Mistaken Point – 150 things about Canadian palaeo, part 13

This 150 things about Canadian palaeontology post is going to focus on the most recent fossil-related UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canada – Mistaken Point, Newfoundland and Labrador. Starting at 94/150:

94. Mistaken Point, on the island of Newfoundland, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, just last year. It was first discovered in 1967, and it’s significance to palaeontology wasn’t realised until the 1980’s when it was declared an ecological reserve.

95. The fossils from Mistaken Point are from the Ediacaran, approximately 571-560 million years ago, and represent some of the earliest large-bodied fossils in the world. They are all of marine origin, representing organisms that lived on the ocean floor, and are completely different from organisms alive today, making them difficult to understand. This time period is essential to understanding the evolution of early plants and animals.

96. These fossils are impressions of soft-bodied organisms made in mudstone, rather than actual fossils, which preserve a significant amount of detail about the outside of these animals.

97. There are 2 significant bedding planes at Mistaken Point, the ‘D surface’, and the ‘E surface’, which both contain thousands of fantastically preserved fossils. These surfaces are where a significant amount of information about Ediacaran life is known.

‘E Surface at Mistaken Point. Note the many fossils present in this image. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

98. Fractofusus, one of the first fossils discovered at Mistaken Point in 1967 by S. B. Misra, is a spindle-shaped organism called a rangeomorph, and has a unique branching system with several orders of branching, which gives it it’s ‘fractal’ name. It is found only in Newfoundland, and have been identified as fungi, algae, cnidarians, and many other things, making them very interesting.

Fractofusus from Mistaken Point. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

99. One commonly found fossil is Charniodiscus, another frond-like organism known as an arboreomorph. They may be related to rangeomorphs, but they don’t have the characteristic fractal pattern.

The frond-shape in the middle is Charniodiscus, found at ‘Seilacher Corner’ on Mistaken Point, one of the best preserved areas on this surface. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

100. There are also non-frond-like organisms, such as this simple-looking Thectardiswhich was presumably some kind of cone-shaped organism in life. It has been suggested that it was some kind of sponge-like animal. It is a commonly found fossil at Mistaken Point, and is endemic to this region, being found nowhere else in the world.

Thectardis from Pigeon Cove, Mistaken Point Ecological Preserve. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

101. The oldest trace fossil described also comes from Mistaken Point, and is 565 million years old. The largest trace found is 17 cm long, and was thought to be made by some kind of cnidarian (a group that includes jellyfish and corals).

Oldest known trace fossil from Mistaken Point. Trace can be seen as a kind of track going towards the left in the bottom half of the image. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

102. Although not actually from Mistaken Point, and less well-known, the Bonavista Peninsula of Newfoundland also has a number of fantastic Ediacaran fossils, such as Beothukis, another rangeomorph named after the local indigenous Beothuk people.

Beothukis from Bonavista Peninsula. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

103. Another great Bonavista fossil is Haootia, thought to be another cnidarian of some kind. Haootia is extremely significant as it appears to represent the first fossilised muscle tissue, with the twisted nature seen in the specimen thought to represent muscle fibre bundles. Although originally left in the field, the holotype now resides in the Room’s Museum in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Type specimen of Haootia. Image copyright Frankie Dunn.

And that is some of the interesting stuff from Canada’s newest fossil-related UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mistaken Point! If you want to learn more about the Ediacaran and Mistaken Point, check out this awesome website, Ediacaran.org by some UK researchers, including my friend Frankie Dunn, who kindly supplied me with lots of info and photographs from this post, so thanks very much to her for helping me out. We’ve broken the 100 barrier!

The series:

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: The Burgess Shale

Part 3: Early Canadian Palaeontologists

Part 4: Canadian Fossil Names

Part 5: Dinosaur Provincial Park

Part 6: Marine Fossils

Part 7: Current Canadian Palaeos (1)

Part 8: Dinosaur Fossil Localities

Part 9: Palaeontology Museums

Part 10: Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Part 11: Significant Canadian Fossils

Part 12: Current Canadian Palaeos (2)

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