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July-August 2011

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Media Review: July/August 2011

Eurypterids Illustrated: The Search for Prehistoric Sea Scorpions by Samuel J. Ciurca Jr. PaleoResearch, Rochester, N.Y. ( 30 pages; 2010; $12, plus $2 shipping and handling (softbound).

Eurypterids Illustrated is a fascinating little book that delights in concentrating on a relatively narrow subject: the Silurian-aged fossil sea scorpions of New York State and Ontario. In this case, one can judge a book by its cover because the complete eurypterid facing the reader before opening the book is an accurate indicator of the contents. Samuel Ciurca enthusiastically likes eurypterids—he says that, and it's obvious.

This 30-page book is principally a black-and-white photographic record of Ciurca's most interesting, well-preserved, and rarest fossil specimens of various eurypterid species from the Silurian of New York and adjacent Canada. Some of these fossils are now housed in various museums. Each photo or group of photos is accompanied by scientific names, stratigraphy, localities, and many specimen- or species-specific comments. Discovery tales are included for some of the more unusual fossil finds. Citations to the technical literature are given in many places.

Fossil enthusiasts not familiar with eurypterids or fossil arthropods can examine a line drawing on page ii that has some of the major morphological features labeled. It should have been a bit more thorough. Several anatomical terms used in the book (carapace, chelicerae, ramus/rami, coxa, ommatidia, exuviae) are not defined or indicated on the labeled line drawing, which might be a bit confusing to the nonspecialist.

Most of the first 25 pages illustrate and discuss individual eurypterid species, one at a time, both common and rare. The photos and accompanying captions are generally decent; however, once in a while, I wish there had a been a black arrow or something to indicate where on the photograph a particular feature was located. The spinose pincers of the pterygotid eurypterids are fascinating and scary-looking at the same time. Ciurca mentions and illustrates fossil evidence indicating that some eurypterids reached giant sizes, up to 10 feet long. A striking, 4-foot-long, nearly complete specimen is illustrated; the slab is shown upright, next to him, and the fossil is two-thirds his height! Ciurca even found a pterygotid eurypterid pincer that was 1 foot long—the “Great Claw,” which gets an entire page of the book.

Other fossils associated with eurypterids are mentioned and illustrated, including “algae,” cephalopods, true scorpions (cool!), and organisms that encrusted the eurypterid exoskeleton. Eurypterid remains within mudcracks are dealt with on one page (I love such obscure geologic finds). Some eurypterids from outside the New York State area are also treated, including specimens from the Silurian of Ukraine and Scotland.

The last several pages of the book include figures and descriptions of the eurypterid biostratigraphy of New York State and Ontario, the major eurypterid-bearing stratigraphic units (nice and very welcome, but this should have been near the beginning of the book), and a map showing some of the important localities (also should have been at the beginning). The term waterlime is used throughout the book, especially in these stratigraphic unit descriptions, as a common and a proper noun. Nowhere is it defined. I'm a paleontologist and soft-rock geologist, and it took me a while to figure out what waterlime means. It's not a lithologic term or an academic geology term; it appears to refer to a rock having industrial use as a starting material for making cement. All the eurypterid-bearing specimens that Ciurca mentions as being in waterlime are actually in fine-grained dolostone. The biostratigraphic chart uses different symbols for dolostone and waterlime, which I find really confusing.

The last page talks about Ciurca's eurypterid websites where he has posted information and photographs. He laudably encourages all fossil collectors to keep careful records and to arrange for the eventual donation of quality specimens to willing museums of their choice. The back cover has color photos of Ciurca in the field at significant eurypterid localities.

This book appears to be targeted at fossil enthusiasts, but it would have been improved a bit by having an editor or another paleontologist review it prior to publication. Some abbreviations are never explained, several morphologic terms are not defined, and a couple geologic terms are misused.

Eurypterids Illustrated is a different kind of fossil reference. I welcome the willingness of Ciurca, a lifelong fossil collector, to photodocument his best-of-the-best specimens and share them with us. I hope this book inspires other collectors to do likewise. All would be welcome—trilobites of Nevada, fish of Wyoming, shells of Florida, to suggest a few. Seeing more of the immensely rich fossil record would be enlightening to everyone, from beginners to professionals. I learned something about eurypterids with this book. I got excited by eurypterids. I recommend it to fossil collectors, geology students, and educators.

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