WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Scientists have found the oldest known ancestor of octopuses â€“ 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 â€” modern octopuses have eight â€” each with two rows of suckers. It probably lived in a shallow, tropical ocean bay.
â€œItâ€™s very rare to find soft tissue fossils, except in a few places,â€ said Mike Vecchione, a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History zoologist who was not involved in the study. â€œThis is a very exciting finding. It pushes back the ancestry much farther than previously known.â€
The specimen was discovered in Montanaâ€™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 â€œshows some evidence of an ink sac,â€ 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 thatâ€™s much closer to an octopus than a squid. Previously, the â€œoldest known definitiveâ€ vampyropod was from around 240 million years ago, the authors said.
The scientists named the fossil Syllipsimopodi bideni, after President Joe Biden.
Whether or not having an ancient octopus â€” or vampire squid â€” bearing your name is actually a compliment, the scientists say they intended admiration for the presidentâ€™s science and research priorities.
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