Misplaced Piece of the Cretaceous Returns to Utah, August 2013

Utah State Paleontologist, Jim Kirkland, is happily reunited with this unique (the first fully intact) shark coprolite from the Cedar Mountain Formation.

In August, the UGS received an important piece of Utah history in the form of an Early Cretaceous coprolite.  A coprolite is a fossil feces; and in this example a fully intact feces from an Early Cretaceous fresh water spiny (hybodont) shark. Although discovered in the early 1990s, the fossil had been missing for about 20 years.

The discovery goes back to when Utahraptor had first been discovered; I was exploring the outcrops of the upper Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation with geologist Dan Howe (Howe Resources, Buena Vista, CO) who picked up an unusual blob of rock that included fish scales within it. Fragments of such things were not uncommonly found in this interval throughout the area and were an important line of evidence that these rocks had been deposited in a lake. A spiral, layered structure indicated these lumps were coprolites from a fish with a spiral intestine (spiral valve). Of the fish known from these beds only lungfish and hybodont sharks had spiral intestines and only hybodont shark coprolites were apt to consistently include fish scales within them. However, this was, and still is, the only complete example of this kind of fossil known from these rocks. Later, I called Dan and asked him where the fossil was and he assured me he had given it to me. After an intensive search through all my sample bags, it did not turn up. So, I assumed I had stupidly put it down and walked off without it.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Dan who had stumbled across it going through some boxes (he had moved his life a few times across three states).  Dan quickly sent it back over to Utah.

While, future scientific studies of these coprolites can be carried out on the many fragmentary specimens, this remains the sole specimen for which the complete external morphology can be appraised. This specimen will be added to the Natural History Museum of Utah’s collections, where it may be examined by students and researchers in perpetuity.

Yellow Cat Road Section with Hybodont Shark level indicated.