News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Aug. 8, 2006
Sharks' teeth and mammoths may be among the better known fossils from Kansas, but the remains of pint-sized animals, such as clams, corals, and insects, are easier to spot and just as fascinating, according to the author of a new book on invertebrate fossils published by the Kansas Geological Survey.
Invertebrate creatures are those without backbones. In "Windows to the Past--A Guidebook to Common Invertebrate Fossils of Kansas," author Liz Brosius shows why Kansas is a hot spot for invertebrate fossils and how they play an indispensable role in unraveling the state's prehistory.
"The world of invertebrate fossils is every bit as interesting as the world of vertebrate fossils, and they're much easier to find and identify," Brosius said. "Invertebrate fossils help explain what life was like in the past--65 million years ago or 350 million years ago. They tell stories, and stories are a good way to learn science."
What many of the fossils featured in the book reveal is that the region now known as Kansas was covered several times with shallow seas and tropical swamps, where animals with backbones were far outnumbered by those without. Fortunately for fossil hunters, conditions in those watery environments were favorable for transforming animal remains into relics.
Despite having no backbone, the invertebrates with the best shot at fossilization did have hard body parts, usually shells. That's why, as Brosius points out, we find more clams than worms in the fossil record. Still, remains from some fairly fragile insects have been discovered in the state. The sheer number of insects increased the chance that some would be preserved, particularly the ones who sank quickly in shallow water--a likely scenario in Kansas.
"We don't have dramatic dinosaurs here, but we do have spectacular dragonfly fossils--one with a 29-inch wing span," Brosius said. "It's the largest known fossil insect in the world, and it's from Kansas."
"Windows to the Past" is designed as a general introduction for anyone interested in the fossils of Kansas, from young adults on up. It can be used as a teaching aid for understanding the main classes of invertebrate fossils or as a general fossil-hunting guide. It is not intended as an identification manual for the thousands of invertebrate fossils in Kansas, but it is chock-full of full-color photographs and drawings and provides a good sampling of each class of fossil, from the horseshoe-crab-like trilobites to the grain-like fusulinids, from sponges to snails. Other topics explored in the book include mass extinction, the formation of fossil-friendly sedimentary rock, geologic time, and the many obstacles to becoming a fossil.
Brosius, who wrote the book when she was assistant editor at the Kansas Geological Survey, is now executive director of the Kansas Energy Council. The book is the first non-technical guide to Kansas invertebrate fossils in more than 30 years.
"Windows to the Past" is available from the Kansas Geological Survey, 1930 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3726 (or phone 785-864-3965). The cost is $10.00, plus $3.00 for handling and postage. Kansas residents should call for specific sales tax owed. More information about KGS books, map, and other products is available at the Survey's web site (www.kgs.ku.edu).