A methodology for trace fossil identification using burrowing signatures is tested by evaluating ancient and modern lungfish and crayfish burrows and comparing them to previously undescribed burrows in a stratigraphic interval thought to contain both lungfish and crayfish burrows. Permian burrows that bear skeletal remains of the lungfish Gnathorhiza, from museum collections, were evaluated to identify unique burrow morphologies that could be used to distinguish lungfish from crayfish burrows when fossil remains are absent. The lungfish burrows were evaluated for details of the burrowing mechanism preserved in the burrow morphologies together forming burrowing signatures and were compared to new burrows in the Chinle Formation of western Colorado to test the methodology of using burrow signatures to identify unknown burrows.
Permian lungfish aestivation burrows show simple, nearly vertical, unbranched architectures and relatively smooth surficial morphologies with characteristic quasi‐horizontal striae on the burrow walls and vertical striae on the bulbous terminus. Burrow lengths do not exceed 0.5 m. In contrast, modern and ancient crayfish burrows exhibit simple to highly complex architectures with highly textured surficial morphologies. Burrow lengths may reach 4 to 5 m.
Burrow morphologies unlike those identified in Gnathorhiza aestivation burrows were found in four burrow groups from museum collections. Two of these groups exhibit simple architectures and horizontal striae that were greater in sinuosity and magnitude, respectively. One of these burrows contains the remains of Lysorophus, but the burrow surface reveals no reliable surficial characteristics. It is not clear whether Lysorophus truly burrowed or merely occupied a pre‐existing structure. The other two groups exhibit surficial morphologies similar to those found on modern and ancient crayfish burrows and may provide evidence of freshwater crayfish in the Permian.
Burrows from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation in western Colorado exhibit simple to moderately complex architectural morphologies, ranging from predominantly vertical, unbranched, with little or no chamber development to predominantly vertical, few branches, and with minor chamber development. Surficial burrow morphologies are moderate to highly textured. The burrows have scrape marks, scratch marks, mud and lag‐liners, knobby surfaces, pleopod striae, and body impressions.
Although no fossil remains of the burrowing organism were found within or associated with the Chinle burrows from western Colorado, the similarity of architectural and surficial burrow morphologies to those in the Chinle of Canyonlands, Utah and to modern crayfish burrows, clearly indicates that the Colorado burrows are the product of burrowing crayfish rather than lungfish. Evaluation of burrowing signatures preserved in the architectural and surficial burrow morphologies is a very useful tool to compare and contrast Chinle burrows from different regions on the Colorado Plateau. Documentation of crayfish burrows in the Chinle of Utah and Colorado strongly suggests that other large‐diameter Chinle burrows elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau and in stratigraphically equivalent units may also be the product of crayfish activity.