Crinoids: A Fossil Favorite for Collectors

crinoid plate

Crinoids have always been my favorite fossil. Children always have a favorite…a favorite color, favorite flavor, favorite animal…why not a favorite fossil?

Crinoids first caught my eye on a time line of life. These feathery animals looked like an ancient plant. In fact, their nickname is Sea Lily, because they look a bit like a beautiful, tall lily plant. But these echinoderms were around long before plants came to be. The earliest crinoid fossils are found in the rocks of ancient sea beds formed in the Ordovician Period. Yet they have continued through time and there are modern-day species living in our oceans at depths of 100 to 200 feet. You won’t see them while snorkeling, but they’re down there.

crinoids make great collection fossils because the body parts are so plentiful. A large stem piece can easily be purchased for under $5.00 and smaller versions are almost always part of a beginner’s fossil collection. If you live in a good locale, you may be able to find crinoid specimens yourself. They are one of the most plentiful fossils and can be found in just about any layer of ancient sea bed that contains remains of echinoderms and mollusks. One of my most exciting finds was three fossil stems of crinoids entwined together in a nice three-inch chunk from a Pennsylvanian exposure along a road cut in southern Colorado. Southern Ohio and Indiana yield oodles of crinoid stems in the fossil-rich layers found throughout these states.

Any good collectable offers a wide variety of opportunities to the developing collector in terms of diverse types and increasing value. Crinoids are a good choice in these areas. At Crawfordsville, Indiana, a world-famous crinoid site, more than 60 species in 40 different genera have been found. The waters covering this area were particularly favorable for both quantities of specimens and variety of species. And a well-prepared Crawfordsville crinoid can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

But don’t be discouraged; there are many options between $5 and $500! Crinoid fossil plates from Morocco are very affordable. Unlike their Crawfordsville counterparts, these specimens usually lack the intense 3-D preparation, but do show plenty of detail. Many of these specimens are also quite large, making them an impressive, if less expensive, display.

While the calyx or crown of the crinoid is spectacular, the crinoid holdfast offers the collector another interim-priced option. The root-like growths anchored these animals to the sea floor while the stalks supported the beautiful crowns in the water column where they could capture the food that kept them alive. It was the diversity of the crinoid height that probably allowed the wide variety of species to coexist in Crawfordsville where the crinoids were eating from different levels of the water column and whose specialized caylices preferred different sized prey.

Like the crinoids, the trilobites, brachiopods, horn corals, and bryozoans, offer a collector many opportunities for a lifetime of collecting.