Photographs of readers

Today’s reader photos come from Bruce Thiel, whom I met at a talk I gave in Portland, Oregon. And there he gave me one of his fantastic preparations of fossil crabs, which I cherish and keep on my mantelpiece. You can see his preparations in his “reader’s photos” here. They are fantastic.  Bruce’s words are indented.

Here I am removing matrix from a Cretaceous Avitelmessus crab from North Carolina, using a pneumatic air chisel.  After 120 hours of work, the crab is still unfinished –including 40 hours work by two previous owners.  The two crabs on the right (#13) were given to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and on display in the “Deep Time” Exhibit which reopened last summer after a five-year remodel.  A third crab also on display is not pictured.

What started out as a retirement hobby turned into an obsession to search for crab-bearing concretions in the 30-50 million year old ocean sediments in the Pacific NW.  Refining my technique led to the challenge of seeing if I could free the claws from the rock to create more sculptural poses.  However crabs are prepared exactly as they fossilize with no “rearrangement” of claws for aesthetics.

The top second-to-the-left crab in the second picture is noteworthy in that it hosts several 33-35 MYO tube worms. Two other tube-worm infested crabs were sent to Kent State where they were studied, published and donated to the Rice NW Museum of Rocks & Minerals here in Oregon.

While hunting for fossil crabs, I stumbled upon three concretions containing bones of a large penguin-like flightless bird, a Plotopterid, that turned out to be a new genus and species, published and named Olympidytes thieli, given to the Senckenberg Museum, in Frankfort, Germany.
See more crabs and info about the prep process at:


  1. Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Amazing work!

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Ditto. I had no idea that this kind of endeavour existed – thanks for your painstaking work, Bruce!

      • Bruce Thiel
        Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.

  2. rickflick
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    The crabs seem to be conducting an orchestra. What a great hobby!

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Crustacean orchestration! To quote Sebastian from Disney’s The Little Mermaid: “Under the sea! Under the sea! Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, Take it from me!”

      • rickflick
        Posted June 7, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Good idea, but I don’t they had Disney in those days. 😁

    • Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      “The crabs seem to be conducting an orchestra” – yes but only in their imagination. These crabs are real hardcore individualists, no chance that they will bend to a strangers will.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 7, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Not even to play Little Mermaid? “Under the sea…”

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink


    [ shopping list entry 2351 : ]
    [ air chisel ]

  4. GBJames
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Just wow.

    • sugould
      Posted June 9, 2020 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Yes! I know we’re encouraged to say something that adds to the discussion, but all I can say is just “wow!”

      Never even knew there were people who did that, and how beautiful and artistic it is.

  5. Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    You know an inordinate number of Bruce’s!

  6. Robie
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    What beautiful detail; it looks like they were alive only yesterday.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I love these crabs!

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I was just watching some, How That’s Made on the science channel. They should come and see you.

  9. Posted June 7, 2020 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful! It must be painstaking work.

  10. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully prepared crab fossils!

  11. Steve Pollard
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful and fascinating. Thank you so much. Unfortunately I guess some people will only be interested in the monetary value. For me, they would be beyond value.

  12. Posted June 7, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for sharing. Gives me shivers. I have a few fossils, one a sizable Ammonite (cut in half and beautifully polished) bought in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. And, at least one, of what looks like Dinosaur teeth in sandstone given to me by a rockhound friend. My husband and I visited the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller a number of times as well as U.S. sites I can’t remember the names of right now.

  13. Posted June 7, 2020 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Another fan here. Not just cool, but a boon to science and education.`

  14. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Those are incredible. And you discovered a new genus and species of a large penguin-like bird — You lucky stiff!

    Where are you finding these?

    • Bruce Thiel
      Posted June 7, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks. We look for areas in the Pacific NW where the lava flows, which covered many of the marine sediments several million years later, either missed or where erosion from rivers and streams or road cuts expose the fossil-bearing sediments. Crab bearing concretions are hard to find—many rocks are duds or contain small pieces of wood or organic debris that didn’t fossilize but caused the concretion to form.

  15. Janet
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Very very impressive. And what a rewarding experience it must be to see the crab emerge slowly into the light after so many eons!

  16. Posted June 7, 2020 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Completely stunning! I remember the original post on these in WEIT.
    I have a question. I see that some crabs show a strong asymmetry in their claws, and others do not. Is that sexual dimorphism, or something else?

    • Bruce Thiel
      Posted June 7, 2020 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Mark. Most crabs, like humans, show a “right-hand or right-claw” dominance. In a study of 207 living crabs, they found 79% right dominant, vs. 21% left. We also see a strong right claw prevalence among fossil crabs, but I don’t have a large enough census to be statistically valid. Crabs can regrow a claw if lost through fighting or predation, so sometimes a smaller claw is just a regrowth. Modern male fiddler crabs develop an oversize claw to attract females, but I’m not aware of that occurring in fossil crabs. To sex fossil crabs we have to prepare the abdomen or underside. The females have a wider and larger sternum for eggs, which can sometimes makes them larger overall.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 7, 2020 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

        All of this is just fascinating — meaning everything that you have to say about the fossil crabs themselves, how you go about finding and collecting them, and your preparation.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted June 7, 2020 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Just amazing. I appreciate long hours at small goals…negative removal instead of positive creation. You create by removing. Not a common endeavor. I hope more readers contribute…WEIT has an amazing following of talented folk.

  18. Posted June 8, 2020 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Brilliant and awe-inspiring, Bruce.

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