Scientists DISCOVER 430 Million-Year-Old Sea Cucumber

An image of Sollasinacthulhu showing how it would have looked on the seafloor.

Palaeontologists from the United Kingdom and U.S. created an accurate 3D computer reconstruction of the 430 million-year-old fossil which allowed them to identify it as a species new to science.

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.

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.

Scientists believe it used these long limbs, or "tube feet", to capture food and crawl over the seafloor. The creature was small, about the size of a large spider. "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". 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. "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".

This reconstruction process involved grinding a fossil away layer by layer and taking photos at each of these stages. The hundreds of sliced images are then stacked together to reveal a digitally reconstructed "virtual fossil".

In order to verify where Sollasina cthulhu belongs on the evolutionary family tree, the researchers performed a computerized analysis which confirmed the fossil was a type of ancient sea cucumber, rather than a sea urchin. 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 tube feet of living echinoderms are naked, but in the ophiocistioids they were plated". To our surprise, the results suggest it was an ancient sea cucumber. The fact it exists demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually over many, many years.

The discovery was made by a team of global palaeontologists, led by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, using a fossil discovered in a site in Herefordshire, UK.

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.