Category: Blog


Published: February 12, 2013

Brachiopods and WWII

Paul Mayer, Collections Manager, Fossil Invertebrates, Gantz Family Collections Center


In 1941 the Fossil Invertebrate Section at the Field Museum was making plans for a new and larger display but with the start of World War II these plans were postponed. The Curator of Fossil Invertebrates, Dr. Sharat Roy, served with the U.S. Army as a captain in the India-Burma Theatre of war. Near the end of the war he was able to take a month long leave and collect fossils (including a large collection of Permian brachiopods) and other geologic specimens from the Salt Range in what was then Punjab, India, but today is part of Pakistan. The Salt Range is named after the rich salt deposits that are close to 500 meters (1600 feet) thick, but is also famous (at least among geologists) for Permian brachiopods.

© The Field Museum, GEO79682. Dr. Sharat K. Roy stands over the Mapleton meteorite Geology specimen ME2286.

He shipped his fossil collection from the Salt Range back to the Field Museum. After the war Roy was made Chief Curator of the Geology Department and expanded his areas of interest and began studying meteorites. In 1946 the Field Museum hired a new curator of Fossil Invertebrates, Eugene S. Richardson. One of Richardson’s first assignments was identifying and curating Roy’s collection of brachiopods from the Salt Range.
Photo (from FMNH 1948 Annual Report): "Eugene S. Richardson, Jr., Curator of Fossil Invertebrates, works on preliminary identification of specimens in the collection of invertebrate fossils made by Dr. Sharat K. Roy, Chief Curator of Geology, at the Salt Range, Punjab, India."

Productid Brachiopods

Brachiopods are marine animals that look similar to modern day bivalves, but are not related and are their own phylum, Brachiopoda. Brachiopods have two-valves (shells) that open and close but the shells are of different shapes. Brachiopods feed using an organ called the lophophore. The lophophore is a loop or whorl-shaped organ covered in tiny hairs (cilia) that beat back and forth to generate a current and filter food particles out of the water. Most brachiopods are extinct, but there are a few living species. Today they are sometimes referred to as “lamp shells”.

This specimen is a productid brachiopod (Waagenoconcha sp.). It is one of the hundreds of Permian (265 million years old) brachiopods that Dr. Sharat Roy collected from the Salt Range in 1945. It is 45mm wide, 32mm long and 12mm high (note 25.4 mm = 1 inch). Productids have a concave brachial valve and a convex ventral valve.  The largest productid brachiopods grew over 300mm (12 inches) wide. They were covered in thin spines that anchored them to the muddy seafloor. The spines are seldom preserved except in a few spectacular fossil areas like the Permian Glass Mountains in West Texas. The oldest productids occur in the Ordovician. It is not until the Devonian that productids became widespread and during the Permian productid brachiopods were the most common brachiopods. They just barely survive the end Permian extinction event, but go extinct shortly afterwards in the Early Triassic.

Pedicle valve of Waagenoconcha sp. (Photo by P.S. Mayer).

Concave brachial valve of a Permian  productid brachiopod, Waagenoconcha sp. (Photo by P.S. Mayer).

Anterior view of Waagenoconcha sp. with several round spine bases protruding from the shell. Spines have been broken off (Photo by P.S. Mayer).

An Addition WWII Story from the Field Museum in Honor of Another Fossil Invertebrate Staff Member Who Served in World War II

During World War II another member of the Fossil Invertebrates Division, Donald H. Eldredge served in the Armed Forces. Donald H. Eldredge was a volunteer with the Fossil Invertebrates Division during the late 30’s and early 40’s. During the War he served as a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber based in England. On November 18th, 1942 his plane (nick named "Floozy") was hit with anti-aircraft artillery and the crew was forced to ditch their plane in the English Channel off the coast of Brest, France. One of the ten crew members died and the remaining nine were captured by the Germans.  Eldredge was taken to Stalag Luft 3 and held as a prisoner of war until April 29th, 1945 when allied forces liberated the camp.

Thank you to Dr. Sharat Roy, Donald Eldredge and all veterans that have served our country.

Paul Mayer
Collections Manager, Fossil Invertebrates, Gantz Family Collections Center

Paul is responsible for managing and caring for 2 million fossil invertebrate specimens.  His areas of specialty are Devonian brachiopods, Silurian Reefs and Mazon Creek fossils including the Tully Monster. Paul has done fieldwork in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Alberta, China, Australia, and New Zealand.