Scientists discover Cthulhu sea cucumber that terrorised oceans 430 million years ago

James Marshall
April 10, 2019

This is a reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu.

Cthulhu is calling from the ancient depths - and this time, researchers are only too happy to speak its name.

The "exceptionally preserved" remains, which were dug up by British palaeontologists, enabled experts from the United Kingdom and U.S. to create an accurate 3D computer reconstruction of the ancient monstrosity.

The weird creature has been named "Sollasina Cthulhu" by excited boffins who claim its flailing tentacles resemble horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's most infamous beast. The creature was small, about the size of a large spider. 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. "This new species belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids. 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". The results showed that Sollasina and its relatives are most closely related to sea cucumbers, rather than sea urchins, shedding new light on the evolutionary history of the group. "This involved painstakingly grinding away the fossil, a few hundredths of a millimeter as a time, taking photographs of each exposed surface with a digital camera. This allowed us to build up a dataset of hundreds of "slices" through the fossil, which were then digitally reconstructed as a "virtual fossil" on a computer".

The creature had multiple "tube feet" tentacles that it used to crawl over the seafloor and capture food, according to the research team. "The tube feet of living echinoderms are naked, but in the ophiocistioids they were plated".

There are over 1,250 species of sea cucumbers that can be found in oceans throughout the world.

The researchers said Sollasina's existence demonstrates that the sea cucumber skeleton was modified gradually during the assembly of its body plan.

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

Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, the Museum of Natural History now holds the University's internationally significant collections of entomological, geological and zoological specimens.

In 2015, the Museum was a Finalist in the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year.

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