of scientific importance.”
“This is really strange. In my 50 years of studying Paleozoic fossils, especially in the northeastern United States, I have observed over 1,000 Hamiltons. [rock formation] Carlton Brett, Ph.D., a paleontologist and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Cincinnati. “This is arguably the most unusual occurrence from a bed ever discovered.”
“To the untrained eye, this specimen may look like a Paleozoic car crash animal,” said paleontologist Dr. Carl Fressa of the University of Arizona. “Fortunately, Hannah and Hogue were able to realize that what they had found was something different and special.”
Penn-Dixie Fossil Park & Preserve | 4050 North St, Brasdell, NY 14219 | (716) 627-4560