The Barnacle and The Building

Phil Bock discovered a new barnacle species in an unlikely place in 2006. He wasn’t in the typical environment for barnacles, in shallow water, but on the steps of the Old Magistrates’ Court in downtown Melbourne, Australia. The building, now managed by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, is made of Miocene age Batesford Limestone, which was deposited in a warm, subtropical sea on the shallow waters of the inner-shelf. The Batesford is highly fossiliferous with at least 12 species known from the Old Magistrates Court walls. Bock, a retired RMIT geologist, noticed the small barnacle at the base of column and then alerted John Buckeridge, a barnacle specialist at RMIT.

The Barnacle before removal (photo used courtesy of John Buckeridge)

Buckeridge recognized the specimen as a member of the genus Tetraclitella but that it was an unusual one, which prompted a formal analysis. Tetraclitid barnacles generally live in high energy environments in the Indo-Pacific region, with 10 extant species and three known only from fossils. Because of their high energy environment, they tend not to fossilize, particularly as complete specimens. Buckeridge wrote in 2008, however, that “against all odds, [this barnacle] has survived transport to deeper, quieter conditions within a submarine slurry approximately 19 million years ago.” (Integrative Zoology, vol. 3, pg. 68-74, 2008)

Where the barnacle was found (photo used courtesy of John Buckeridge)

In order to study the barnacle, Buckeridge proposed to remove it from the structure, but he faced a problem. Under the Heritage Act of 1995, established in part to protect Melbourne’s historic buildings from urban renewal, it is illegal to remove, damage, or alter protected buildings. He knew the risks weren’t large, as it would require minimal surgery to remove the barnacle, but he still applied for a permit. He further worried that if the barnacle was reported and described someone less ethical might try to remove it.

The Old Magistrates Court (photo used courtesy of John Buckeridge)

Fortunately, Buckeridge’s request passed muster and in March 2006, under the lights and cameras of television crews, he got his barnacle, though during the final stage the edge of the fossil cracked. This was fortuitous as it facilitated a more thorough study of the fossil. The surgery left a scar 78 millimeters wide and 20 millimeters deep, which will slowly weather and fade to match the rest of the building.

The post removal scar (photo used courtesy of John Buckeridge)

Two years after obtaining his new specimen, Buckeridge published a paper formally naming it. (Zootaxa 1897, 43-52, 2008) In honor of its type locality, he dubbed the barnacle Tetraclitella judiciae. It is quite a handsome little beast and shows the importance of paying attention. You never know where you’ll find an interesting story.

2 thoughts on “The Barnacle and The Building”

  1. Interesting about the hoops he had to go through to remove the barnacle.

    But I wonder "allowing the scar to "slowly weather and fade to match the rest of the building.."

    Maybe that scar should be preserved so that its removal can add another layer of complexity to the structure i.e. maybe the spot should NOT be allowed to weather. :)

    Sorta like "Washington slept here."

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