Among the most abundant and aesthetically varied fossils are the ammonites. These shelled marine mollusks are related to living cephalopods such as octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. With a fossil record that spans the globe and the Devonian through Cretaceous periods (408 – 66 million years ago), ammonites were very successful animals, evolving into a range of sizes, habitats, and shell morphologies. Their long evolutionary history ended 66 million years ago, in the same mass extinction that eliminated non-avian dinosaurs and many other animals and plants.
Ammonites are very useful for determining the age of the rocks in which they occur, with different shell morphologies occurring only in certain slices of time. For example, in previous posts, I have discussed Cretaceous dinosaurs from New Mexico. Although we don’t yet know the exact age of the Menefee Formation, the rock layer in which the dinosaur fossils occur, we do know that they must be older than 78.5 million years because the rocks right above the Menefee contain an ammonite called Baculites perplexus, which is tied to an age of about 78.5 million years old.
In today’s photo are four fossil ammonite shells, each representing a different species. These shells were donated to the Western Science Center and come from Tarrant County, Texas. Dating to around 105 million years ago, these ammonites lived in the early history of a shallow saltwater sea that covered much of the interior of North America during the Late Cretaceous. You can see these four ammonites and the fossils of many other prehistoric sea creatures in the Western Science Center’s new temporary exhibit, “Life in the Ancient Seas”.