Fossilized remains of 430 million-year-old 'sea monster' found

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 10, 2019

Cthulhu is calling from the ancient depths - and this time, researchers are only too happy to speak its name.

The fossilized remains of a 430 million-year-old sea creature that had tentacles longer than its body have been found in Herefordshire, Britain.

The research was published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The weird creature has been named "Sollasina Cthulhu" by excited boffins who claim its flailing tentacles resemble horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's most infamous beast. These tentacles, the researchers believe, were used to capture food and crawl over the seafloor. In terms of size this was no giant, measuring only about the size of a large spider. "This helps us understand the changes that occurred during the early evolution of the group, which ultimately gave rise to the slug-like forms we see today".

The 3D reconstruction process involves grinding a fossil away, layer by layer, and taking photographs at each stage. "With the aid of high-resolution physical-optical tomography, we describe the species in 3D, revealing internal elements of the water vascular system that were previously unknown in this group and, indeed, in almost all fossil echinoderms". The hundreds of sliced images are then stacked together to reveal a digitally reconstructed "virtual fossil".

The researchers say that while the newly described creature looks like a kind of sea urchin, it actually belongs to an extinct group of echinoderms called "ophiocistioids" which, according to their analysis, are ancient relatives of sea cucumbers-a group of leathery-skinned, marine animals with elongated bodies that live on the sea floor. This enabled the researchers to visualize an internal ring which they suspect was part of a water vascular system used for feeding and movement.

The new fossil was incorporated into a computerized analysis of the evolutionary relationships of fossil sea cucumbers and sea urchins. "The tube feet of living echinoderms are naked, but in the ophiocistioids they were plated". The fact it exists demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually over many, many years.

The fossil was described by an global team of researchers from Oxford University Museum of Natural History, University of Southern California, Yale University, University of Leicester, and Imperial College London.

Boffins claim its diet likely consisted of algae and other tiny microorganisms - just like modern sea cucumbers. Other authors are Jeffrey Thompson of University College London, David Siveter of the University of Leicester, Derek Siveter of Oxford, and Mark Sutton of Imperial College London.

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