'Cthulhu' Fossil Reconstruction Reveals Monstrous Relative of Modern Sea Cucumbers

James Marshall
April 11, 2019

Researchers in the United Kingdom and U.S., 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.

Researchers have identified an ancient ancestor of modern sea cucumbers that resembles the appearance of the many-tentacled abomination known as "Cthulhu", created by horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

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.

The team then incorporated the new fossil into a computerized analysis of the evolutionary relationships of fossil sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

Palaeontologists from the United States and the UK 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 fossil was reconstructed by grinding the fossil down, one layer at a time, with photographs taken at every layer. All of those creatures have soft tissue preservation.

The new cthulhu, Sollasina, had 45 tentacle-like tube feet, which it used to crawl along the ocean floor and capture food. This produced hundreds of slice images, which were digitally reconstructed as a "virtual fossil".

This is a 3D reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu. The 3D render also revealed an internal ring - a first-time discovery for this group of extinct creatures - that most likely formed part of a vascular system of "fluid filled canals" the creature used to move and feed.

"This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before".

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

The water vascular system inside cthuluh is more closely related to sea cucumbers than sea urchins says the researchers.

Sea cucumbers belong to the group of animals called echinoderms, and their closest relatives are starfish and sea urchins. 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.

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 reports by Click Lancashire

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