Chapter contents:

Nature of the fossil record– 1. Body fossils and also trace fossils ←– 2. The procedure of fossilization– 3. Types of fossil preservation– 4. Completeness that the fossil record

Body fossils

Body fossils are the stays of the body components of old animals, plants, and also other life forms. Lock tell united state something around the illustration of ancient life forms.

You are watching: Fossils such as footprints burrows and droppings

Body fossil example 1

A wall surface of huge dinosaur skeleton (permineralized remains) native the Jurassic duration on screen at Dinosaur national Monument, Colorado. The fossil skeletal of big vertebrates like dinosaurs are only really rarely uncovered connected, or articulated. Typically, they space not found attached come each other (i.e., they are disarticulated), as is the situation here. This calls for the researchers who study the skeleton to do interpretations about how the bones could have to the right together as soon as the pet was alive. As brand-new scientific discoveries are made, reconstructions of separation, personal, instance dinosaur varieties often change, requiring museums to rebuild their specimens ~ above display and also artists to create brand-new illustrations.


Jurassic dinosaur bones maintained on a normally uplifted, virtually vertical wall surface at Dinosaur nationwide Monument, Colorado. Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This work is license is granted under a an imaginative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 global License.

Body fossil instance 2

A fossilized sheet from the Eocene-aged green River formation (preserved together a carbonization). Since of the fantastic quality of preservation, little imagination is required to rebuild the appearance of the once-living leaf. This specimen is on display screen at the Utah field House of natural History in Vernal, Utah.


A carbonized fossil plant leaf (likely from a sycamore or airplane tree) native the Eocene environment-friendly River formation (on display screen at the Utah field House of organic History, Vernal, Utah). Photo by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This job-related is license is granted under a creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 global License.

Body fossil example 3:

An assemblage the well-preserved fossil Turritella snail shells native the Miocene-aged Gatun formation of Panama, reflecting unaltered preservation, despite being end 10 million years old.


Assemblage that fossil Turritella snail shells from the Miocene Gatun formation of Panama. Picture by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This work-related is licensed under a an imaginative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international License.

Trace fossils

Trace fossils (sometimes also called ichnofossils) carry out evidence about the movements and/or tasks of old organisms, however not necessarily around their appearance.There room three major types:

Movement traces.Predation traces.Digestive traces.
1. Activity traces

As their name implies, motion trace fossils phone call us about how ancient animals moved within your habitats. It is straightforward to grasp why such fossils are so valuable for understanding old life.

Consider the footprints you might leave behind as you go on a sandy coast or v the snow. While castle don’t reveal much around your illustration (besides the basic size and shape that the bottom of her foot or shoe), they disclose the direction you to be moving, even if it is you to be traveling alone or in a group, and also carry out clues around whether you were walking (footprints close together) or running (footprints further apart).

Dinosaur footprints carry out the finest examples of motion trace fossils and administer paleontologists v the very same kinds of hints that human footprints do.


Jurassic-aged dinosaur footprints on screen in Snee hall on the Cornell college campus. This were collected from Connecticut or Massachusetts. Photo by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This work-related is licensed under a an innovative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international License.

Discoveries the dinosaur footprints and trackways–left behind in soft sediment that later on turned to rock–are not altogether rarely and brand-new discoveries are made regularly. For example, a massive footprint left behind through a titanosaur was recently found in the Gobi Desert.

Not all motion trace fossils space footprints, however. Other types of motion traces incorporate the trails and also burrows left behind by animals in the sediment before it hardened. Sediments the were heavily mixed by burrowing organisms prior to turning to rock are said to it is in bioturbated. Together bioturbated rocks typically lack carefully preserved layers; the absence of together layers is sometimes an indication because that geologists the the sediments were well oxygenated, thus enabling animals to crawl v them.

The specimen shown listed below is a common form of movement trace fossil called Zoophycos. The pet (likely a worm) the made the trace probably resided in a burrow near the position shown by the arrow. The clockwise swirling currently may suggest the sweeping movements of a feeding structure that gathered food native the sediment.


A specimen that the activity trace fossil Zoophycos from the collection of the Paleontological research study Institution, Ithaca, new York. Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This work-related is license is granted under a an imaginative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 worldwide License.

2. Feeding traces

Feeding trace fossils are usually predatory in nature. They space important because they provide a record of ancient ecological interactions between species, and indicate exactly how these interactions may have adjusted over time.

Some modern-day snails, especially naticids and muricids, assault their food (usually bivalves or other snails) by first drilling holes right into their shells. Paleontologists typically find comparable holes in fossil shells, allowing them come assume the the exact same kinds of predators made the feet in the past. This assumption is bolstered by the truth that the shells of the predators themselves are often found in the same deposits.

Left: a fossil specimen of the bivalve Eucrassatella speciosa (PRI 70053) showing a drill hole made by a predatory snail. Right: a fossil naticid snail, Naticarius plicatella (PRI 70044). This species, or a carefully related species, most likely made the drill hole presented on the bivalve. Both fossils were discovered in the same deposit (Tamiami Formation, Pinecrest beds of Florida), saying that they mutual the very same ecosystem. Image by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This occupational is licensed under a creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 worldwide License.

Crabs are likewise important predators that snails and also bivalves in naval ecosystems. They usage their an effective claws to break the shells of their prey. Their strikes are not always successful in killing their prey, however. In part cases, the shell of the food is damaged, yet is later repaired together it recovers native the attack. Proof of such strikes are commonly preserved as jagged, high-relief scars that cut across normal lines of growth.

A fossil cone snail shell showing three various sets that scars left by fail predatory strikes by crabs. We know that the snail made it through each assault because brand-new shell was added after the break mark. Such feeding map fossils are known as "repair scars." This shell is a specimen of Conus spurius and was accumulated from the Tamiami development (Pinecrest Beds) that Florida (PRI 70043). Photo by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This work is license is granted under a an imaginative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 global License.

3. Digestive traces

Digestive trace fossils consist of fossilized excrement. These fossils are scientifically known as coprolites. 

Coprolites room scientifically useful because they occasionally tell paleontologists what types of food ancient organisms were eating. Because that example, some huge Cretaceous coprolites contain fragments of dinosaur bone, suggesting that the excrement was produced by a big meat eating dinosaur.

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A coprolite specimen native the Oligocene the Clark County, Oregon (collections the the Paleontological research study Institution). Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks.  This job-related is license is granted under a an imaginative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international License.