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

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

Researchers in the United Kingdom and USA, have discovered an ancient ancestor of modern sea cucumbers that bears a resemblance to the many-tentacled Great Old One in the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, though at a more manageable scale than its namesake.

Paleontologists have identified a 430 million-year-old fossil as a new species that is related to sea cucumbers, and the odd creature reminded them so much of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional cosmic entity, Cthulhu, that they made a decision to name it Sollasina cthulhu.

The menacing-looking fossil was found in Herefordshire, UK, which is famous for preserving both the soft as well as the hard parts of fossils. The team of researchers that discovered the 430 million-year-old fossil are from Yale, Oxford, the University of Leicester, Imperial College London, and University College London.

3D reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu; tube feet are shown in different colors.

"This involved painstakingly grinding away the fossil, a few hundredths of a millimeter as a time, taking photographs of each exposed surface with a digital camera". The resulting hundreds of images are then digitally reconstructed until a "virtual fossil" is created.

In all, it boasts 45 tube-like tentacles which researchers say were capable of sucking up food and helping attach to the ocean floor. The excellent preservation of fossil specimens is owed to the entombed of Silurian (443-416 million years ago) marine life in volcanic ash, causing calcite precipitation. The process happened so fast that soft parts didn't have time to decay, becoming preserved as sparry calcite.

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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.

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.

"Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids, and this new material provides the first information on the group's internal structures".

"This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before". The biggest difference between S. cthulhu and similar species we see today is that the ancient animals boasted armored limbs, whereas starfish and cucumbers have "naked" limbs.

The new fossil was incorporated into a computerized analysis of the evolutionary relationships of fossil sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

"We carried out a number of analyses to work out whether Sollasina was more closely related to sea cucumbers or sea urchins", said Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Royal Society Newton International Fellow at University College London and co-author of the research.

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