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WANTED! Have You Seen These (Trace) Fossils?

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The study of fossils and past life is called Paleontology. Fossils are evidence of plant and animal life in the geologic past and they form in may ways. The most common fossils found in West Virginia were formed by molds, casts, and mineral replacement. Fossils formed by animals tend to be lumped into categories of ''body fossils'' or ''trace fossils.'' As the names imply, body fossils were formed from all or part of the animal itself, and trace fossils, also called ichnofossils, are the tracks, trails, burrows, feces, and feeding traces of animals. Certain fossils can be important indicators to help geologists pinpoint the geologic time and perhaps even the specific formation they are observing. Some of the more unusual (and sometimes helpful) trace fossils we find in West Virginia include those shown below and here.
As part of ongoing research here at the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, we are trying to determine the identity and stratigraphic range of these interesting fossils. We are extremely interested in hearing from anyone who has seen these fossils, especially from older or younger rocks or from other locations. Photos and specific locality information are welcome. Please contact Dr. Ron McDowell, Senior Research Geologist at WVGES, at


Bifungites image
Here are some examples of the distinctive, arrow-shaped trace fossil Bifungites sp., first described in 1940 from Late Devonian rocks in the Libyan desert. All of the photographed fossils were collected along US 33, east of Elkins, WV. This modified burrow is thought to have been produced by a marine organism, most probably a worm or worm-like animal. Thus far, our only examples of Bifungites come from Upper Devonian shales of the Foreknobs Formation in eastern West Virginia and western Virginia.
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Pteridichnites biseriatus

Bifungites image
On the left is a scan of the type specimen of the trace fossil Pteridichnites biseriatus (from Clarke, J. M. and Swartz, C. K., 1913, Systematic paleontology of the Upper Devonian deposits of Maryland, Maryland Geological Survey, Devonian Plates, Plate XLVI), along with two recent photos of Pteridichnites biseriatus collected along US 33 east of Elkins, WV. This track is thought (by WVGES) to have been produced by a marine organism, most probably a brittle starfish. Thus far, we have only found Pteridichnites mostly in Upper Devonian shales of the Brallier Formation, and less commonly in the Scherr, and Foreknobs formations in eastern West Virginia and western Virginia. In parts of WV, it is almost an index fossil for the Brallier Formation.
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fossil image
Shown here are several examples of Phycosiphon? sp., a distinctive trace fossil first encountered in the summer of 2011 from the lower portion of the Mississippian Price Formation (formerly Pocono). The fossil has been found north of Clover Lick, WV and in two locations near Marlinton, WV. This trace fossil appears to be a series of three-dimensional, unbranching tubes that have been actively backfilled with very fine-grained material, probably a combination of clay and organic phosphate (fecal matter). In some instances, fill material is bleached white or light grey; in others, it is black or dark orange when replaced by limonite (Fe2O3). The size, shape, and colour of examples of Phycosiphon? found in the Price often resemble a mass of angel hair pasta. In all photos, the coin is 3 cm in diameter. This trace appears to be a sediment-feeding trace and is thought to have been produced by a marine organism, most probably a worm or worm-like animal. Thus far, examples come from lower portion of the latest Devonian-Early Mississippian Price Formation in eastern West Virginia.
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Troy Dettinburn of Keyser found these interesting and unknown specimens in the Keyser, West Virginia area. They would be of Devonian or Silurian age. Some have suggested it is an ichnofossil (trace fossil), perhaps Conichnus?, a burrow filling of some sort, or possibly a coral or sponge. We invite your thoughts and comments.
Unknown Fossil 1
Unknown Fossil 6
3 Unknown Fossil
2 Unknown Fossil
4 Unknown Fossil
5 Unknown Fossil
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Unknown Trace Fossil

Unknown Trace Fossil image
This is one example of a distinctive trace fossil discovered in the upper portion of the Devonian Millboro Shale (Harrell equivalent). The fossil was found along WV 92, southeast of Dunmore, WV. This trace fossil is preserved on the bottom of a silty shale layer; the coin is 3 cm in diameter. Also shown is a sketch reconstruction of how the trace fossil may have appeared when intact. This trace appears to be a variation of a typical ''u-shaped'' dwelling burrow and is thought to have been produced by a marine organism, most probably a worm or worm-like animal. Thus far, our sole example comes from Middle Devonian Millboro Shale in eastern West Virginia.
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Do you have a West Virginia fossil question? Then please contact Dr. Ron McDowell.

Page last revised January 20, 2022.
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WVGES address   WV Geological & Economic Survey
1 Mont Chateau Road
Morgantown, WV 26508
Phone: (304) 594-2331
Fax: (304) 594-2575
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