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Big Squid Hunt: Kraken up in Kansas

July 18, 2012

After two and a half days on the road, the big squid hunt had finally arrived in Quinter, Kansas. Dan and I were excited to be back in Kansas, the site of last year’s big squid hunt’s big success. The geology here is very different from that of North Dakota and Manitoba. Up there we were in black shale, the Pierre Formation, with outcrops that had very limited exposures, usually road cuts. Down here in Kansas we are in the badlands with miles and miles of exposures of whitish chalk, the Niobrara Formation. Time to get Kraken!

Photo of the Niobrara Formation

Our field area in Kansas. The Niobrara Formation

We had two days in the chalk with our colleague from the Sternberg Museum. Within a half hour of day one we knew something was fishy in Kansas. We found various pieces of vertebrae, jaws or caudal fins of four different types of fish, including something called a plethodid fish. I am not a vertebrate paleontologist, but looking at the bones in the ground, I’m convinced exploded fish would be a more apt name. There were a lot of fish parts which was a nice change from the mosasaur parts we saw up north.

Photo of plethodid fish bones

Plethodid fish bones looking more like exploded fish bones

Because, we knew he’d appreciate them, we bagged and tagged several bones to bring back to Vince Schneider, the NC Museum’s Curator of Paleontology. By the time we’d excavated the last caudal fin, it was apparent that the 100 degree temperatures were getting the better of us. It was time to get off the chalk before someone got hurt.

Photo of a caudal fin of a large fish

Caudal (tail) fin of a large fish

Day two took us to a new site slightly higher up in the chalk. About an hour and a half into our search, seeing nothing but misleading large bivalves (Volviceramus) and of course fish parts, I turned to Dan to say I haven’t seen anything squid-like.

Photo of a large broken clam

Large clam, Volviceramus

Then I saw it…glinting distinctively in the sunlight. WE GOT KRAKEN!!! It didn’t look like much at first, just the end of a small rachis, the stick-like part of the pen. Dan got to digging and it kept going further back into the chalk. He’d exposed approximately six inches of the rachis, we had a plan for the final extraction, when…oops… once again one of layers containing the squid broke…Dang! The good news is: this will save me having to prep the squid out in the lab, we have plenty of pieces for chemical analysis and we know we have the full pen. The bad news is: it doesn’t look pretty or much like a squid pen.

Photo of exposing the squid pen

Dan exposes the squid pen

So the fieldwork portion of the big squid hunt ends with a squid pen, exactly the way all squid hunts should end. This is the second complete squid pen Dan and I have found in the chalk over the past two years and both times we managed to crack the Krakens. Maybe the third time will be the charm and we’ll finally manage to extract one without busting it. But that will have to wait. We travel to Boulder, Colorado tomorrow for an afternoon of sampling squid from their collection.

Stay tuned for the final installment.

Photo of a broken squid pen

Pieces of the pen after we accidentally broke it

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 18, 2012 1:06 pm

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs and commented:

    By Trish Weaver

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