Rock & Gem


Michigan’s State Stone

- By Joseph “PaleoJoe” Kchodl

To paleontolo­gists, this coral truly does not become a “Petoskey Stone” until someone slices and polishes it (and charges people lots of money for it). Then it becomes a Petoskey Stone. In its rough natural form, it is really a piece of Hexagonari­a coral. Walking along the northern Lower Peninsula shorelines of lakes Huron and Michigan, it is easy to see this fossil’s natural attraction on people. Looking into the water, one can sometimes see this coral, rounded by relentless waves, worn smooth showing its beautiful internal structure. It is easy to see that rockhounds, jewelry makers and almost everyone would be taken by this attractive fossil. Once removed from the water, however, it quickly dries and loses its bright polished shine. To achieve that permanent shine it is necessary to polish the rock by grinding and sanding it with various grits of sandpaper and abrasives, finally finishing it with a polishing compound to bring out the beautiful luster of the stone. Then it is a Petoskey Stone. There are at least nine species of Hexagonari­a, but the only true “Petoskey Stone” is the H. percarinat­a.

Corals are marine organisms that are made up of many – sometimes thousands of hard calcium carbonate exoskeleto­ns called corallites. Each corallite contains a polyp – an individual multi-cellular animal. There are two major types of corals. Solitary corals growing by themselves, and colonial corals, growing in a tight community of geneticall­y identical polyps. The polyp is the actual living individual creature that inhabits each corallite. As the coral grows, it extends the calcium carbonate exoskeleto­n and seals off part of the base.

Corals live in a symbiotic relationsh­ip with a variety of marine algae. Although the corals had stinging tentacles and were able to capture food such as zooplankto­n, the algae provided more of what corals needed to survive. Food was captured by tentacles and brought down to the center where the mouth and stomach were located. The algae used a process called photosynth­esis to provide additional energy to the coral polyp. In turn, the hard calcium carbonate exoskeleto­n of the coral and stinging tentacles provided protection for the algae. The coral polyp produced waste products that the algae needed for its survival. Because sunlight is needed for the algae photosynth­esis process and sunlight only penetrates the ocean to a certain depth, the corals normally grow in shallow waters from 30 to 150 feet.

On to Petoskey Stones. Hexagonari­a coral is a colonial marine animal that lived in warm shallow salt-water tropical seas. Prehistori­c Michigan was once such an environmen­t. During the Devonian Period some 419 - 358 million years ago, Michigan was located much closer to the equator. Much of Michigan’s bedrock is made up of huge limestone beds that underlie the surface soil. These large tracts of limestone bedrock are the remains of ancient coral reefs that filled the sea that once covered what is now Michigan. These coral seas were full of a variety of creatures that included but were not limited to, corals - both solitary and colonial.

Each corallite of the Hexagonari­a is made of a sometimes five but usually six-sided “compartmen­t,” which adjoins the others in the colony and created the elaborate six-sided hexagon. The radiating lines one sees in the “Petoskey Stone” are the septa and theca. The septa are the lines of division between each corallite and the theca are the internal radiating lines. These patterns of hexagon shapes and radiating lines are what will eventually give the Petoskey Stone its uniqueness among rocks.

The Hexagonari­a are found across Michigan along lakeshores and rivers in the sediments commonly called the Traverse group. They are rounded fragments of the coral Hexagonari­a. Some of these coral reefs still lie beneath the ground and some under the water of Little Traverse Bay.

Due to the wave and abrasive action of the sand, these stones are rounded and washed up on the beach. The action of ice also brings these stones into shallow water. The best time to hunt for Petoskey’s is in the spring as soon as the ice melts, but beware. I have seen locals donning dry suits and walking in waste deep water as ice floats by picking up the stones before they even reach the shore.

The name Petoskey is said to come from an old Odawa Indian legend. It is said that a French fur trader Antoine Carre came to Michigan traveling extensivel­y in the area now known as Petoskey where he met and married an Odawa princess. In time he was adopted by the local Odawa tribe and eventually was made their chief. It is further told that in the spring of 1787 traveling with his wife on his way from near present day Chicago he camped near what is now Kalamazoo. During the night, his wife gave birth to a son. It is the legend that as the morning sun rose, the sun’s rays fell upon the infant’s face, and his father pronounced his name shall be Petosegay, and he shall be an important person. The translatio­n of the Odawa Petosegay means sunbeam, or rising sun or rays of dawn.

Petosegay also became a fur trader like his father and also became quite wealthy. He owned much land in the Petoskey area, and a community was settled on the shores of Little Traverse Bay. The present location of the city of Petoskey stands as a tribute to Petosegay. Because these rounded and water-tumbled fossils were found in great abundance on the shores of Little Traverse Bay, they became known as Petoskey stones.


The Petoskey stone was made the state stone of Michigan by legislativ­e action. Then-Governor George Romney signed House Bill 2297 in 1965, thus elevating this fossil to the prestigiou­s position it now holds around the world as something one must have seek, find, or purchase when visiting Michigan.

Joseph J. “PaleoJoe” Kchodl is an awardwinni­ng paleontolo­gist, author, storytelle­r, collector, a revered expert on the topic of trilobites, highly-sought-after presenter of school programs about fossils, keynote speaker and lecturer, and a global ambassador promoting digging and the appreciati­on of fossils. More can be learned by visiting his website:

 ??  ?? Hexagonari­a colony as found inland Northern Lower Peninsula, Michigan
Hexagonari­a colony as found inland Northern Lower Peninsula, Michigan
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