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‘Alien goldfish’ may have been a unique mollusk, scientists say | fossils

The mystery of a strange creature dubbed the ‘alien goldfish’, which has baffled fossil experts for decades, may have been solved, according to scientists who say the animal appears to have been a species of mollusk.

Typhloesus wellsi it lived about 330 million years ago and was discovered in the Bear Gulch Limestone fossil bed in Montana in the late 1960s, with the remains of other species later identified.

But with features including a rugby ball-shaped body up to 90mm (3.5 inches) long, a fin on its rear end, no backbone or anus, and no shell, the anatomy of typhloesus left scientists confused as to where it belonged on the tree of life.

The discovery of tiny teeth within typhloesus fossils that eventually turned out being the remains of a last meal of tiny, extinct, eel-shaped fish known as conodonts, had added to the confusion.

Typhloesus wellsi chart

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, co-author of the research from the Royal Ontario Museum, said: “[Typhloesus] I was a kind of orphan on the tree of life.”

But the researchers say a toothy structure found in the intestines of animals may help clear up the confusion.

Caron said: “What we think is that [Typhloesus] could be some kind of unique group of mollusks that evolved during the carboniferous [period] and eventually became extinct.”

writing in the diary BiologyLettersCaron and his colleague, Professor Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, describe how they studied around a dozen specimens of typhloesus Housed in the Royal Ontario Museum, much of which had not been studied before.

In the center of several of the specimens, they found evidence of a toothed ribbon-like feeding apparatus, radula, seen in mollusks today. Located in the foregut of typhloesusthe 4 mm long structure is made up of two rows of about 20 triangular teeth, curved backwards.

The researchers say it is likely typhloesus it turned the structure upside down, projecting it beyond the body to capture prey.

An analogy here [is] the tongue of a lizard, for example, capturing an insect. It’s very fast and brings food to the mouth,” said Caron, adding that in addition to consuming conodonts, it is possible typhloesus ate algae from the bottom of the sea.

But Caron said the case is not completely closed.. “We know it’s some kind of mollusk, but it’s still a very strange-looking mollusk,” he said, adding that everyone is unlikely to agree with the team’s interpretation that the creature could have been a type of gastropod. a family that includes snails and slugs.

Dr. Luke Parry, a palaeontologist at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the work, welcomed the study.

“The radula they have identified looks convincing to me, so this [is] effectively a paleontological mystery solved even if the authors cannot place the fossil very precisely on the gastropod tree of life,” he said.

Professor Mark Purnell, from the Center for Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester, said that while the radula is convincing, it is not clear whether typhloesus it was a mollusk, since different types of animals have independently evolved radula characteristics.

“It’s still a very strange animal,” he said. “[The researchers] I’ve found tantalizing new information, but it’s far from a sure case in terms of definitively knowing what this weird thing is.”

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