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The Invertebrate Paleontology department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (LACMIP) houses fossils of animals that lack a backbone (non-vertebrates), such as arthropods (e.g., crabs and shrimps), molluscs (e.g., clams and snails), echinoderms (e.g., sand dollars and sear urchins, and corals. The Invertebrate Paleontology department also houses collections of ichnofossils (traces of previously living organisms), which may include track ways, burrows, borings, and coprolites (fecal pellets). Invertebrates comprise 95% of Earth’s biodiversity and include about 30 different phyla, and occur throughout most of Earth’s geological history. Invertebrate fossils are very useful in many types of scientific study, such as determining the correlation and order of rock layers (stratigraphy), dating of rocks (biostratigraphy), and reconstruction of ancient environments. In addition, these fossils are used to help classify and establish the relationships among ancient life.
The LACMIP collections are the third largest in the country, with an estimated 6-10 million specimens. These collections span the Phanerozoic, but represent the world’s largest collection of Cretaceous-Cenozoic mollusks from the Pacific Rim. The collection has grown through a century of research by NHMLA staff, but has a long history of adopting orphaned collections, including former collections from the California Institute of Technology, California State University Northridge, University of California Los Angeles, and University of Southern California.
We are presently developing new database tools that will enable greater exploration and discovery of these collections. Our existing database contains information on almost 30,000 fossil invertebrate localities and nearly 1 million specimens. Our type collections of 11,000 specimens are also included in the database. Cataloging is an on-going process, and we add new information daily. The database currently holds hundreds of digital images of specimens, in addition to maps, photographs, and pertinent field notes have been scanned and included for many collecting localities. Check out our summary of stratigraphic and geographic coverage in the database. A formation-level inventory can be found here. The initial database development and cataloging efforts were funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to digitize NHMLA’s extensive holdings of Pleistocene fossils from the West Coast of North America.
Austin joined the Department in 2014. He earned a Doctoral Degree in Geology from the University of Cincinnati, studying Cenozoic molluscan (e.g., clams and snails) biodiveristy and biogeography. He is presently investigating the biogeography and paleoecology of fossil molluscs of the tropical Americas (Panama, Colombia, Venezuela).
Jann joined the Department in 2014 as the Twila Bratcher Chair of Malacological Research, before becoming Assistant Curator of Malacology and Invertebrate Paleontology in 2015. She studies the evolutionary biology and systematics of marine whelks in the gastropod family Buccinidae, marine sea slugs called sacoglossans, and (more recently) terrestrial gastropods of Southern California.
This specimen of the Late Cretaceous ammonite Pachydiscus catarinae Anderson and Hanna, 1935, is from Point Loma in San Diego County. It was collected in 1975 by Museum staff from a rocky beach at the foot of steep shoreline cliffs. The ammonite was contained in a concretion weighing over 500 pounds and required a helicopter to lift it off the beach. For more information on the "Flying Ammonite", click here.
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