Devil’s Corkscrews

Daemonelix_burrows,_Agate_Fossil_Beds

I stumbled onto devil’s corkscrews on my way to something else. I thought you might enjoy my  further exploration of the strange formations. In the mid-1800s early ranchers in Sioux County, Nebraska were discovering spiraled tubes, up to nine feet long, which they nicknamed “devil’s corkscrews,” more formally, Daemonelix.

What were they? Only when teaching children at the Florida Museum of Natural History did I learn about trace fossils, evidence that something had been in a place: a footprint or leaf print, a burrow, coprolite (fossilized poop). The ranchers’ fossils were remnants of spiral burrows dug by rodents found at the spiral base. They had super long front teeth like modern beavers, with stubby tails instead of paddles like the modern beaver. These clever little rodents burrowed near water, but instead of digging straight down, they dug spirals, making it harder for predators to reach them, and perhaps, slowing water.

Paleocastor, which means “ancient beaver,” died out during the Oligocene when the planet cooled down and dried out. Could he not adapt from the wet world he knew to the grasses and prairies? Then why did some aquatic beavers survive to become great dam builders? What do you think?

You can visit Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska or check out nps.gov/agfo/learn/nature/mammalfossils.htm to see more interesting (extinct) critters.

3 responses to “Devil’s Corkscrews

  1. Christopher Brooks

    I think the modern beavers started building dams when they saw that their ancestors got screwed (or corkscrewed) by the drying Earth. Clearly another climate change injustice. I suspect they will next evolve into being builders of air conditioners as global warming worsens. Such clever animals.

  2. Speaking of the dam builders, Barry says he “doesn’t give a damn!” I like the curly picture.

  3. Thanks, Bonnie. I love learning new things about our ancient world.

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