Aquatic Ecology & Palaeoecology Research Program

Pipe Creek Sinkhole Project

The Pipe Creek Sinkhole is the first Tertiary-age deposit ever discovered in the interior of the eastern half of North America.

Dr. James O. Farlow is the project director for research on the Pipe Creek Sinkhole. He is also coordinating zoological studies with several other scientists specializing in various taxa.

Dr. Anthony Swinehart is coordinator of botanical studies for the Pipe Creek Sinkhole research.

Dr. Jack Sunderman from the Department of Geosciences at IPFW is project co-director and is coordinating geological studies on the Pipe Creek Sinkhole.

Project Overview

Site Name
Pipe Creek Junior Sinkhole

Location
Grant County, Indiana

Geologic Age
Tertiary (Hemphillian) - circa 5 million years before present

Geologic Setting 
Pipe Creek SinkholeThe Pipe Creek Jr. Sinkhole occurs within limestone of a Silurian reef. The entire site is within the glaciated region of Indiana and was covered with glacial diamicton to an average depth of about 5 meters. Glacial diamicton has been removed, and limestone is being quarried from the site. It was during quarry operations that the sinkhole was discovered.

Unique Features
The Pipe Creek Sinkhole has yielded fossils of many vertebrate animals, including amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, as well as invertebrates, and numerous plant remains. The site represents the very first Tertiary Age continental fossil biota from the interior of the eastern half of North America.

Animals of the Pipe Creek Sinkhole

Osteichthyes

Two fish taxa have been recovered from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole, these include the bullhead (Ameiurus sp. - pictured, and a sunfish (Centrarchidae).

Amphibia

Frogs are the most abundant vertebrate fossils at the Pipe Creek Sinkhole. Recovered taxa include Rana cf. R. catesbeiana (bullfrog), Rana pipiens complex (see photo), and Rana sp. indet. A toad, Bufo sp., and salamander (Plethodontidae) have also been recovered.

Reptilia: Pond Turtles

Pond turtles are another abundant group at the Pipe Creek Sinkhole. Taxa recovered include Chrysemys picta (painted turtle - pictured), Trachemys scripta (slider turtle) & Emydoidea blandingii (Blanding's turtle). Another aquatic turtle recovered was Chelydra serpenrtina (snapping turtle).

Reptilia: Pond Turtles

Among the many ongoing studies is one which seeks to examine growth rates to infer climate. Growth is determined by examining growth annuli in cross-sections of the femurs.Reptilia: TortoisesThe giant tortoise, Hesperotestudo, was another turtle discovered from the site. These turtes reached lengths of over a meter.

Reptilia: Snakes

Another rich group of vertebrates at the Pipe Creek Sinkhole are the snakes. As many as 13 taxa have been recovered. These include Coluber constrictor (blue racer), Paracoluber storei (extinct racer), Elaphe sp. (ratsnake), Elaphe cf. E. vulpina (fox snake), cf. Heterodon sp. (hognose snake), Paleoheterodon tiheni (extinct hognose snake), Lampropeltis cf. L. triangulum (milk snake), Opheodrys cf. O. vernalis (green snake), Nerodia cf. N. erythrogaster (red-belly water snake), Nerodia sp. (water snake), cf. Regina sp. (crayfish snake), Thamnophis sp. (garter or ribbon snake), and Sistrurus cf. S. catenatus (massasauga rattlesnake).

Aves: Birds

Fossils of only one bird have been recovered. These are of a small passerine bird.Mammalia: Talpidae (Moles & Desmans)This group is represented by fossils of only one unidentified taxon.

Mammalia: Castoridae (Beavers)

This group is represented by fossils of either the extant genus Castor or the extinct genus Dipoides.

Mammalia: Sciuridae (Squirrels)

The squirrels are represented by fossils of two taxa, Spermophilus nr. S. howelli and Spermophilus sp.Mammalia: Geomyidae (Pocket Gophers)One species of pocket gopher was represented, Geomys cf. G. adamsi.

Mammalia: Cricetidae (Rats & Mice)

Three extinct taxa, representing new species were recovered: Ogmodontomys n. sp., Pliophenacomys n. sp., and Symmetrodontomys n. sp. A representative of a common extant taxon, Peromyscus sp., was also recovered.

Mammalia: Lagomorphidae (Rabbits & Hares)

A tooth of the hare, Hypolagus cf. H. fontinalis, from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole. One representative: Hypolagus cf. H. fontinalis. This taxon is now extinct.

Algae & Plants

Protista: Division Chlorophyta (Green Algae):

The algae at the Pipe Creek Sinkhole are represented by fossil oogonia of Chara sp. (Stonewort). These macroalgae are indicative of mineral rich waters. The limestone that surrounds the sinkhole certainly would have provided an extremely mineral-rich environment, especially in terms of Ca and Mg.

Plantae: Division Bryophyta: Class Musci (mosses):

Mosses are represented by a single taxon, Bryum sp. intdet. This taxon occurs commonly in the deposit as leaf thalli and other fragments. Species of Bryum occupy a wide variety of habitats.

Aquatic Vascular Plants:

Achene of the pondweed Potamogeton from the Pipe Creek SinkholeOne taxon, Potamogeton sp., represented by achenes, is indicative of submergent aquatic conditions. Fossils of this taxon are uncommon in the Pipe Creek deposit. All of the other vascular plant remains recovered are wetland or upland species.

Published Papers & Abstracts

Published Papers

  • Farlow, J.O., J.A. Sunderman, J.J. Havens, A. L. Swinehart, J.A. Holman, R.L. Richards, N.G. Miller, R.A. Martin, R.M. Hunt, Jr., G.W. Storrs, B.B. Curry, R. H. Fluegeman, M.R. Dawson & M.E.T. Flint. 2001. The Pipe Creek Sinkhole Biota, a diverse late Tertiary continental fossil assemblage from Grant County, Indiana. American Midland Naturalist 145: 367-378.
  • R. A. Martin, H. T. Goodwin, and J. O. Farlow. 2002. Late Tertiary (Late Hemphillian) rodents from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole, Grant County,Indiana. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 22: 137-151.

Published Abstracts

  • J.O. Farlow, J. A. Sunderman, J.J. Havens, J.A. Holman, A.L. Swinehart,and M. Fortelius. 1997. Pipe Creek Jr. Sinkhole, a diverse pre-Wisconsinan terrestrial biota from Grant County, IN. Indiana Academy of Science, 113th Annual Meeting, Programs and Abstracts, p.115.
  • J.O. Farlow, J. A. Sunderman, J.A. Holman, A.L. Swinehart, and J.J.Havens. 1998. Pipe Creek Jr. Sinkhole, a late Tertiary terrestrial biota from Grant County, Indiana. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18(3): 40A.
  • J.A. Sunderman, J.O. Farlow, and J.J. Havens. 1998. Tertiary sediments and fossils from the northern Indiana Pipe Creek Jr. sinkhole site. 1998 Abstracts with Program, Geological Society of America,North-Central Section, p. 74.
  • J.O. Farlow, J.A. Holman, R.L. Richards, R.A. Martin, R.M. Hunt, Jr., G.W. Storrs, and M.R. Dawson. 1999. New vertebrate fossils from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole (Grant County, Indiana). 115th Annual Meeting, Indiana Academy of Science, Programs and Abstracts, p. 88.
  • A.L. Swinehart, N.G. Miller, J.O. Farlow, and J.A. Sunderman. 1999. Paleoenvironment of the Pipe Creek Sinkhole (Tertiary: Hemphillian) as indicated by plant fossils. 115th Annual Meeting, Indiana Academy of Science, Programs with Abstracts, p. 14.
  • H.A. Sheets and J.O. Farlow. 2003. Size-frequency distribution of leopard frogs (Rana pipiens complex) from the late Tertiary Pipe Creek Sinkhole, Grant County, Indiana. 37th Annual Meeting, North-Central Section, Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Program, p. 49.
  • J. Farlow, R. Richards, R. Garniewicz, W. Wepler, J.A. Holman, R. Martin, and J. Sunderman. 2004. New vertebrate fossils from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole (latest Hemphillian, Grant County, Indiana). 38th Annual Meeting, North-Central Section, Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Program, p. 14.
  • T. Reese, J. O. Farlow, and A. S. Argast. 2004. Preservation of fossil bone from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole (Late Hemphillian, Grant County, Indiana). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24(3): 103A.
  • J.O. Farlow. A. Argast, and T. Reece. 2005. Geochemistry of fossil bone from the Pipe Creek Sinkhole (Early Pliocene, Grant County, Indiana). 39th Annual Meeting, North-Central Section, Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Program, p. 11.