430 million year old sea monster unearthed in Britain


Paleontologists have described an ancient species that bears an uncanny resemblance to Cthulhu, a monstrous character created by author H.P. Lovecraft.

Only about 3 cm wide, its many-tentacled "face" would have been intimidating to any other comparable sea life at the time as it used its many-tentacles to move around the sea-floor and capture food.

The researchers performed a 3D reconstruction of the 430-million-year-old fossil, which they named Sollasina cthulhu, finding that it is more closely related to sea cucumbers than sea urchins.

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.

The researchers say that while the newly described creature looks like a kind of sea urchin, it actually belongs to an extinct group of echinoderms called "ophiocistioids" which, according to their analysis, are ancient relatives of sea cucumbers-a group of leathery-skinned, marine animals with elongated bodies that live on the sea floor.

Researchers ground the fossil, layer by layer, to create a 3D reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu (the tube feet are shown in different colors).

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The fossil was reconstructed by grinding the fossil down, one layer at a time, with photographs taken at every layer.

Because of the unique combination of volcanic ash and calcite that surrounds fossils there, scientist are able to observe not only the hard structures and bones of the entombed creatures, but soft tissue as well. 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. The hundreds of sliced images are then stacked together to reveal a digitally reconstructed "virtual fossil".

With a body measure just more than an inch across, Sollasina cthulhu was not quite as fearsome. "To our surprise, the results suggest it was an ancient sea cucumber".

A team of worldwide palaeontologists led by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have discovered the extremely well-preserved remains of an ancient relative of the marine invertebrates known as sea cucumbers.

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. 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.