Field of Science

Fusulinellidae, -inae, summat like that...

In an earlier post, I introduced you all to the fusulinids, a group of complex foraminiferans that were abundant during the later Palaeozoic. In that post, I alluded to the complex array of terminology that can be used when describing fusulinids but said that I would rather not cover it at that time. Well, this time I'm going to be dredging some of it up because I've drawn the Fusulinellidae as the topic for today's post.

Sectioned reconstruction of Fusulinella, from here. Labels: нк = primary chamber, са = septal folds, с = septa, сб = septal furrows, х = chomata, у = septal aperture, т = tunnel.

The Fusulinellidae as recognised by Vachard et al. (2013) are a family of fusulinids with fusiform or oblong tests known from the Middle to Late Pennsylvanian (during the later part of the Carboniferous). One genus, Pseudofusulinella, persists into the early Permian (Ross 1999). They are a part of the larger superfamily Fusulinoidea, a group of fusulinids characterised by what is known as a diaphanotheca. This is a thick, more or less translucent layer in the test wall. As noted in my earlier post, such a test structure may have functioned to allow light through to symbiotic microalgae (or possibly captured chloroplasts from algal prey) sheltered within. Fusulinellids are distinguished from other fusulinoids by the structure of the septa dividing chambers within the test, which are mostly flat except for some folding near the poles of the test (in the Fusulinidae, in contrast, the septal walls were folded throughout). As the test developed, sections of the septa were resorbed to form tunnels connecting adjacent chabers (and presumably allowing the transmission of materials between chambers in life). The course of the tunnels is commonly delimited within the chambers by chomata, discrete ridges of shell material. In other species, the chomata are absent but axial fillings of calcite were formed in the chambers instead.

How fusulinids are more commonly seen: sections of fusulinellid Dagmarella iowensis from Vachard et al. (2013). Image on left = subaxial section (scale bar = 0.1 mm); image on right, larger individual = tangential section (scale = 0.5 mm). The smaller individual on the right is a juvenile Profusulinella cf. fittsi, which depending on the author may or may not be considered a fusulinellid.

Being so widespread and abundant when they lived, fusulinellids are commonly used as index fossils for identifying when a deposit was formed. However, this process is complicated somewhat by ongoing debates about fusulinid systematics. Rauzer-Chernousova et al. (1996) proposed a classification of fusulinids that represented an extensive modification from previous systems. Part of this was simply a question of ranking, with Rauzer-Chernousova et al. recognising many groups at higher ranks than previously (so, for instance, recognising the separate family Fusulinellidae as opposed to its previous recognition as a subfamily of Fusulinidae). Nevertheless, some subsequent authors have felt that Rauzer-Chernousova et al. and their followers attribute too much significance to relatively minor variations. For instance, Kobayashi (2011) synonymised several genera under Profusulinella that Rauzer-Chernousova et al. regarded as belonging to distinct families (and Vachard et al. 2013 even placed in separate superfamilies). Some of the features regarded by Rauzer-Chernousova et al. as indicating separate genera were regarded by Kobayashi as representing variation within a single species. Indeed, there have even been arguments that some 'significant' features may represent post-mortem preservation artefacts (I've come across the term 'taphotaxa' used to refer to taxa based on such features). At present, my impression is that there is something of a geographical divide in preferred systems with eastern European authors following the lead of Rauzer-Chernousova et al. whereas authors from elsewhere may keep to a more conservative arrangement. The Berlin Wall may be down but the Fusulinid Cold War continues.


Kobayashi, F. 2011. Two species of Profusulinella (P. aljutovica and P. ovata), early Moscovian (Pennsylvanian) fusulines from southern Turkey and subdivision of primitive groups of the family Fusulinidae. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 117 (1): 29–37.

Rauzer-Chernousova, D. M., F. R. Bensh, M. V. Vdovenko, N. B. Gibshman, E. Y. Leven, O. A. Lipina, E. A. Reitlinger, M. N. Solovieva & I. O. Chedija. 1996. Spravočnik po Sistematike Foraminifer Paleozoâ (Èndotiroidy, Fuzulinoidy). Rossijskaâ Akademiâ Nauk, Geologičeskij Institut, Moskva "Nauka".

Ross, C. A. 1999. Classification of the Upper Paleozoic superorders Endothyroida and Fusulinoida as part of the class Foraminifera. Journal of Foraminiferal Research 29 (3): 291–305.

Vachard, D., K. Krainer & S. G. Lucas. 2013. Pennsylvanian (Late Carboniferous) calcareous microfossils from Cedro Peak (New Mexico, USA). Part 2: smaller foraminifers and fusulinids. Annales de Paléontologie 99: 1–42.

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