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.
Palaeontologists from the USA and the United Kingdom worked together to grind away the fossil, photographing it from hundreds of different angles to then digitally reconstruct the animal as a 3D model.
The team at Oxford recreated the 3D by grinding away thin layers of the fossil, taking individual photographs at each stage to create a "virtual fossil".
In all, it boasts 45 tube-like tentacles which researchers say were capable of sucking up food and helping attach to the ocean floor.
Today's oceans are full of interesting and freaky creatures, many of which would seem utterly unfathomable to us if we hadn't learned of their existence from a young age. The excellent preservation of fossil specimens is owed to the entombed of Silurian (443-416 million years ago) marine life in volcanic ash, causing calcite precipitation. The process happened so fast that soft parts didn't have time to decay, becoming preserved as sparry calcite.
A fossil of the creature, which belonged to a now extinct group called ophiocistioids, was uncovered from a fossil-rich site in the United Kingdom off the coast of Herefordshire. "This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before", Dr. Imran Rahman, deputy head of research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the study's lead author, said in the University of Oxford press release.
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. "To our surprise, the results suggest it was an ancient sea cucumber".
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.
The fossil slices and 3D reconstruction are housed at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.