Minibeasts of Dudley

This is an extract from the newsletter of The ‘Black Country Geological Society‘, No. 201 June 2010. This was part of the regular section entitled ‘The Dudley Bug’ written by members Alison Roberts and Chris Broughton.

Last summer a number of different research opportunities arose at Dudley Museum. They began last spring when Graham Worton spent a few days down the Step Shaft Mine collecting samples of the stratigraphy every 25cm. This included limestone’s, clays and bentonites (rotted down volcanic ash). But that was only the beginning. The summer saw the development of the museum’s new Geoteam who spent hour after hour processing samples. This process involved sieving the bentonite samples into separate fractions, leaving them to dry and then methodically picking through each one with a paintbrush under the microscope. To begin with this was difficult but once we got our eyes in we were about to discover some very interesting things.

A Scolecodont microfossil, 106 microns

In July, I (Chris) was picking through a sample when I came across something I had never seen before. I got quite excited and called Graham up to have a look, who too got very excited! But what had we found? Neither of us had seen anything like it before. After a little more research we have discovered a new species of microfossil. This was a jaw-like object measuring around a tenth of a millimetre (106μm). This has since been taken to the University of Birmingham, to Professor Paul Smith. Paul Smith was unable to identify the specimen, indicating that this is completely new to science with very little literature available on it. The fossil has subsequently been found to be a new species of Scolecodont. This specimen belongs to a segmented worm (similar to present day ragworms) that lived in the sediment, and was equipped with claws and jaws to process its prey. In bentonite layers other new specimens have been found by Graham Worton which are claw-like pincers with around 3 million years between them (evidence for evolution?).

As well as microfossils, zircon crystals which measure up to 2mm in length have been found within the bentonites. These are used for dating and have been sent off to a lab for testing. This will give the first precise international stratigraphic date for the Wenlock – Ludlow Series, which will be based at the Wrens Nest. Due to their large size, we know that the volcano producing the ash that formed the bentonites wasn’t too far from the Wrens Nest. Research indicates that the volcano was at Cheltenham (information found by Graham Worton).

Other treasures unique to Dudley which were also found down the Step Shaft, are dog-tooth spar calcite stalactites and hair-like calcite tube stalagmites <1mm thick. Both are not known anywhere else in the world at present. So as you can see this is a very exciting time for the Geology at the Wrens Nest! We would like to thank Graham Worton for his guidance and work on the samples.

Chris Broughton
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

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