Spider-like ancient sea monster dubbed 'cthulhu' discovered in UK

Mindy Sparks
April 11, 2019

"Although the fossil is just 3 [centimers] wide, its many long tentacles would have made it appear quite monstrous to other small sea creatures alive at the time", a press release describing the find reads.

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. It was found in the Herefordshire Lagerstätte in the United Kingdom, a site that has proven to be a trove of fossilized ancient sea animals.

Palaeontologists from the United Kingdom and U.S. created an accurate 3D computer reconstruction of the 430 million-year-old fossil which allowed them to identify it as a species new to science.

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.

Because of the unique combination of volcanic ash and calcite that surrounds fossils there, scientist are able to observe not only the hard structures and bones of the entombed creatures, but soft tissue as well. These photographs were then used to reconstruct the fossil virtually for study.

They have called this new species Sollasina cthulhu.

In all, it boasts 45 tube-like tentacles which researchers say were capable of sucking up food and helping attach to the ocean floor. This enabled the researchers to visualize an internal ring which they suspect was part of a water vascular system used for feeding and movement. Specifically, the extinct creature seen in the fossil is part of an extinct group called ophiocistioids.

The fossil was described by an worldwide team of researchers from Oxford University Museum of Natural History, University of Southern California, Yale University, University of Leicester, and Imperial College London.

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

Originally, scientists thought ophiocistioids were most closely related to sea urchins, but the latest research - published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B - suggests sea cucumbers are Sollasina cthulhu's closest relatives.

The new fossil was incorporated into a computerized analysis of the evolutionary relationships of fossil sea cucumbers 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. Credit: Imran Rahman, Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

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