It isn't the lifestyles of the rich and famous that University of Cincinnati geologist David Meyer is concerned about, but Meyer's efforts to understand the lifestyles of the ten-armed fossil crinoid, Uintacrinus, did send him globe-trotting this year. His work took him to several locations in Germany, to the badlands of Kansas, and to the sagebrush country of Colorado.
One of his collaborators, Clare Milsom of Liverpool John Moores University will present the latest findings from their field work at the British Paleontological Association meeting in Portsmouth, England, Thursday, Dec. 17.
Meyer and Milsom are searching for evidence that will support or refute the hypothesis that Uintacrinus could float - a rather staggering feat considering its size and the fact that there simply never has been a crinoid known that could float. Crinoids are invertebrates related to sea stars and sea urchins.
"You've got a very strange case here," said Meyer. "They're basically a plated, shelly creature that's heavier than water. It has no known flotation devices, so the burden of proof is on someone who says they did float."
Alternately, some have argued that Uintacrinus stayed afloat by treading water with its long, spaghetti-like arms. Meyer can't accept that explanation. "In truth, the crinoid animal doesn't have the energy resources to keep treading water indefinitely. I've studied them. My knowledge of living crinoids has been very helpful here. Living crinoids that are able to swim don't swim constantly. They only do it in short bursts."
Uintacrinus lived in dense mats in the shallow seas during the Cretaceous about
85 million years ago. Classic fossil finds include several table-sized slabs
with hundreds of organisms intertwined in an odd spoke-like pattern. Typically,
marine fossils are preserved lined up in parallel rows when a storm or currents
smother them in sediment. The spoke-like pattern is unique to Uintacrinus and a
real puzzle to Mey
Contact: Christine Curran
University of Cincinnati