Thousands of votes from school children, local collectors, and interested citizens have elected Isorophus cincinnatiensis as their Official Cincinnati Fossil, so designated by mayoral proclamation on April 25.

Isorophus cincinnatiensis
Artwork Courtesy of Dr. Colin Sumrall

Isorophus is an edrioasteroid - or seated star - and is an echinoderm and distant relative of sea stars (starfish). It lived in the Cincinnati area during the Ordovician Period, some 440 million years ago, when a warm, shallow sea covered the region. In life, these quarter-sized creatures attached to shells and other hard surfaces in the same manner as a barnacle. To feed, they captured food suspended in the sea water with their five curved arms. The circular body was covered with shingle-like, armor plates. Edrioasteroids are now entirely extinct.

Isorophus cincinnatiensis
Courtesy of Jack Kallmeyer

The city fossil election was proposed and candidates nominated by Cincinnati Museum Center paleontologists Glenn Storrs and Colin Sumrall (Dr. Sumrall’s final public activity before departing Cincinnati for Knoxville, where he has joined the University of Tennessee faculty), and by the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers - a group of amateur paleontologists and geologists celebrating their 60th year as an organization. Ballots were sent to local schools and polling stations were set up at Cincinnati Museum Center and the 2002 Cincinnati Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show at Cincinnati Convention Center. Ultimately, 4,306 ballots, hand-counted by Sumrall and Regina Hall of the museum’s Nature’s Trading Post, were collected. Mayor Charlie Luken proclaimed the winner of the election the Official Cincinnati Fossil.

“We were looking for a fun activity with an educational emphasis to make the residents aware of the city’s fossils,” said Dr. Colin D. Sumrall, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Isorophus cincinnatiensis beat out four other local fossils with 35.2% of the vote. The other fossils were:

“It's a fitting choice for many reasons,” Storrs said. “it's named after the city of Cincinnati, it's attractive and highly prized by collectors, seated stars are more common and diverse in the Cincinnati region than anywhere else on Earth, and most of the landmark scientific studies on edrioasteroids have utilized Cincinnati fossils.”

Cincinnati's new official fossil will be used by Cincinnati Museum Center and the Dry Dredgers to promote paleontology as a gateway to science education and to increase awareness of southwestern Ohio's unique fossil heritage. Isorophus cincinnatiensis was originally described by German paleontologist F. Roemer in 1851. Approximately ten species of edrioasteroid occur in the Ordovician rocks of Cincinnati. Most edrioasteroids are small, but the largest is 11 cm or 4" across.

Few cities have official fossils, and apparently just two: Cincinnati and Fruita, Colorado, which is represented by a dinosaur, Ceratosaurus.

Learn more about Edrioasteroids

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