Researchers have identified an ancient ancestor of modern sea cucumbers that resembles the appearance of the tentacled creature known as 'Cthulhu', created by horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
Researchers in the U.K. and the U.S. have discovered an ancient ancestor of modern sea cucumbers that bears a resemblance to the tentacled Great Old One in the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, though at a more manageable scale than its namesake. They have called this new species Sollasina cthulhu.
Sollasina Cthulhu, dead but dreaming
The paleontologists recreated the 430 million-year-old fossil using a 3-D computer reconstruction that enabled them to identify the species as entirely new to science. Only about 1.1 inches (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 seafloor and capture food.
The fossil was reconstructed by grinding the fossil down, one layer at a time, with photographs taken at every layer. These photographs were then used to virtually reconstruct the fossil for study. This enabled the researchers to visualize an internal ring that they suspected was part of a water vascular system used for feeding and movement.
"Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids,” said Dr. Imran Rahman, Deputy Head of Research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and lead author of the research, “and this new material provides the first information on the group's internal structures. This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before. We interpret this as the first evidence of the soft parts of the water vascular system in ophiocistioids."
The researchers were unsure whether to categorize Sollasina c. as an ancestor of the modern sea urchin or sea cucumber, so they performed a computerized analysis of evolutionary relationships between it and different species of fossilized sea cucumbers and sea urchins and found that it was much more in line with sea cucumbers.
"We carried out a number of analyses to work out whether Sollasina was more closely related to sea cucumbers or sea urchins,” said Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Royal Society Newton International Fellow at University College London and co-author of the research. “To our surprise, the results suggest 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 slug-like forms we see today."
The original research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.