An global team of researchers, including minds from Yale, Imperial College London, Oxford, and other institutions, have identified a new species of sea creature that crawled along the sea floor hundreds of millions of years ago.
Like other fossils from Herefordshire, Sollasina cthulhu was studied using a method that involved grinding it away, layer-by-layer, with a photograph taken at each stage. All of those creatures have soft tissue preservation. The resulting hundreds of images are then digitally reconstructed until a "virtual fossil" is created. Not five or ten arms, mind you, but a full 45 individual limbs that scientists now believe it used to crawl across the ocean bottom in search of food and safety. This enabled the researchers to visualize an internal ring which they suspect was part of a water vascular system used for feeding and movement.
This is a reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu.
"This includes an inner ring-like form that has never been described in the group before".
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Lead author Dr Imran Rahman, deputy head of research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: "Sollasina belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids, and this new material provides the first information on the group's internal structures".
The water vascular system inside cthuluh is more closely related to sea cucumbers than sea urchins says the researchers.
Boffins claim its diet likely consisted of algae and other tiny microorganisms - just like modern sea cucumbers.
"We carried out a number of analyses to work out whether Sollasina was more closely related to sea cucumbers or sea urchins".
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.
"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", Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Royal Society Newton International Fellow at University College London and co-author of the new study, said in a statement.