Friday, October 23, 2020

Marco’s Shell & Fossil Seekers


Phil Miller holds turbinella streami, wife Sammy holds spondylus rotundatus; shell fossils approximately three million years old, collected from the SMR Aggregates, Sarasota. Sammy’s award is for Best Self-Collected Shell, Marco Island Shell Show 2016. Photos by Maria Lamb

Phil Miller holds turbinella streami, wife Sammy holds spondylus rotundatus; shell fossils approximately three million years old, collected from the SMR Aggregates, Sarasota. Sammy’s award is for Best Self-Collected Shell, Marco Island Shell Show 2016. Photos by Maria Lamb

Phil and Sammy Miller, long-time residents of Marco Island, started their shell collection as average beachcombers. As the couple travelled the world, they would bring back hard-to-find shells to add to their growing collection.

Pet cat Scottie is admiring hexaplex hertweckorum, extinct murex, over three million years old.

Pet cat Scottie is admiring hexaplex hertweckorum, extinct murex, over three million years old.

The Millers’ fascination with fossils started with a fossil-hunting trip booked through the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s guided tours, and led by invertebrate paleontologists from the University of Florida. This took the Millers to the Schroder Manatee Ranch in Sarasota, referred to as SMR Quarry, which allowed limited access to fossil hunters.

Upon arrival at the SMR Quarry, Sammy discovered that she was surrounded by the remains of hundreds of fossilized shells. Due to the excavation of the quarry, most of the fossils were visible. By digging a little deeper, well-preserved shells could be found. When a fossilized shell is unearthed, the person discovering it will most likely be the first human to ever hold it in their hands. It is also the first time such fossils have been exposed to the Florida sun.

Jar filled with junonia – part of the Millers’ modern-day shell collection. Beachcombers rarely find junonia except after storms or high winds.

Jar filled with junonia – part of the Millers’ modern-day shell collection. Beachcombers rarely find junonia except after storms or high winds.

To be considered a fossil, a “remain” must be at least 10,000 years old. Most of the fossils at SMR Quarry are of the Pliocene Era (2.5 – 5.3 million years old) and the Pleistocene Era (11,000 – 2.5 million years old).

A display case showcases part of the Millers’ extensive modern-day shell collection.

A display case showcases part of the Millers’ extensive modern-day shell collection.

During these two epochs, Florida was at the bottom of a shallow sea and most of the water on the Earth’s surface was ice. Marine life flourished such as coral reefs and all sorts of invertebrates. One of Sammy’s rare find was a fossilized megaladon shark’s tooth estimated to be 3.5 million years old. On the top of her wish list is to find a bigger tooth to add to her collection.

Phil and Sammy can tell you the local and scientific names of the shells in their extensive collection and where they were found. They are not your average shell collectors and they both refer to themselves as “hobbyist invertebrate paleontologists.” Both say it is the “rush of the unknown” that keeps them searching for more. Their collection has grown so large that they periodically donate part of their collection to the Sanibel Shell Museum.

The Marco Island Shell Club Annual Show is a showcase for hobbyists, artists and scientific exhibitors. Each year you will find multiple entries from Phil and Sammy under the self-collected, hobbyist scientific category, and they usually bring home a trophy.

The 38th Annual Marco Island Shell Show is schedule to take place on March 8, 9, 10, 2018 at the United Church of Marco, 320 N. Barfield Drive, Marco Island. For more information visit marcoshellclub.com/shell-show.

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