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Microfossils1

Microfossils about 1 mm.

Microfossils are fossils generally not larger than four millimeters, and commonly smaller than one millimeter, the study of which requires the use of light or electron microscopy. Fossils which can be studied with the naked eye or low-powered magnification, such as a hand lens, are referred to as Macrofossils. Obviously, it can be hard to decide whether or not some organisms should be considered microfossils, and so there is no fixed size boundary.

For example, some colonial organisms, such as bryozoa (especially the Cheilostomata) have relatively large colonies, but are classified on the basis of fine skeletal details of the tiny individuals of the colony. Most bryozoan specialists tend to consider themselves paleontologists, rather than micropaleontologists, but many micropaleontologists also study bryozoa.

In another example, many fossil genera of Foraminifera, which are protists, are known from shells (called "tests") that were as big as coins, such as the genus Nummulites.

Microfossils are a common feature of the geological record, from the Precambrian to the Holocene. They are most common in deposits of marine environments, but also occur in brackish water, fresh water and terrestrial sedimentary deposits. While every kingdom of life is represented in the microfossil record, the most abundant forms are protist skeletons or cysts from the Chrysophyta, Pyrrhophyta, Sarcodina, acritarchs and chitinozoans, together with pollen and spores from the vascular plants.

Mantell's Iguanodon restoration

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