Club Corner: Getting to Know the North America Research Group

by MacKenzie Smith, Bruce Thiel, and David Ellingson

What is now a 501(c)(3) organization with 106 members, the North America Research Group (NARG) started in 2004 as five collectors wanting to form something that would help the field of paleontology. Our mission is, “To encourage responsible stewardship of Earth’s paleontological resources; to promote scientific research, communication and public education.” Our club meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, Hillsboro, Oregon at 7:00 pm. There are three main outreach events that we attend or organize each year. They are the Fossil Fest at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (Newport, OR) in February, the Northwest Fossil Fest hosted by NARG at the Rice Museum in August, and the Portland Regional Gem and Mineral Show in Hillsboro, OR in August. Each year we organize several field trips around Oregon and Washington. We are the only fossil group in Oregon and have members primarily from Oregon and Washington, but also have members from other states and countries. Our members are currently engaged in a variety of projects: documenting Paleogene molluscan fauna of the Willamette Valley, documenting Pleistocene fauna of the Yamhill River, collaborating with researchers at the University of Florida with describing the flora of the Menagerie Wilderness, bringing paleontology to the K-12 classroom, helping the accession of a collection with the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and preparing fossils in front of the public and teaching students fossil preparation at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I became a member in December of 2005 and have seen the club grow, and I think I can safely say that the founding five members achieved their original goal.

As a research assistant on the FOSSIL Project and a board member of NARG, I am proud to present two articles written by our members that reflect what we do as a club. The first article, written by Bruce Thiel, highlights some of NARG’s contributions to science. Bruce specializes in crabs and is a superb preparator who has collaborated with Dr. Rodney Feldmann at Kent State in Ohio. The second article is written by Dave Ellingson, a science teacher at Woodburn High School. Dave discusses one of NARG’s outreach components and how he brings paleontology to his students. Enjoy! For more information about our group you can visit our website at www.nargpaleo.org or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nargpaleo. –MacKenzie Smith

NARG excavation group Photo © Greg Carr
NARG excavation group Photo © Greg Carr

Scientific Contributions by NARG Members

by Bruce Thiel

Ten members of the North America Research Group (NARG), a 100+ member fossil club based in Hillsboro, Oregon, have found or identified several new fossil species and/or genera or have had a new species named after them.

A recent fossil lobster found by NARG member Bob Manley highlights the importance of discoveries made by amateurs and fossil club members. We should note the finds and contributions fossil club members have made to science whenever someone proposes new rules to restrict fossil collecting on public lands.  With this in mind, Bob is the tenth NARG member to have discovered, described or have a new genus or species named after him/her.

Finds and descriptions by the ten NARG members or former members include:

  • In 1973 a green lacewing insect was found by Gregg Wilson at Republic, WA named Adamsochrysa wilsoni after him and published in the Journal of Paleontology V87, No. 1 [1].
  • A cancer crab from the Olympic Peninsula was found by Seattle member David Starr, named Metacarcinus starri published in 1996 [2] and the oldest record for the dogwood family, Suciacarpa starri, a new genus and species which was found by David and described by Brian Atkinson, Oregon State University, in 2016 [3].
  • The wing of a new species of scorpionfly, Cimbrophlebia westae, was found by Joanne West in Republic, Washington in 2009. It was described and published by Bruce Archibald in Zootaxa 2249: 51-62 (2009) [4]. C. westae, along with three other species from the Early Eocene Okanagan Highlands are the first occurrences of the extinct family Cimbrophlebiidae from the Western Hemisphere.
  • A Jurassic seed cone was found in Eastern Oregon by Greg Carr–named after him and called Pararaucaria carrii in 2013 [5]. Bernie the thalattosaur, also found by Greg Carr, will also undoubtedly be a new addition to the fossil record once it is described and published [6].
  • A crocodile was found in Eastern Oregon by Andrew Bland with the species named after NARG called Zoneait nargorum [7].  Andrew also led a NARG expedition to Coos Bay, OR, in 2007, to recover a Miocene whale skull that has not yet been studied or identified.
  • A new species of Cretaceous fern from British Columbia named Osmundacaulis whittlesii was identified and described by MacKenzie Smith, Drs. Gar Rothwell and Ruth Stockey in 2015 [8].
  • A thorough description of a Pliocene deer Bretzia pseudalces, by Eric Gustafson, published in 2015 by U of O.  Originally found by Eric and a co-collector which they described earlier, Eric recently compiled a very thorough analysis and detailed description of its osteology and biology [9].
  • A new genus & species of flightless penguin-like bird named Olympidytes thieli found by Bruce Thiel and published by Gerald Mayr in 2016 [10].
  • A crab found by Greg Carr and later named in memory of Bill Sullivan called Macrocheira sullivani also published in 2016 [11].
  • A fossil lobster named Scyllarella manleyi, from SW Oregon found by Robert Manley was recently described in 2017, by Drs. Feldmann and Schweitzer as a new species [12].

This list does not include the numerous finds by amateur collector and NARG advisor Jim Goedert who has 18 genera/species named after him or his wife, Gail, with two more waiting for publication.  Jim has also found several other fossils that he gave to researchers that were given other names and currently has over 100 publications in which he was an author or co-author.  Jim and David Starr were also responsible for discovering the first dinosaur in Washington State, after finding a piece of tyrannosauroid leg bone on Sucia Island and bringing it to the attention of the Burke Museum.

NARG members Tim Fisher and Greg Carr also made an important contribution with their find of early saber-tooth salmon bones and articulated vertebrae.  They brought it to the attention of the University of Oregon Condon Collection, which excavated the site and removed two fish skulls which show a new arrangement of the saber teeth, sticking out sideways, perpendicular to the skull, different from the earlier original described format for the salmon, which showed them as frontal, and downward facing.

  1. Makarkin, V. N., & Archibald, S. B. (2013). A diverse new assemblage of green lacewings (Insecta, Neuroptera, Chrysopidae) from the early Eocene Okanagan Highlands, western North America. Journal of Paleontology, 87 (1), 123-146.
  2. Berglund, R. E., & Goedert, J L. 1996. A new crab (Brachyura: Cancridae) from Lower Miocene rocks of the Northwestern Olympic Peninsula, Washington. Journal of Paleontology, 70 (5): 830–835.
  3. Atkinson, B.A. 2016. Early diverging asterids of the Late Cretaceous: Suciacarpa starrii gen. et sp. nov. and the initial radiation of Cornales. Botany, 94 (9): 759–771.
  4. Archibald, S.B. 2009. New Cimbrophlebiidae (Insecta: Mecoptera) from the Early Eocene at McAbee, British Columbia, Canada and Republic, Washington, USA. Zootaxa, 2249: 51–62.
  5. Stockey, R., & Rothwell, G. 2013. Pararaucaria carrii sp. nov., Anatomically Preserved Evidence for the Conifer Family Cheirolepidiaceae in the Northern Hemisphere. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 174(3), 445-457.
  6. https://www.livescience.com/52781-new-thalattosaur-fossils.html.
  7. Wilberg, E. W. 2015. A new metriorhynchoid (Crocodylomorpha, Thalattosuchia) from the Middle Jurassic of Oregon and the evolutionary timing of marine adaptations in thalattosuchian crocodylomorphs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 35 (2): e902846. doi:10.1080/02724634.2014.902846.
  8. Smith, M. A. & Rothwell, G.W. & Stockey, R. (2015). Mesozoic Diversity of Osmundaceae: Osmundacaulis whittlesii sp. nov. in the Early Cretaceous of Western Canada. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 176(3): 245-258.
  9. Fry, W. E. and E. P. Gustafson. 1974. Cervids from the Pliocene and Pleistocene of Central Washington. Journal of Paleontology ,48(2).
  10. Mayr, G. and Goedert, J. L. 2016. New late Eocene and Oligocene remains of the flightless, penguin-like plotopterids (Aves, Plotopteridae) from western Washington State, U.S.A. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 36(4)
  11. Nyborg, T., Nyborg, B., Garassino, A. and Vega, F.J. 2016. New Occurrences of Fossil Macrocheira (Brachyura, Inachidae) from the North Eastern Pacific. Paleontología Mexicana, 5(2): 123-135.
  12. Feldmann, R. M. and Schweitzer, C. E. 2017. Scyllarella (Decapoda: Achelata: Scyllaridae) from the Lookingglass Formation (Eocene): first occurrence on western coast of North America. Bulletin of the Mizunami Fossil Museum, 43: 11–15.

Collaboration in Woodburn, Oregon

by David Ellingson

Since 2003, students at Woodburn High School have been engaging in a paleontology dig located on their campus. These digs occur in September and have become part of the curriculum taught in the school’s biology classes. With the assistance of the City Water Department, who provides a track hoe and operators, peat from 4 meters deep are brought to the surface and are sorted and screened for fossils of animals that lived during the late Pleistocene. A variety of animal bones have been found, including bison, elk, ground sloths, beavers, muskrats, pocket gophers, geese, ducks, turtles, frogs, and fish.

Interpretive display at the High School funded by NARG and other community members

Word spread quickly through the area about the site and interest from community members and fossil enthusiasts created an opportunity for summer digs to start happening. Members of the North America Research Group (NARG) were some of the first to start participating in these summer digs and over the years have created a unique connection between the fossil club and the school. NARG members built water screening stations for students to use, purchased equipment and tools that helped in the excavation, and donated their time to help in the digs. In addition, many members would come to the school to identify fossils and help students to clean and prepare the fossils for display and inventory.

NARG member Debra Shannon was been coming to both summer and September digs for the last eight years. She has developed a unique method of water screening and has helped teach students how to screen through the peat to find some of the smaller bones. Debra has also done an extensive reworking of the inventory to help create a database that can be easily accessed for research and comparative anatomy.

Debra Shannon at the water screening station.

Collaboration with NARG members has helped bring some advanced technology into the classroom. Gregg Carr is an expert in 3D scanning and printing and has taken many of the bones that have been found at Woodburn to be 3D scanned. The bones are printed at the school and students paint these prints to make replicas of the bones which can then be used in displays as well as sent to scientists around the country for identification.

Bird vertebrae beside the 3D print of the bones

During this year’s digs, over 300 bones were found. Two of the most exciting finds were two bird vertebrae. These vertebrae were much larger than any other bird vertebrae that had been found in the past. Pictures were sent to a variety of professionals to see if they could help identify the animal belonging to these vertebrae. Their response was mixed, as pictures were not able to give all the information needed for proper identification. Thanks to Greg, these bones have been scanned and printed to be sent to a number of professionals.

Woodburn is an excellent example where enthusiastic amateur paleontologists are sharing their passion with teenagers and together use fossils to work to tell the story of a late ice age environment.

To learn more:

Read about NARG members’ scientific contributions in this past newsletter article.

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