Unidentifiable Taxa

Bitubulites: yeah, nach
Published 9 May 2016

Several months back, I published a post on a decidedly obscure tubular fossil by the name of Serpularia: once described, completely forgotten. Is it possible to top that for inconsequentiality?

You betcha, because the subject I drew for today’s post, Bitubulites irregularis, never even got a sketchy diagram to illustrate it. And once again, we have an early German palaeontologist to thank. In 1820, Ernst Friedrich, Freiherr von Schlotheim, published a book called Die Petrefactenkunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkte durch die Beschreibung seiner Sammlung versteinerter und fossiler Überreste des Thier- und Pflanzenreichs der Vorwelt erläutert, because they don’t write book titles like they used to. As far as I can tell, the title basically translates as Got Some Great Fossils Here, Wanna See? As with Münster’s Beiträge zur Petrefakten-Kunde that provided the source for the Serpularia post, Schlotheim’s publication was basically a description of some of the fossils held in his own collection. His comments on B. irregularis appeared on p. 376, and were as follows:

Bitubulites irregularis.
Aus dem Muschelflötzkalk der Gegend von Weimar.

Einzelne cylinderförmige Stücke, von der Dicke eines mäſsigen Fingers, mit gröſstentheils concaven Durchschnittsflächen, auf welchen sich gewöhnlich ins Dreyeck gestellte kleine Öffnungen zeigen, welche mit durchgehenden Nervenröhren in Verbindung zu stehen scheinen. Äuſserlich ist die Oberfläche fein puncktirt.
Da sich mehrere übereinstimmende Stücke finden, so läſst sich nicht erwarten, daſs wir ein bloſses Naturspiel vor uns hätten. Zuweilen sind auch vier, aber alsdenn noch unregelmäſsiger gestellte Öffnungen, vorhanden. Bis jetzt haben sich, meines Wissens, noch keine ganz vollständigen und recht gut erhaltenen Exemplare aufgefunden.

And I’ll be honest, I have very little idea what any of that means, because I don’t read German beyond chucking stuff into Google Translate. The genus Bitubulites had established in 1803 by another German scientist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, for a different fossil, B. problematicus. Bitubulites problematicus was composed of two small conjoined tubes that Blumenbach illustrated thus:

Schlotheim’s B. irregularis was presumably similar to Blumenbach’s original; as far as I can work out, each tube was cylindrical and about the thickness of a finger. Small openings down the sides of the main tubes indicated the presence of smaller connecting tubes (“nerve-tubes”) between them; the entire outer surface was finely punctate. The second paragraph of Schlotheim’s states that he possessed several examples, indicating that the association between the tubes was not a mere accident. I think he says that the tubes were sometimes associated in fours rather than in pairs, but the overall confirmation remained the same. The “Muschelflötzkalk” refers to a Middle Triassic formation; both the two Bitubulites species came from the same formation.

Blumenbach had called his original fossil ‘problematicus‘ because he had little idea what type of animal it represented. Schlotheim was none the wiser, listing Bitubulites among unclassifiable forms with no close analogues in the modern fauna. He did tentatively compare it to a couple of fossil mollusks, such as the straight-shelled cephalopods or the reef-forming hippuritid bivalves. And there Bitubulites lay for over a century, more or less forgotten by all except the most pedantic of cataloguers (ahem…)

In 1962, Walter Häntzschel included Bitubulites in his chapter on problematica for the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. It was tucked away in the end, in a list of “Unrecognized and Unrecognizable “Genera”” that Häntzschel felt largely deserved nothing more than to be cast forever into the outer darkness. Nevertheless, he did suggest a possible identity for Bitubulites: Rhizocorallium, a fossil that can be found in deposits dating from the Cambrian all the way to the present, commonly looking like this (copyright Manuel Flöther):

Rhizocorallium is a trace fossil, a structure created by the activity of some animal and preserved in the geological record. Rhizocorallium takes the form of a U-shaped burrow, with the two arms of the burrow connected by fine cross-lines or fractures referred to as Spreiten (German for “spread”). The Spreiten are the result of the animal digging its burrow further into the substrate, with sediment being taken from the outer side of the tube and packed on the inner side. The burrows often run more or less parallel to what would have been the original surface of the sediment; they may have been primarily dwelling burrows, or they may have been feeding burrows extended as the animal searched for buried organic matter. Rhizocorallium-type burrows were probably made by many different types of animal, such as worms or arthropods, and their presence in a deposit is more indicative of environmental conditions than faunal composition.

At the time that Blumenbach and Schlotheim were writing their books, no-one had yet twigged what these kind of trace fossils were; neither author would have been alone in mistaking a burrow for a body fossil. Many structures that are now recognised as traces were described as fossil algae. It was not until the late 1800s that a Swedish and an American palaeontologist independently noted the similar between a number of these ‘algae’ and the structures left by marine organisms as they went about their daily life. Even today, this earlier misunderstanding has left its mark in the tradition of referring to particular trace fossils by binomial names, as trace ‘genera’ and ‘species’. Nevertheless, trace fossils often provide us with a window into the past over and above what we can learn from body fossils alone, and they are an invaluable tool in developing a truly rounded understanding of life in ages past.

List of unidentifiable taxa
‘Acanthus’ Grossheim 1946 nec Bloch 1795 nec Dumont 1816 nec Gistyl 1834 nec Lockington 1876H62
`--*A. dodecimanus Grossheim 1946H62
‘Agarites’ de Saporta 1890 non Agassiz 1841H62
`--*A. fenestratus de Saporta 1890H62
Amanlisia Lebesconte 1891H62
`--*A. simplex Lebesconte 1891H62
Amaralia Kegel 1967H75
`--*A. paulistana Kegel 1967H75
Ampelichnus Hitchcock 1865H75
|--*A. uniordinatus (Hitchcock 1858) [=Grammepus uniordinatus]H75
`--A. sulcatus Hitchcock 1865H75
Archaeorrhiza Torrell 1870H62
`--*A. tuberosa Torrell 1870H62
Archaeoscolex Matthew 1889H62
`--*A. corneus Matthew 1889H62
Archaeosphaerina Dawson 1875G79
Armelia Lebesconte 1891G79
`--*A. barrandei Lebesconte 1891G79
Atlantaia Borrello 1966H75
`--*A. argentina Borrello 1966H75
‘Beaumontia’ David 1928 nec Milne-Edwards & Haime 1851 nec Eudes-Deslongchamps 1856 [=Beaumontella (l. c.)]G79
`--*B. eckersleyi David 1928G79
Bitubulites Blumenbach 1803H62
|--*B. problematicus Blumenbach 1803H62
`--B. irregularis von Schlotheim 1820H62
Boliviana Salter 1861H62
`--*B. melocactus Salter 1861H62
Bonariensia Borrello 1966H75
`--*B. nuda Borrello 1966H75
Bucinella Fucini 1936H62
`--*B. verrucana Fucini 1936H62
Calcinema Bornemann 1886H75
`--*C. triasinum Bornemann 1886H75
Ceraospongites Mayer 1964H75
`--*C. lotzae Mayer 1964H75
Chapadamlidium Borrello 1966H75
`--*C. robustum Borrello 1966H75
Chauviniopsis de Saporta 1872H75
`--*C. pellati de Saporta 1872H75
Chordophyllites Tate 1876H62
`--C. cicatricosus Tate 1876H75
Clematischnia Wilson 1948H75
`--*C. succulens (Hall 1847) [=Buthotrephis succulens]H75
Codites von Sternberg 1833H75
`--*C. serpentinus von Sternberg 1833H75
Conchyophycus de Saporta 1872H62
`--*C. marcignyanus de Saporta 1872H62
Confervites Brongniart 1828 [=Confervides (l. c.)]H75
|--*C. thoreaeformis Brongniart 1828H62
|--C. padellae Heer 1877H75
`--C. primordialesAP68
Crenobaculus Fritsch 1908H62
`--*C. draboviensis Fritsch 1908H62
Cunicularis Hitchcock 1858H75
`--*C. retrahens Hitchcock 1858H75
Cyclopuncta Elias 1958H62
`--*C. girtyi Elias 1958H62
Dasycladites Fucini 1936H62
`--*D. subclavaeformis Fucini 1936H62
Dazeodesma Borrello 1966H75
`--*D. symmetrica Borrello 1966H75
Digitolithus Fritsch 1908H62
`--*D. rugatus Fritsch 1908H62
‘Discoidina’ Terquem & Berthelin 1875 non Stein 1850H75
`--*D. liasica Terquem & Berthelin 1875LT64
Discophycus Walcott 1883H62
`--*D. typicalis Walcott 1883H62
Dryalus Barrande 1872H62
`--*D. obscurus Barrande 1872H62
Duovestigia Butts 1891H62
`--*D. scala Butts 1891H62
Eocladophora Fucini 1936H62
`--*E. fibrata Fucini 1936H62
Eurypterella Matthew 1889H62
`--*E. ornata Matthew 1889H62
Fengtienia Endo & Resser 1937H62
`--*F. peculiaris Endo & Resser 1937H62
Flabellichnus Karaszewski 1971H75
`--*F. lewinskii Karaszewski 1971H75
Fruticristatum Webster 1920H62
`--*F. iowense Webster 1920H62
Gleichenophycus Massalongo 1884H75
`--‘Caulerpa’ lehmanni Heer 1877 [incl. *Gleichenophycus granulosus Massalongo in Capellini 1884]H75
Gordioides Fritsch 1908 (n. n.)H62
`--*G. spiralis Fritsch 1908H62
Gracilerectus Webster 1920H62
`--*G. hackberryensis Webster 1920H62
Granifer Fritsch 1908H62
`--*G. stolatus Fritsch 1908H62
Guttolithus Fritsch 1908H62
`--*G. strasseri Fritsch 1908H62
Hallimondia Casey 1961H75
`--*H. fasciculata Casey 1961H75
Hauthaleia Borrello 1966H75
`--*H. concava Borrello 1966H75
Helviensia de Lima 1895H62
`--*H. delgadoi de Lima 1895H62
Hippodophycus Hall & Whitfield 1872H62
`--*H. cowlesi Hall & Whitfield 1872H62
Hoplichnus Hitchcock 1848H75
|--*H. quadrupedans Hitchcock 1848 [=H. poledrus Hitchcock 1858; incl. Chelichnus gigas Jardine 1850]H75
`--H. equus Hitchcock 1858H75
Hylopus variabilis Matthew 1910H62
Ichnophycus Hall 1852H62
`--*I. tridactylus Hall 1852H62
Isnardia Borrello 1966H75
`--*I. aenigmatica Borrello 1966H75
‘Itieria’ de Saporta 1872 non Matheron 1842H62
Keidelasma Borrello 1966H75
`--*K. bonariensis Borrello 1966H75
Laminarites Brongniart 1828H75
|--*L. tuberculatus (Brongniart 1828) [=Fucoides tuberculatus]H62
|--L. antiquissimus Eichwald 1856H75
|--L. lagrangeiH75
`--L. pseudoichnitesH62
Laminopsis Fucini 1938H62
`--*L. insignis Fucini 1938H62
Lepidotruncus Fritsch 1908 [=Lipidotruncus (l. c.)]H75
`--*L. fortis Fritsch 1908H75
Leptophycus Fritsch 1908H75
|--*L. papyraceus (Barrande in Fritsch 1908) [=Fucoides papyraceus]H75
`--L. venosus Fritsch 1908H62
Lithodictyon Torell 1870H62
`--*L. fistulosum Torell 1870H62
Lithostachys Fischer-Ooster 1858H62
`--*L. alpina Fischer-Ooster 1858H62
Macrocystites Fucini 1936H62
`--*M. similis Fucini 1936H62
Mastocarpites Trevisan in de Zigno 1956H75
`--*M. erucaeformis (von Sternberg 1833) [=Algacites erucaeformis]H75
Micrapium Torell 1870H62
`--*M. erectum Torell 1870H62
‘Montfortia’ Lebesconte 1887 non Récluz 1843G79
Naites Geinitz 1867H62
`--*N. priscus Geinitz 1867H62
Nanopus vetustus Matthew 1910H62
Neantia Lebesconte 1887G79
`--N. rhedonensisH62
Nematolites Keeping 1882H62
`--*N. edwardsii Keeping 1882H62
Nemausina Dumas 1876 [incl. Nisea de Serres 1840 non Rafinesque 1815]H75
Nereitopsis Green 1899H62
`--*N. cornubicus Green 1899H62
Octoia Borrello 1967H75
`--*O. subandina Borrello 1967H75
Orthocaris Fritsch 1908H62
`--*O. splendens Fritsch 1908H62
Orthocerus King 1844 non Latreille 1802S64
Orthogonium Gürich 1933G79
`--*O. parallelum Gürich 1933G79
Palaeonereis Eichwald 1856H62
`--*P. prisca Eichwald 1856H62
‘Palaeonereis’ Hundt 1940 non Eichwald 1856H75
Petromonile Casey 1961H75
`--*P. benstedii (Bensted 1862) [=Siphonia benstedii, Spongites benstedii]H75
Phycoidella Matthew 1890H62
`--*P. stichidifera Matthew 1890H62
‘Platyrhynchus’ Glocker 1850 non Thunberg 1815H62
`--*P. problematicus Glocker 1850H62
‘Portelia’ Boursault 1889 non de Quatrefages 1850H62
`--*P. meunieri Boursault 1889H62
Potiria Borrello 1966H75
`--*P. trunciformis Borrello 1966H75
Protoniobia Sprigg 1949G79
`--*P. wadea Sprigg 1949G79
Protostigma Lesquereux 1878H75
`--*P. sigillarioides Lesquereux 1878H75
Pseudotaeniopteris Sze 1951H75
`--*P. piscatorius Sze 1951H75
Ptilichnus Hitchcock 1858H62
Ptychoplasma Fenton & Fenton 1937H62
`--*P. excelsum Fenton & Fenton 1937H62
Pucksia Sollas 1895H62
`--*P. machenryi Sollas 1895H62
Punctatumvestigium Butts 1891H62
`--*P. circuliformis Butts 1891H62
Quallites Fritsch 1908H75
`--*Q. graptolitarum Fritsch 1908 [=Q. problematicus Fritsch 1908]H75
Radicites Fritsch 1908 [=Radix Fritsch 1908 non Montfort 1810]H62
`--*Radix’ corrugatus Fritsch 1908 [=*Radicites rugosus Fritsch 1908]H62
Radicopsis Fucini 1938H62
Radiophyton Meunier 1887H62
`--*R. sixii Meunier 1887H62
Rhizomorpha Hernandez-Pacheco 1908 nec Roth 1791 (ICBN) nec Ach. 1809 (ICBN)H62
`--*R. calderoni Hernandez-Pacheco 1908H62
Saccophycus James 1879H62
`--*S. inortus James 1879H62
‘Saltator’ Hitchcock 1858 non Vieillot 1816H62
‘Schilleria’ Borrello 1966 nec Dahl 1907 nec Girault 1937H75
`--*S. acuta Borrello 1966H75
Shikamaia Ozaki 1968H75
`--*S. akasakaensis Ozaki 1968H75
Solicyclus Quenstedt 1879H62
Sphaerapus Hitchcock 1858 [=Sphaeropus (l. c.) non Paulet 1793 (ICBN)]H75
`--*S. larvalis Hitchcock 1858H75
‘Sphenopus’ Fritsch 1908 non Steenstrup 1856H62
`--*S. pectinatus Fritsch 1908H62
Spongolithus Fritsch 1908H62
Squamularia Rothpletz 1896H62
`--*S. cicatricosa (Heer 1877) [=Caulerpa cicatricosa]H62
Stratipes Hitchcock 1858H62
`--*S. latus Hitchcock 1858H62
Striocyclus Quenstedt 1879H62
Tandilinia Borrello 1966H75
`--*T. mesoconica Borrello 1966H75
Thinopus antiquus Marsh 1896H62
Trianisites Rafinesque 1821H62
`--*T. cliffordi Rafinesque 1821H62
Trichoides Harkness 1855H62
`--*T. ambiguus Harkness 1855H62
Tropidaulus Fenton & Fenton 1937H62
`--*T. magnus Fenton & Fenton 1937H62
Truncus Fritsch 1908H62
`--*T. ramifer Fritsch 1908H62
Valonites Sordelli 1873H62
`--*V. utriculosus Sordelli 1873H62
‘Vermiculites’ Rouault 1850 non Bronn 1848H62
`--*V. panderi Rouault 1850H62
Vucetichia Borrello 1966H75
`--*V. psamma Borrello 1966H75
‘Wellerites’ Flower 1961 non Plummer & Scott 1937H75
`--*W. gracilis Flower 1961H75
Yaravidium Borrello 1966H75
`--*Y. coniformis Borrello 1966H75
Zearamosus Webster 1920H62
`--*Z. elleria Webster 1920H62

*Type species of generic name indicated

References

[AP68] Afonin, A. I., & A. G. Pospelov. 1968. Novye dannye po stratigraphii verhnego Proterozoâ v severnoj časti Gornogo Altaâ (Katunskij Gorst). In: Selâtickij, G. A., I. P. Maksimov, Û. K. Mironov, I. M. Mârkov, N. G. Rožok, M. G. Rusakov, Û. D. Skobelev, L. D. Staroverov & A. N. Suharina (eds) Novye Dannye po Geologii i Poleznym Iskopaemym Zapadnoj Sibiri vol. 3 pp.70–76 . Izdatel’stvo Tomskogo Universiteta: Tomsk.

Blumenbach, J. F. 1803. Specimen Archaeologicae Telluris terrarumque inprimis Hannoverarum. Henricum Dieterich: Göttingen.

[G79] Glaessner, M. F. 1979. Precambrian. In: Robison, R. A., & C. Teichert (eds) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt A. Introduction. Fossilisation (Taphonomy), Biogeography and Biostratigraphy pp. A79–A118. The Geological Society of America, Inc.: Boulder (Colorado), and The University of Kansas: Lawrence (Kansas).

[H62] Häntzschel, W. 1962. Trace fossils and problematica. In: Moore, R. C. (ed.) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt W. Miscellanea: Conodonts, Conoidal Shells of Uncertain Affinities, Worms, Trace Fossils and Problematica pp. W177–W245. Geological Society of America, and University of Kansas Press.

[H75] Häntzschel, W. 1975. Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt W. Miscellanea Suppl. 1. Trace Fossils and Problematica 2nd ed. The Geological Society of America: Boulder (Colorado), and The University of Kansas: Lawrence (Kansas).

[LT64] Loeblich, A. R., Jr & H. Tappan. 1964. Sarcodina: chiefly “thecamoebians” and Foraminiferida. In: Moore, R. C. (ed.) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt C. Protista 2 vol. 2. The Geological Society of America and The University of Kansas Press.

Schlotheim, E. F. von. 1820. Die Petrefactenkunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkte durch die Beschreibung seiner Sammlung versteinerter und fossiler Überreste des Thier- und Pflanzenreichs der Vorwelt erläutert. Becker’schen Buchhandlung: Gotha.

[S64] Sweet, W. C. 1964. Nautiloidea—Orthocerida. In: Moore, R. C. (ed.) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt K. Mollusca 3. Cephalopoda—General Features—Endoceratoidea—Actinoceratoidea—Nautiloidea—Bactritoidea pp. K216–K261. The Geological Society of America and the University of Kansas Press.

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