I have lots of cool, talented friends. One of them is a friend from work who is both a hydrologist and an artist. For the past several years, Carrie has done an art installation for the True/ False Film festival here in Columbia Missouri, and as a bonus to knowing Carrie, she invites people to help her in her amazing creations. This year Carrie created these cool, light up, paper maché, scenes from the Paleozoic era which was about 500 to 250 million years ago. These marine creatures were sculpted by her and her dedicated group of part-time artists by using recycled plastic such as water bottles and food containers. After making the creatures out of the plastic containers, they added a few layers of paper and glue to cover them, then folks with mad drawing skills outlined and made creative renditions of what they believed these sea creatures could have looked like. Finally, they added some paint in translucent layers to add to the effect. Carrie used hardware cloth or chicken wire and tomato cages to create each platform to which she artfully placed the creatures and added lights so that they would glow at night. I left the sculpting to Carrie and others and concentrated on outlining the creatures and adding color.
Carrie's Paleozoic Under Sea Creatures at this year's True/ False Film Fest
Carrie’s inspiration to create this fossil reef, came from a bike ride with her son, when they passed by rocks full of fossils. During the Paleozoic era, Missouri was covered by a shallow sea and large expanses of coral reefs that sustained numerous species of marine life. The various marine creatures that Carrie used in her sculptures included brachiopods, gastropods, trilobites, bryzoans, corals and my favorite, crinoids. These animals all were common in Missouri at this time and make up a bulk of the marine fossils we find today. I like the crinoids because I have large rocks in the front of my house that actually are full of crinoid fossils. Crinoids are also the state fossil of Missouri.
Although the ones fossilized in the rocks outside my house are long extinct and the ones that my friend Carrie sculpted out of paper maché represent crinoids from the Paleozoic era, crinoids still exist in today’s oceans, with about 600 species currently existing. They look like flowers and are called sea lilies, but they are in fact animals that belong in the same order as starfish and sea urchins (Echinodermata- spiny skin). All crinoids are marine, which demonstrates that Missouri was once covered by a sea. The most common crinoid fossils you will find are these circular ossicles or bony plates that made up the column or stalk of the animal. Fossilized portions of the crown (the feathery, flower like structure at top of the stalk) are less common. The calcareous (calcium carbonate) structures of the crinoids fossilize very well, and make up a large portion of the limestone in certain parts of the world, including Missouri.
Diagram of a crinoid, the most common crinoid fossils are of the stalk, but fossilized crowns can also be found, though they are more rare. Living crinoids still exist and one group, the feather stars, have lost their stalks and instead float around as an undulating, feathery mouth searching for food.
Crinoids have a mouth located in the crown, the top portion which is surrounded by feeding arms (the petal or feather like structures). These feathery structures are good at capturing plankton, the food source of crinoids. Like their echinoderm relatives, starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars, crinoids have tube feet that aid in feeding. The tiny tube feet line the feathery arms of the crown. The crown is attached to the stalk or column and the whole animal is attached to the substrate by a holdfast or cirri which are the root like extensions at the bottom. Some modern species, especially the feather stars have lost the column or stalk all together and instead swim or crawl using the arms of their crown – check out this video to see some really beautiful and fascinating creatures: Feather Stars and Their Animal Invaders | Nat Geo Wild - Bing video
NOAA also has really cool images of crinoids that they find in their deep sea explorations. With 97% of our world's water in the oceans, and 80% of those oceans unexplored, there are some pretty amazing creatures out there. Carrie's sculptures should also remind us of the plastic waste that is polluting the oceans. I do not want to go into the disturbing statistics of it. Suffice to say, recycle your plastic or better yet, reduce the use of plastics in your daily life, in order to help keep plastic trash out of our oceans. Scientists use fossils - preserved parts of plants and animals in the layers of dirt and rock - to understand our planter's history. Sadly it turns out, the ubiquitous and ever-lasting nature of plastic makes it marker of the current geological age, the anthropocene, Scientist have documented our ever growing use of plastics in the same manner that they document geological history . Where Does All the Plastic Go? | The New Yorker; Multidecadal increase in plastic particles in coastal ocean sediments (science.org)
Image courtesy of Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program
Geology of Missouri | Missouri's Natural Heritage | Washington University in St. Louis (wustl.edu)
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer: Gulf of Mexico 2017: Mission Logs: Crinoids: Deep-sea Lily-like Animals: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Curious Facts About Crinoids (padi.com)
Crinoids – Sam Noble Museum (ou.edu)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch | National Geographic Society
Multidecadal increase in plastic particles in coastal ocean sediments (science.org)
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