An exceptionally well-preserved fossil from Herefordshire in the United Kingdom has provided 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.
The paleontologists of the United Kingdom and EE. UU They created an accurate 3D computer reconstruction of the 430 million year old fossil that allowed them to identify it as a new species for science. They called the animal Sollasina Cthulhu due to its resemblance to the monsters of the fictional universe of Cthulhu created by the author H.P. Lovecraft.
While the fossil is only 3 cm wide, its many long tentacles would have made it seem quite monstrous for other small sea creatures alive at that time. It is believed that these tentacles, or "tubular feet", were used to capture food and crawl on the seabed.
Like other fossils from Herefordshire, Sollasina Cthulhu it was studied using a method that involved discarding it, layer by layer, with a photograph taken at each stage. This produced hundreds of cut images, which were digitally reconstructed as a "virtual fossil".
This reconstruction in 3D allowed the paleontologists to visualize an internal ring, which they interpreted as part of the vascular system of the water, the system of channels filled with liquid used for feeding and movement in live sea cucumbers and their relatives.
The lead author, Dr. Imran Rahman, Deputy Head of Research at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oxford, said:
"Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids, and this new material provides the first information about the internal structures of the group. This includes an inner ring shape that has never been described in the group above. We interpret this as the first evidence of the soft tissues of the vascular system of water in opiocystioids. "
The new fossil was incorporated into a computerized badysis of the evolutionary relationships of fossil sea cucumbers and sea urchins. The results showed that Sollasina and their relatives are more closely related to sea cucumbers, rather than sea urchins, shedding new light on the evolutionary history of the group.
The co-author, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, a member of the Royal Society Newton International at University College London, said:
"We carried out a series of badyzes to determine if Sollasina It was more closely related to sea cucumbers or sea urchins. To our surprise, the results suggest that it was an ancient sea cucumber. This helps us understand the changes that occurred during the early evolution of the group, which ultimately gave rise to the forms of slugs we see today. "
The fossil was described by an international team of researchers from the Natural History Museum of the University of Oxford, the University of Southern California, Yale University, the University of Leicester and Imperial College London. It represents one of the many important finds recovered from the Herefordshire fossil site in the United Kingdom, which is famous for preserving both soft and hard parts of fossils.
The fossil cuts and the reconstruction in 3D are in the Museum of Natural History of the University of Oxford.
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