Researchers have discovered an exceptionally well preserved fossil in 430 million-year-old rocks representing a new species of primitive sea cucumber, which they have named Sollasina cthulhu due to its resemblance to the sea deity from H. P. Lovecraft's fictional universe.
Researchers in the United Kingdom and USA, 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. These tentacles, the researchers believe, were used to capture food and crawl over the seafloor.
"In this paper, we report a new echinoderm - the group that includes sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and sea stars - with soft-tissue preservation", said Yale paleontologist Derek Briggs, a co-author of the study.
Complete with soft parts, the fossilised remains were found in volcanic ash deposits that accumulated in what is now the county of Herefordshire near the Welsh Border.
It was through this method that the team was able to discern cthulhu's internal water vascular system and see how it was more closely related to sea cucumbers than sea urchins.
The 3D reconstruction process involves grinding a fossil away, layer by layer, and taking photographs at each stage.
"Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids, and this new material provides the first information on the group's internal structures". This produced hundreds of slice images, which were digitally reconstructed as a "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.
The researchers said Sollasina's existence demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually during the assembly of its body plan. "The tube feet of living echinoderms are naked, but in the ophiocistioids they were plated".
Boffins claim its diet likely consisted of algae and other tiny microorganisms - just like modern sea cucumbers.
"In terms of its morphological characteristics, Sollasina cthulhu was characterized by the presence of 45 tentacle-like tube feet, a body composed of many hard plates, and a mouth surrounded by five large 'teeth, '" Imran Rahman, lead author of the study from the University of Oxford, told Newsweek. 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.