McAbee Fossil Beds

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The McAbee Fossil Beds is a Heritage Site that protects an Eocene Epoch fossil locality east of Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada, just north of and visible from Provincial Highway 97 / the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) at 50°47.831′N 121°8.469′W / 50.797183°N 121.141150°W / 50.797183; -121.141150. The McAbee Fossil Beds, comprising 548.23 hectares, were officially granted Heritage Site protection by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations on July 19, 2012.[1] The fossil beds were listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places (CRHP) on August 20, 2012.[2] The site is part of an old lake bed which was deposited about 52 million years ago and is internationally recognised for the diversity of plant, insect, and fish fossils found there. Similar fossil beds in Eocene lake sediments are found at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park near Smithers in northern British Columbia, and at Republic in Washington, USA. The Princeton Chert fossil beds in southern British Columbia are also Eocene, but primarily preserve an aquatic plant community.

McAbee Fossil Beds viewed from the Highway.
Heritage status sign


Palaeontological and geological studies of the McAbee Fossil Beds go back at least to research in the 1960s and early 1970s by Dr. Len Hills of the University of Calgary and his students on the fossil spores and pollen (palynology) and the leaf fossils,[3][4][5] and research on the fossil fish from the fossil beds by Dr. Mark Wilson of the University of Alberta.[6] Thomas Ewing provided a detailed analysis of the geology of the Kamloops Group, including the McAbee beds.[7] Significant research on the fossil plants and insects has only occurred since the late 1980s.[8][9][10][11][12] The McAbee Fossil Beds are best known for the abundant and well preserved insect and fish fossils (Amyzon, Eohiodon, and Eosalmo). Eohiodon rosei from the McAbee Fossil Beds and other Eocene sites in British Columbia is now considered to belong to the present-day mooneye genus Hiodon.[13]

The climate of the McAbee Eocene lake setting was reconstructed to be temperate and wet, with a mean annual temperature about 11 °C (52 °F), winters lacking frost, and annual precipitation over 1,000 mm (39 in) a year.[10][11][14] The extraordinary detail preserved in the insect fossils, as well as the high diversity of insects, plants and other organisms means the McAbee Fossil Beds represent a Konservat-Lagerstätten.[12]

A volcanic ash exposed in the lake shale beds was originally radiometrically dated at ~51 million years ago;[4][7] however, an unpublished radiometric date places the McAbee Fossil Beds at 52.9 ± 0.83 million years old.[15][16]


Fossils of plant leaves, shoots, seeds, flowers and cones are abundant and well preserved, and include up to 76 genera of plants.[17] Fossil plants described from the fossil beds include rare flowers such as Dipteronia, a genus of trees related to maples (Acer. spp.) that today grows in eastern Asia,[18] extinct members of the birch family (Betulaceae) such as Palaeocarpinus,[19] maple seeds (Acer rousei),[8] and fruits and leaves of a beech (Fagus langevinii)[20] and an elm (Ulmus okanaganensis).[21]

Below is an incomplete list of the plant genera found in the McAbee fossil beds based on the list found in Dillhoff, Leopold & Manchester (2005) with extinct taxa denoted with a †.[22]

plant family genera common name
Cupressaceae Chamaecyparis, Cunninghamia, Metasequoia, Sequoia, Thuja cypress, Chinese fir, dawn redwood, California redwood, red or white cedar
Ginkgoaceae Ginkgo ginkgo, maidenhair tree
Pinaceae Abies,[23] Picea, Pinus, Pseudolarix,[24] Tsuga fir, spruce, pine, golden larch, hemlock
Betulaceae Alnus, Betula, Palaeocarpinus[19] alder, birch, extinct hornbeam
Cercidiphyllaceae Joffrea / Cercidiphyllum extinct / katsura (Japan)
Cornaceae Cornus dogwood
Fagaceae Fagus beech
Grossulariaceae Ribes currant or gooseberry
Hamamelidaceae Langeria magnifica extinct witch hazel relative
Lauraceae Sassafras sassafras
Malvaceae Florissantia extinct
Myricaceae Comptonia sweet fern (a woody flowering shrub with fern-like leaves)
Platanaceae Macginicarpa, Macginitiea extinct sycamore, plane tree
Rosaceae Amelanchier, Crataegus, Prunus serviceberry, hawthorn, cherry
Salicaceae Populus cottonwood, poplar
Sapindaceae Acer, Aesculus, †Cruciptera,[25] Dipteronia, Koelreuteria maple, buckeye or horse chestnut, golden rain tree
Trochodendraceae Trochodendron,[26] Zizyphoides wheel tree, extinct
Ulmaceae Ulmus elm

Insects and other arthropods[edit]

The fossil insects are particularly diverse and well preserved, and include an extinct bulldog ant Macabeemyrma ovata[27] and a recently described species of green lacewing (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae), Archaeochrysa profracta.[16][28] A species of fossil freshwater crayfish (Aenigmastacus crandalli) was described from the McAbee Fossil Beds.[29] The very high diversity of fossil insects in the McAbee fossil beds is comparable to that of modern day tropical forest areas.[30] Most recently, fossil palm beetles (Bruchidae) were described from the beds, confirming the presence of palms (Arecaceae) in the local environment in the early Eocene.[31]

Below is an incomplete list of the insect Orders, superfamilies and families, and genera found in the McAbee Fossil Beds based on information in Archibald, Bossert, Greenwood, and Farrell (2010),[16] Archibald, Mathewes, and Greenwood (2013),[16] Archibald, Rasnitsyn and Akhmetiev (2005) and other sources cited in the list below, with extinct taxa denoted with a †.

insect order family/super family genera common name
Ephemeroptera -- -- mayflies
Odonata Aeshnidae -- darners (dragonflies)
Odonata Megapodagrionidae -- flatwing damselflies
Blattodea Blaberidae -- blaberid cockroaches
Isoptera Hodotermitidae -- harvester termites
Dermaptera -- -- earwigs
Orthoptera Prophalangopsidae -- grigs
Orthoptera Tettigoniidae -- katydids
Hemiptera Aphididae -- aphids
Hemiptera Cicadellidae -- leaf hoppers
Hemiptera Cercopoidea -- spittlebugs
Neuroptera Chrysopidae Protochrysa, †Okanaganochrysa, †Adamsochrysa, †Archaeochrysa green lacewings
Neuroptera Hemerobiidae -- brown lacewings
Neuroptera Osmylidae -- osmylid lacewings
Coleoptera Cupedidae -- reticulated beetles
Coleoptera cf. Cantharidae -- soldier beetles
Coleoptera Cerambycidae -- long horned beetles
Coleoptera Chrysomelidae -- leaf beetles
Coleoptera Curculionidae -- weevils, snout beetles
Coleoptera cf. Elateridae -- click beetles
Coleoptera Mordellidae -- tumbling flower beetles
Mecoptera Bittacidae -- hangingflies
Mecoptera †Cimbrophlebiidae Cimbrophlebia extinct group
Mecoptera Panorpidae Panorpa panorpid scorpionflies
Mecoptera Dinopanorpidae Dinokanaga extinct group
Mecoptera †Holcorpidae Holcorpa extinct group
Mecoptera †Eorpidae Eorpa extinct group
Mecoptera Eomeropidae Eomerope eomeropid Mecoptera
Diptera Bibionidae Plecia March flies
Diptera Cylindrotomidae -- long-bodied crane flies
Diptera Limoniidae -- limoniid crane flies
Diptera Mycetophilidae -- fungus gnats
Diptera Tipulidae -- crane flies
Diptera Trichoceridae -- winter crane flies
Diptera Syrphidae -- flower flies, hover flies
Trichoptera -- -- caddisflies
Hymenoptera Braconidae -- braconid wasps
Hymenoptera Cimbicidae -- cimbicid wasps
Hymenoptera Diapriidae -- diapriid wasps
Hymenoptera Figitidae -- figitid wasps
Hymenoptera Formicidae Ypresiomyrma, †Avitomyrmex, †Macabeemyrma, †Myrmeciites bulldog ants
Hymenoptera Ichneumonidae -- ichneumon wasps
Hymenoptera Proctotrupidae -- proctotrupid wasps
Hymenoptera Siricidae -- horntail wasps
Hymenoptera Sphecidae -- Sphecid wasps
Hymenoptera Tenthredinidae -- tenthredinid wasps
Hymenoptera Vespidae -- hornets

Collections and collecting status[edit]

Small collections of fossils are housed in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria BC, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, WA, and other university collections, principally Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., and Brandon University in Manitoba. Significant collections of fossils from the McAbee Fossil Beds are in private ownership and fossils from the McAbee Fossil Beds are listed for sale on the internet.[17]

The cessation of fossil collecting at the McAbee Fossil Beds through heritage listing is consistent with British Columbia's new Fossil Management Framework[32] which seeks to:

  • clarify the rules governing the management and use of fossils;
  • manage impacts on fossils from other activities;
  • provide for the stewardship of significant fossil sites;
  • raise internal and external awareness of the framework and the importance of fossils;
  • build knowledge of the nature and extent of the resource in BC; and
  • clarify the rights and obligations of the public, business, government and other stakeholders.


  1. ^ McAbee fossil site receives heritage protection.
  2. ^ Canada's Historic Places Register - McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site.
  3. ^ Hills, L.V. 1965. Palynology and age of early Tertiary basins, interior British Columbia; unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, 189 p.
  4. ^ a b Hills, L.V., and Baadsgaard, H. 1967. Potassium-argon dating of some Lower Tertiary strata in British Columbia. Canadian Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 15, p. 138–149.
  5. ^ Verschoor, K. van R. 1974. Paleobotany of the Tertiary (early Middle Eocene) McAbee Beds, British Columbia. M.Sc. thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, 128 p.
  6. ^ Wilson, M.V.H. (1977). "Middle Eocene freshwater fishes from British Columbia". Life Sciences Contributions, Royal Ontario Museum. No. 113: 1–66. 
  7. ^ a b Ewing, T.E. (1981). "Regional stratigraphy and structural setting of the Kamloops Group, south-central British Columbia". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 18 (9): 1464–1477. doi:10.1139/e81-137. 
  8. ^ a b Wolfe, J.A.; Tanai, T. (1987). "Systematics, Phylogeny, and Distribution of Acer (maples) in the Cenozoic of Western North America". Journal of the Faculty of Science, Hokkaido University. Series 4, Geology and mineralogy 22 (1): 1–246. 
  9. ^ Douglas; Stockey, R.A. (1996). "Insect fossils in Middle Eocene deposits from British Columbia and Washington State: faunal diversity and geological range extensions". Canadian Journal of Zoology 6: 1140–1157. 
  10. ^ a b Greenwood, D.R.; Wing, S.L. (1995). "Eocene continental climates and latitudinal temperature gradients". Geology 23 (11): 1044–1048. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1995)023<1044:eccalt>;2. 
  11. ^ a b Greenwood, D.R.; Archibald, S.B.; Mathewes, R.W.; Moss, P.T. (2005). "Fossil biotas from the Okanagan Highlands, southern British Columbia and northeastern Washington State: climates and ecosystems across an Eocene landscape". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 42 (2): 167–185. doi:10.1139/E04-100. 
  12. ^ a b Archibald, S.B.; Greenwood, D.R.; Smith, R.Y.; Mathewes, R.W.; Basinger, J.F. (2012). "Great Canadian Lagerstätten 1. Early Eocene Lagerstätten of the Okanagan Highlands (British Columbia and Washington State)". Geoscience Canada 38 (4): 155–164. 
  13. ^ Hilton, E.J. & Grande, L. (2008). Fossil Mooneyes (Teleostei: Hiodontiformes, Hiodontidae) from the Eocene of western North America, with a reassessment of their taxonomy" in "Birth of the modern world: the Tertiary. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, v. 295, p. 221-251.
  14. ^ Dillhoff, R.M., Dillhoff, T.A., Greenwood, D.R., DeVore, M.L., and Pigg, K.B. 2013. The Eocene Thomas Ranch flora, Allenby Formation, Princeton, British Columbia, Canada. Botany, vol. 91(8), p. 514 – 529. doi:10.1139/cjb-2012-0313
  15. ^ Moss, P.T., Greenwood, D.R., and Archibald, S.B. 2005. Regional and local vegetation community dynamics of the Eocene Okanagan Highlands (British Columbia - Washington State) from palynology. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 42(2), p. 187–204. doi:10.1139/E04-095
  16. ^ a b c d Archibald, S.B., Bossert, W.H., Greenwood, D.R., and Farrell, B.D. 2010. Seasonality, the latitudinal gradient of diversity, and Eocene insects. Paleobiology, 36 (3): 374 – 398.
  17. ^ a b Wilson, M.V.H. 2009. McAbee Fossil Site Assessment Report. 60 pp.Online PDF. Accessed July 21, 2012.
  18. ^ McClain A.M. and Manchester S.R. (2001). Dipteronia (Sapindaceae) from the Tertiary of North America and implications for the phytogeographic history of the Aceroideae. American Journal of Botany, v. 88(7), p. 1316–1325.
  19. ^ a b Pigg, K.B.; Manchester, S.R.; Wehr, W.C. (2003). "Corylus, Carpinus, and Palaeocarpinus (Betulaceae) from the Middle Eocene Klondike Mountain and Allenby Formations of Northwestern North America". International Journal of Plant Sciences 164 (5): 807–822. doi:10.1086/376816. 
  20. ^ Manchester, S.R. & Dillhoff, R.M. (2004). Fagus (Fagaceae) fruits, foliage, and pollen from the Middle Eocene of Pacific Northwestern North America. Canadian Journal of Botany, v. 82(10), p. 1509-1517. doi:10.1139/b04-112
  21. ^ Denk, T. & Dillhoff, R.M. (2005). Ulmus leaves and fruits from the Early-Middle Eocene of northwestern North America: systematics and implications for character evolution within Ulmaceae. Canadian Journal of Botany, v. 83(12), p. 1663-1681. doi:10.1139/b05-122
  22. ^ Dillhoff, R.M.; Leopold, E.B.; Manchester, S.R. (2005). "The McAbee flora of British Columbia and its relations to the Early-Middle Eocene Okanagan Highlands flora of the Pacific Northwest". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 42 (2): 151–166. doi:10.1139/e04-084. 
  23. ^ Schorn, H.; Wehr, W.C. (1986). "Abies milleri, sp. nov., from the Middle Eocene Klondike Mountain Formation, Republic, Ferry County, Washington". Burke Museum Contributions in Anthropology and Natural History (1): 1–7. 
  24. ^ LePage, B.A.; Basinger, J.F. (1995). "Evolutionary history of the genus Pseudolarix Gordon (Pinaceae)". International Journal of Plant Sciences 156 (6): 910–950. doi:10.1086/297313. 
  25. ^ Manchester, S.R. (1991). "Cruciptera, a new juglandaceous winged fruit from the Eocene and Oligocene of Western North America". Systematic Botany 16 (4): 715–725. doi:10.2307/2418873. 
  26. ^ Pigg, K.B.; Dillhoff, R.M.; DeVore, M.L.; Wehr, W.C. (2007). "New diversity among the Trochodendraceae from the Early/Middle Eocene Okanogan Highlands of British Columbia, Canada, and Northeastern Washington State, United States". International Journal of Plant Sciences 168 (4): 521–532. doi:10.1086/512104. 
  27. ^ Archibald, S.B.; Cover, S. P.; Moreau, C. S. (2006). "Bulldog Ants of the Eocene Okanagan Highlands and History of the Subfamily (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae)". Annals of the Entomological Society of America 99 (3): 487–523. doi:10.1603/0013-8746(2006)99[487:BAOTEO]2.0.CO;2. 
  28. ^ Makarkin, V.N.; Archibald, S.B. (2013). A diverse new assemblage of green lacewings (Insecta, Neuroptera, Chrysopidae) from the early Eocene Okanagan Highlands, western North America. Journal of Paleontology 87: 123–146. doi:10.1666/12-052R.1
  29. ^ Feldmann, R.A., Schweitzer, C.E. & Leahy, J. 2011. New Eocene crayfish from the McAbee Beds in British Columbia: First record of Parastacoidea in the Northern Hemisphere. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 31 (2): 320–331, doi:10.1651/10-3399.1
  30. ^ Archibald, S.B., Greenwood, D.R., & Mathewes, R.W. (2013). Seasonality, montane beta diversity, and Eocene insects: Testing Janzen's dispersal hypothesis in an equable world. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 371: 1 – 8, doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.10.043
  31. ^ Archibald, S.B., Morse, G., Greenwood, D.R., & Mathewes, R.W. (2014). "Fossil palm beetles refine upland winter temperatures in the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (22): 8095 - 8100, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1323269111
  32. ^ Fossil Management Framework. (accessed June 20, 2012)

External links[edit]