Temporal range: Devonian-Late Cretaceous
|Specimen of Pleuroceras solare, from the Lower Jurassic of Bavaria, Germany|
Ammonoids are a group of
Ammonites are excellent
The name "ammonite", from which the scientific term is derived, was inspired by the spiral shape of their fossilized shells, which somewhat resemble tightly coiled rams' horns. Pliny the Elder (d. 79 AD near Pompeii) called fossils of these animals ammonis cornua ("horns of Ammon") because the Egyptian god Ammon (Amun) was typically depicted wearing rams' horns. Often, the name of an ammonite genus ends in -ceras, which is from κέρας (kéras) meaning "horn".
Ammonites (subclass Ammonoidea) can be distinguished by their septa, the dividing walls that separate the chambers in the phragmocone, by the nature of their sutures where the septa join the outer shell wall, and in general by their siphuncles.
Ammonoid septa characteristically have bulges and indentations and are to varying degrees convex when seen from the front, distinguishing them from nautiloid septa, which are typically simple concave, dish-shaped structures. The topology of the septa, especially around the rim, results in the various suture patterns found.
While nearly all nautiloids show gently curving sutures, the ammonoid suture line (the intersection of the septum with the outer shell) is variably folded, forming saddles ("peaks" that point towards the aperture) and lobes ("valleys" which point away from the aperture). The suture line has four main regions. The external or ventral region refers to sutures along the lower (outer) edge of the shell, where the left and right suture lines meet. The external saddle lies directly on the lower midline of the shell and is edged by external lobes. On suture diagrams the external saddle is supplied with an arrow which typically points towards the aperture. The lateral region involves the first saddle and lobe pair past the external region as the suture line extends up the side of the shell. Additional lobes developing towards the inner edge of a whorl are labelled umbilical lobes, which increase in number through ammonoid evolution as well as an individual ammonoid's development. Lobes and saddles which are so far towards the center of the whorl that they are covered up by succeeding whorls are labelled internal lobes and saddles. Three major types of suture patterns are found in the Ammonoidea:
- Goniatitic – numerous undivided lobes and saddles; typically 8 lobes around the conch. This pattern is characteristic of the Paleozoic ammonoids.
- Ceratitic – lobes have subdivided tips, giving them a saw-toothed appearance and rounded, undivided saddles. This suture pattern is characteristic of Triassic ammonoids and appears again in the Cretaceous "pseudoceratites".
- Ammonitic – lobes and saddles are much subdivided (fluted); subdivisions are usually rounded instead of saw-toothed. Ammonoids of this type are the most important species from a biostratigraphical point of view. This suture type is characteristic of Jurassic and Cretaceous ammonoids, but extends back all the way to the Permian.
Goniatites plebeiformis showing Goniatitic suture
Protrachyceras pseudoarchelonus showing Ceratitic suture
Lytoceras sutile showing Ammonitic suture
The siphuncle in most ammonoids is a narrow tubular structure that runs along the shell's outer rim, known as the venter, connecting the chambers of the phragmocone to the body or living chamber. This distinguishes them from living nautiloides (Nautilus and Allonautilus) and typical Nautilida, in which the siphuncle runs through the center of each chamber. However the very earliest nautiloids from the Late Cambrian and Ordovician typically had ventral siphuncles like ammonites, although often proportionally larger and more internally structured. The word "siphuncle" comes from the New Latin siphunculus, meaning "little siphon".
Originating from within the
Orders and suborders
The Ammonoidea can be divided into six orders, listed here starting with the most primitive and going to the more derived:
- Agoniatitida, Lower Devonian – Middle Devonian
- Clymeniida, Upper Devonian
- Goniatitida, Middle Devonian – Upper Permian
- Prolecanitida, Upper Devonian – Upper Triassic
- Ceratitida, Upper Permian – Upper Triassic
- Ammonitida, Lower Jurassic – Lower Paleocene
In some classifications, these are left as suborders, included in only three orders:
Taxonomy of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology
The Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology (Part L, 1957) divides the Ammonoidea, regarded simply as an order, into eight suborders, the Anarcestina, Clymeniina, Goniatitina and Prolecanitina from the Paleozoic; the Ceratitina from the Triassic; and the Ammonitina, Lytoceratina and Phylloceratina from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. In subsequent taxonomies, these are sometimes regarded as orders within the subclass Ammonoidea.
Because ammonites and their close relatives are extinct, little is known about their way of life. Their soft body parts are very rarely preserved in any detail. Nonetheless, much has been worked out by examining ammonoid shells and by using models of these shells in water tanks.
Many ammonoids probably lived in the open water of ancient seas, rather than at the sea bottom, because their fossils are often found in rocks laid down under conditions where no
The soft body of the creature occupied the largest segments of the shell at the end of the coil. The smaller earlier segments were walled off and the animal could maintain its buoyancy by filling them with gas. Thus, the smaller sections of the coil would have floated above the larger sections.
Many ammonite shells have been found with round holes once interpreted as a result of limpets attaching themselves to the shells. However, the triangular formation of the holes, their size and shape, and their presence on both sides of the shells, corresponding to the upper and lower jaws, is more likely evidence of the bite of a medium-sized mosasaur preying upon ammonites.
Some ammonites appear to have lived in cold seeps and even reproduced there.
Shell anatomy and diversity
Basic shell anatomy
The chambered part of the ammonite shell is called a
A thin living tube called a
A primary difference between ammonites and nautiloids is the siphuncle of ammonites (excepting Clymeniina) runs along the ventral periphery of the septa and camerae (i.e., the inner surface of the outer axis of the shell), while the siphuncle of nautiloids runs more or less through the center of the septa and camerae.
One feature found in shells of the modern Nautilus is the variation in the shape and size of the shell according to the sex of the animal, the shell of the male being slightly smaller and wider than that of the female. This sexual dimorphism is thought to be an explanation for the variation in size of certain ammonite shells of the same species, the larger shell (the macroconch) being female, and the smaller shell (the microconch) being male. This is thought to be because the female required a larger body size for egg production. A good example of this sexual variation is found in Bifericeras from the early part of the Jurassic period of Europe.
Only recently has sexual variation in the shells of ammonites been recognized. The macroconch and microconch of one species were often previously mistaken for two closely related but different species occurring in the same rocks. However, because the dimorphic sizes are so consistently found together, they are more likely an example of sexual dimorphism within the same species.
Whorl width in the body chamber of many groups of ammonites, as expressed by the width:diameter ratio, is another sign of dimorphism. This character has been used to separate "male" (Largiventer conch "L") from "female" (Leviventer conch "l").
Variations in shape
The majority of ammonite species feature planispiral, flat-coiled shells, but other species feature nearly straight (as in
Perhaps the most extreme and bizarre-looking example of a heteromorph is Nipponites, which appears to be a tangle of irregular whorls lacking any obvious symmetric coiling. Upon closer inspection, though, the shell proves to be a three-dimensional network of connected "U" shapes. Nipponites occurs in rocks of the upper part of the Cretaceous in Japan and the United States.
Ammonites vary greatly in the ornamentation (surface relief) of their shells. Some may be smooth and relatively featureless, except for growth lines, and resemble that of the modern Nautilus. In others, various patterns of spiral ridges and ribs or even spines are shown. This type of ornamentation of the shell is especially evident in the later ammonites of the Cretaceous.