Belemnites are fossil cephalopods related to the squids, octopods and cuttlefish that live in the ocean today. Belemnites went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago, but their fossil remains are easy to find at the C&D Canal. Belemnitella americana was named the State Fossil of Delaware on July 2, 1996.
The brown, cigar-shaped belemnite you find in a fossil pit is not the whole animal. When you hold a belemnite, you are holding part of the ancient internalized shell! Living cephalopods are soft bodied animals that are related to snails, clams, and chitons. Unlike their relatives, squids have a greatly reduced shell that is contained inside their body. In squids this reduced, internalized shell is called a gladius.
Cephalopods are exclusively marine animals, so finding fossil cephalopods on land is evidence that the Delmarva Peninsula was once an underwater marine environment!