Beaumaris Sandstone : An Invertebrate

Palaeontologist’s  Perspective
1. A  “nipper’s”  perspective: wandering along the beach as a child,
with an Aunt who insisted that there were trilobites there.
2. Invertebrates yes, but trilobites? No… at least not near the
surface. We have heard a lot about vertebrates, and we are excited
by these fossils as we have a bias, for we are vertebrates.
a. But if we consider the pyramid of numbers, invertebrates
win overwhelmingly.
b. There could perhaps have been other organisms preserved
here in abundance, e.g. plants, fungi and protozoans, but
their absence is due to the diagenetic processes – or what
happened to the sediments en route to becoming sandstone.
c. Some of you know that here are fossil plants here however,
and I will return to these shortly…
3. There are two types of invertebrate fossils preserved here:
a. Whole animal shells (e.g. bryozoans, molluscs, echinoids
and barnacles).
b. The traces of animal (and plant) activity (e.g. dominichnia
and fodinichnia).
4. The importance of Invertebrata:
a. Charles Darwin, who visited close to here on the Beagle
journey, wrote On the origin of Species in 1859. However 5
years prior to this (in 1854), he established his pedigree as a
biologist and palaeontologist by studying and writing about
barnacles.  It  was  these  invertebrates  that  distilled  Darwin’s  
ideas about the evolution of life.
b. The barnacle fossils in these sediments are some of the
earliest varieties of their forms. Indeed, this is the richest
fossil barnacle horizon in Australia. There are species found
here that occur nowhere else in the world.
5. Now back to the non-vertebrate fossils:
a. There are numerous examples of fossil tree preserved here.
Some of the more observant of you may note that there is
Council signage locally explaining that many of the fossils
are Banksia remains. They certainly look a bit like

Banksia…  but  this is a falsehood. The only plant fossils I
have seen here are the casts of huge logs of Eucalyptus that
were carried out into the ancient Proto-Beaumaris Bay after
storms. The so-called  “Banksia”  are burrows made by mudshrimps. Some of these knobbly tubes are up to 3 metres
long and were up to 50mm in diameter. They were an
“undersea  transport  tunnel  system”  for  these  crustaceans  –
predating Melbourne’s city loop by about 5 million years.
And they are still there! There were millions of them living
in the shallow waters of the Bay. These are trace fossils that
I mentioned earlier and are complimented by other
wonderful burrows and homes of invertebrates that lived
here about 5.5 million years ago.
b. Those Eucalyptus tree-trunk fossil casts are special too,
because they are often intimately associated with animals
that lived off them when they became waterlogged, and
rested on the bottom (e.g. wood-worms): They were a
valuable food source and a useful substrate for bivalves on
an otherwise sandy-silty bottom.
c. There are also some very curious spherical remains –
interpreted as Bergaueria – a very rare trace fossil that was
made by sea anemones. These are found in one or two other
places in Australia – but the other sites are all very ancient.
Bergaueria of this nature is unknown elsewhere.
d. Finally, there are the small heart urchins Lovenia, which
most fossil collectors in this area are aware of. They are so
desirable that one can buy Beaumaris specimens, on-line,
from the USA.
6. There are many more observations I could make, but I want to
finish  up  with  a  plea…  This  restricted fossil horizon provides a
window of past environments and change that is unique to
Victoria; it is also unique to Australia; not surprisingly, it is also
unique to the World.
7. I want my grandchildren, and their grandchildren, to enjoy this
wonderful site as much as I have. We were caught off-guard when
much of the Beaumaris Sandstone was covered with a car park late
last  century.  Development  at  all  cost  is  not  an  option  here…  a  
world heritage listing is!
8. Thank you, ladies, gentlemen and young scientists!