Friday, 19 April, 2019

Sollasina Cthulhu: Monstrous 430 Million-Year-Old Sea Cucumber Discovered

Life reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu Life reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu
Cary Marshall | 11 April, 2019, 19:38

Because of its many tentacles, the new organism was named Sollasina cthulhu, in honour of the monster from the works of Howard Lovecraft., according to the CNET portal.

"Although the fossil is just 3 [centimers] wide, its many long tentacles would have made it appear quite monstrous to other small sea creatures alive at the time", a press release describing the find reads.

Paleontologists have identified a 430 million-year-old fossil as a new species that is related to sea cucumbers, and the unusual creature reminded them so much of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional cosmic entity, Cthulhu, that they chose to name it Sollasina cthulhu. It represents one of many important finds recovered from the Herefordshire fossil site in the United Kingdom, which is famous for preserving both the soft as well as the hard parts of fossils.

Palaeontologists from the United States and the UK worked together to grind away the fossil, photographing it from hundreds of different angles to then digitally reconstruct the animal as a 3D model.

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To get a better understanding of what the ancient species looked like, scientists ground away at the fossil layer-by-layer, taking a photograph of each layer. 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. "This allowed us to build up a dataset of hundreds of "slices" through the fossil, which were then digitally reconstructed as a "virtual fossil" on a computer".

They have called this new species Sollasina cthulhu. Not five or ten arms, mind you, but a full 45 individual limbs that scientists now believe it used to crawl across the ocean bottom in search of food and safety. With this 3D reconstruction, the paleontologists were able to visualize an inner ring-like form inside the animal, which they interpreted as part of the system of fluid-filled canals used for feeding and moving in living sea cucumbers and their relatives. "To our surprise, the results suggest it was an ancient sea cucumber".

Lead author Dr Imran Rahman, deputy head of research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: "Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids, and this new material provides the first information on the group's internal structures". 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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