Fish Fossils from Green River Formation

Fossil Mall
Science Section


Green River Formation
Fish Fossils
Wyoming


While the Green River Formation's faunal assenblage contains fossils spanning the entire Tree of Life, including stromatolites, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates (including reptiles, mammals and even primates), it is best known for its exquisite fish fossils. Class actinopterygii, the ray-finned bony fishes, comprise almost half of all known species of vertebrates, some 20,000 extant species. There are numerous locations worldwide that are noted for wonderous preservation of bony fishes, and the Green River formation that covers some 25,000 square miles of SW Wyoming, west Colorado and east Utah is one of them. The formation is one of the largest lacustrine (i.e., lake) sedimentary accumulations in the world, averages some 2000 feet thick, and spans the period 40 to 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch of the Cenozoic Era.

The Green River Formation is actually a heterogeneous complex of lakes differential in ecological, geological characteristics, timeframe and hence fauna and flora. The complex comprises three primary lakes formed as a consequnce of drainage from tectonic highlands envolved in the uplift of the Rocky Mountains during Tertiary time. Fossil lake, centered in Southwest Wyoming, is the smallest and appeared briefly during the early Eocene. The Lake Gosiute deposits span the period from Lower to Middle Eocene, and the largest deposit from Lake Uinta that ranges across the Utah-Colorado border, spans most of the Eocene Epoch.

During the Eocene, based on the fossil record, the region was sub-tropical to temporate. Some 60 vertebrate taxa have been described from the formation, as well as abundant invertebrates and plants. Green river has been noted for its well-preserved fish since mid-way through the 19th century. The unusually excellent preservation of the Green River fish fossils is usually attributed to a combination of two factors: 1) a cold period during the Eocene that would have caused dead fish to sink faster due to a less inflated swim bladder; and 2) the great depth of the lakes and the consequent anoxic conditions that would have often prevented scavengers from disturbing the carcasses.

The majority of fish fossils are taken from the Fossil L area from two layers: 1) the so-called 18-inch layer; and 2) the spilt fish layer. The best preserved fish come from the 18-inch layer. Becuase the sediment is highly laminated, the fish can often be removed nearly whole. This layer, in the area near Fossil Butte, does indeed avarage about 18 inches in thickness, and represents some 4000 years of deposition. The composition of the limestone indicates that the layer was formed in deep water far from shore. By contrast, the so-called split-fish layer is unlaminated making extraction and preparation of the best fossil fish far more difficult. The layer is about six feet thick, and the fauna indicates water that was better circulated than that associated with the 18-inch layer. Some 19 genera of Eocene fish come from the Green River formation as listed in the table below.

Green River Formation Fossil Fish

Genus
Common Name
Order
Family
Number of species
Relative abundance
Example
Heliobatis skate / stingray Rajiformes Dasyatidae
1
Rare
Lepisosteus gar fish Lepisosteiformes Lepiosteidae
3
Rare
Amia bowfin Amiiformes Ammiidae
2
Extremely rare
Priscacara serrata - Perciformes Priscacaridae
2
Common
Priscacara serrata
Phareodus - Osteoglossiformes Osteoglossidae
2
Uncommon
Phareodus encaustus fossil fish
Knightia alta herring Clupeiformes Clupeidae
2
Extremely common
Diplomystus herring Ellimmichthyiformes Ellimmichthyidae
1
Very common
Notogoneus - Gonorynchiformes Gonorynchidae
1
Rare
-
Amphiplaga trout Percopsiformes Percopsidae
1
Rare
Mioplosus perch Perciformes Percidae
2
Uncommon
Gosiutichthys parvus herring Clupeiformes Clupeidae
1
Uncommon to Rare
Gosiutichthys parvus
Asineops - Incertaesedis Asineopidae
1
Rare
-
Eohiodon mooneye Osteoglossiformes Hiodontidae
1
Extremely rare
-
Amyzon sucker Cypriniformes Catostomidae
1
Rare
-
Astephus catfish Siluriformes Ictaluridae
1
Very rare
-
Hypsidoris catfish Siluriformes Ictaluridae
1
Extremely rare
-
Erismatopterus trout Percopsiformes Percopsidae
1
Rare
-
Crossopholis paddlefish Acipenseriformes Polydontidae
1
Extremely rare
-

 

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