Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Jellyfish taphonomy

Jellyfish taphonomy by hallucygenia
Jellyfish taphonomy, a photo by hallucygenia on Flickr.

One of the nice things about being a palaeontologist is that fun things quite often qualify as work. For example, a trip to the beach offers an opportunity to make observations on modern marine ecosystems and examine natural taphonomic experiments. To anyone else this may look like peering into rock pools, picking up seaweed and carefully turning over rotting jellyfish, but we know better.

We recently visited Abereiddy Bay in South Wales. I have wanted to go there for a long time, because it’s a very famous site for graptolites. Not only does it have fossils, but also public toilets, interesting insects, rock pools, dead jellyfish and a van selling snacks. This makes it an ideal field location, the only difficulty being deciding what to look at first. We started with the insects, moved on to the fossils, then the snack van, then rock pools, then more fossils, and finally walked along the sandy part of the beach to look at the jellyfish.

Jellyfish, being about as soft-bodied as it is possible to be, aren't common in the fossil record. Most palaeontologists never find one in their entire careers! Seeing the dead jellyfish strewn around the beach, we decided to see look at the impressions they had left in the sand, in the hope of being able to recognise similar structures in the fossil record.

This is the jellyfish itself, or what is left of it. The tentacles are gone (eaten or rotted away), but the bell is more or less intact. (This photo was taken after we had examined the impression it had left in the sand.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joe and Lucy,
    Glad to hear you're still going about investigating the oddities of nature!
    I just read about this rather strange sponge, and thought of you Joe, or at least your research...
    I wasn't quite sure how to contact you, so I thought a comment on here might be a good way to get back in touch.
    Hope you're both doing well, which ever part of the world you are in at the moment. If you are back in west Wales sometime do get in touch and we might be able to meet up as I live over there now.