By: Gino Dercola

April 2007

Oliver Hardy WormDo you realize that there is a 300 million year old species of worm that is known worldwide as the Oliver Hardy Spiny Worm? Well, there is, in the world of fossils.

It goes without question that the comedic genius of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy will last for many, many decades and probably centuries. And their "stamp" on history started during their lifetimes and continues today through their influence on the art of comedy, and also for comparison to all-things "fat and thin". It was this "fat" image that led to the association of Oliver Hardy with this Spiny Worm.

When I first heard this amazing (to me) fact about such a fossilized "Oliver Hardy" worm being sold on the open market, my curiosity got the best of me and I did some research on it. This required looking at the history/study of fossils and then trying to discover why someone would associate a worm with Oliver Hardy. So, the remainder of this "story" is about the history lesson I learned about fossils and the Oliver Hardy Spiny Worm. Here goes…..

Approximately 300 million years ago, during a time geologists call the Pennsylvanian Period, the area currently occupied by the US state of Illinois was not even dry land; much of that area was a mixture of swampy lowlands and shallow marine bays. The climate was tropical-this area was just a few degrees north of the equator. Interestingly, many of the plants and animals that are common today had not yet evolved at that time. The plants and animals of that time period lived in swampy areas along rivers. As they died they fell to the bottom of the bays and were buried by mud. This process protected the remains from being destroyed. Bacteria decomposed their remains in the mud, producing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide combined with iron from the groundwater, which formed ironstone, which protected the remains from further damage as they fossilized through millions of years.

For the past 150 years, geologists have isolated a particular area in Illinois-known worldwide as Mazon Creek-as containing some of the world's best preserved fossils. Most textbooks on historical geology, paleontology or evolution have some discussion of Mazon Creek. In fact, Mazon Creek fossils can be found in just about every major museum worldwide. Researchers have identified over 400 species of flora and over 320 species of animal (jellyfish, worms, snails, clams, shrimp, and fish) in Mazon Creek. They are abundant and exceptionally well preserved.

The colloquially known "Oliver Hardy Worm" was named by Professor G. F. Richardson. No written description was found as to why he did this, but feed back I got from people who deal in this field say it was named in the 1960's and was because of the chubby size of the particular worm so named. This rare worm is generally referred to as "Mazon Creek, Spiny Worm, Oliver Hardy, pit 11"-an area in Braidwood, Illinois. Pit 11 is a particular section where this type of fossilized worm was discovered. This variety of fossilized worm is simply referred to worldwide by researchers as the Oliver Hardy Worm. For the record, this pit 11 fossilized worm is officially named "rhaphidiophorus hystrix", more commonly documented as Bristleworms, because they bear numerous bristles.

If you are interested in seeing more of these worms, click on the  link below.

Maybe Stan and Ollie will be around for the next 300 million years!

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