Scientists discover Cthulhu sea cucumber that terrorised oceans 430 million years ago

10 Avril, 2019, 18:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote

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

Publishing its discovery to Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team described a 430m-year-old creature related to modern sea cucumbers, naming it Sollasina cthulhu.

The "exceptionally preserved" remains, which were dug up by British palaeontologists, enabled experts from the United Kingdom and USA to create an accurate 3D computer reconstruction of the ancient monstrosity.

An exceptionally-preserved fossil from Herefordshire in the United Kingdom has given new insights into the early evolution of sea cucumbers, the group that includes the sea pig and its relatives, according to a new article published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers in the United Kingdom and U.S., 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. In terms of size this was no giant, measuring only about the size of a large spider. This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before.

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.

Sea cucumbers belong to the group of animals called echinoderms, and their closest relatives are starfish and sea urchins.

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The team at Oxford recreated the 3D by grinding away thin layers of the fossil, taking individual photographs at each stage to create a "virtual fossil".

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

The creature had multiple "tube feet" tentacles that it used to crawl over the seafloor and capture food, according to the research team. "The tube feet of living echinoderms are naked, but in the ophiocistioids they were plated".

The researchers said Sollasina's existence demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually during the assembly of its body plan. To our surprise, the results suggest it was an ancient sea cucumber.

"We interpret this as the first evidence of the soft parts of the water vascular system in ophiocistioids", Dr. Imran Rahman, Deputy Head of Research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.

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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