June 24, 2019

Researchers find fossil of ancient creature with 45 arms

11 April 2019, 07:40 | Edward Lowe

An image of Sollasinacthulhu showing how it would have looked on the seafloor. Elissa Martin Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

An image of Sollasinacthulhu showing how it would have looked on the seafloor.                  Elissa Martin Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Given the name Sollasina cthulhu, due to its resemblance to the fictional Cthulhu sea beast thought of by American author H.P. Lovecraft, the creature was significantly smaller than the fictional monster, but perhaps just as scary to other sea creatures alive at the time.

The fossilised remains of the creature were discovered in the Herefordshire Lagerstätte in the United Kingdom, a site that has proven to be a treasure trove of fossilised ancient sea animals. The size of the organism did not exceed 3 cm, and the scientists discovered that the remains were 430 million years old.

British and American paleontologists used a special method to perform their 3D reconstruction, which involves grinding the fossil layer-by-layer, and taking a photograph at each stage.

The creature had multiple "tube feet" tentacles that it used to crawl over the seafloor and capture food, according to the research team.

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Today's oceans are full of interesting and freakish creatures, many of which would seem utterly unfathomable to us if we hadn't learned of their existence from a young age.

Because of the unique combination of volcanic ash and calcite that surrounds fossils there, scientist are able to observe not only the hard structures and bones of the entombed creatures, but soft tissue as well. This results in hundreds of slice images, which are digitally reconstructed into a "virtual fossil".

This 3D reconstruction allowed palaeontologists to visualize an internal ring, which they interpreted as part of the water vascular system - the system of fluid-filled canals used for feeding and movement in living sea cucumbers and their relatives. The fact it exists demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually over many, many years.

"This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before".

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The lead author of the study is Imran Rahman, deputy head of research at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The researchers were unsure whether to categorize Sollasina c. as an ancestor of the modern sea urchin or sea cucumber, so they performed a computerized analysis of evolutionary relationships between it and different species of fossilized sea cucumbers and sea urchins and found that it was much more in line with sea cucumbers.

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Invertebrate Paleontology Division, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust supported the research.

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