Scientists find octopus ancestor that predates dinosaurs and name it after President Biden
Scientists have found the oldest known ancestor of octopuses — an approximately 330-million-year-old fossil unearthed in Montana.
The researchers concluded the ancient creature lived millions of years earlier than previously believed, meaning that octopuses originated before the era of dinosaurs.
The 4.7-inch (12-centimeter) fossil has 10 limbs — modern octopuses have eight — each with two rows of suckers. It probably lived in a shallow, tropical ocean bay.
“It’s very rare to find soft tissue fossils, except in a few places,” said Mike Vecchione, a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History zoologist who was not involved in the study. “This is a very exciting finding. It pushes back the ancestry much farther than previously known.”
Call it extreme parenting: Scientists announced the discovery of a deep sea octopus mom that faithfully guarded the same clutch of eggs for a record-breaking 4-1/2 years.
The specimen was discovered in Montana’s Bear Gulch limestone formation and donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in 1988.
For decades, the fossil sat overlooked in a drawer while scientists studied fossil sharks and other finds from the site. But then paleontologists noticed the 10 tiny limbs encased in limestone.
The well-preserved fossil also “shows some evidence of an ink sac,” probably used to squirt out a dark liquid cloak to help to evade predators, just like modern octopuses, said Christopher Whalen, an American Museum of Natural History paleontologist and co-author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
The creature, a vampyropod, was likely the ancestor of both modern octopuses and vampire squid, a confusingly named marine critter that’s much closer to an octopus than a squid. Previously, the “oldest known definitive” vampyropod was from around 240 million years ago, the authors said.
In March 2016, the world met Casper, a milky-white deep-sea octopus that makes its home 2.5 miles beneath the ocean surface.
The scientists named the fossil Syllipsimopodi bideni, after President Biden.
Whether or not having an ancient octopus — or vampire squid — bearing your name is actually a compliment, the scientists say they intended admiration for the president’s science and research priorities.
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