Just keep swimming

Look: This weird 10 legged fossil could be an octopus ancestor with extra arms

It had two more tentacles than today’s octopi.

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Octopi may be strange, but their past is even stranger.

We don’t know when octopi or their squid cousins first swam in the Earth’s oceans.

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But we do know that coleoids — a class of soft-bodied cephalopods that encompass squid and octopi — have been around for a long time.

Isolated fossils of ancient coleoids date back hundreds of millions of years.

Yet fossils of ancient coleoids are extremely rare.

Since they’re soft on the outside, coleoid tissue will often degrade before it can be preserved.

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K. Whalen/Christopher Whalen

But on March 8, researchers described a new species of ancient coleoid whose soft tissue was remarkably well-preserved in rock.

This fossil was unearthed in Montana and donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in 1988.

It’s estimated to be 330 million years old.

The new species is called Syllipsimopodi bideni.

Researchers named the ancient cephalopod in honor of President Biden, who had been recently inaugurated when the study was submitted for publication.

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It’s classified as a vampyropod, a group of cephalopods that predated octopi and deep-sea-dwelling vampire squids.

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Unlike its current-day relatives, Syllipsimopodi had 10 tentacles instead of eight.

But it does bear a similar squid-like shape and suction pads along with its appendages.

The blue lines marked on this fossil represent the tentacles of Syllipsimopodi.

Whalen C. D. & Landman N.H., Nature Communications 2022

And here’s what researchers think its full anatomy would have looked like.

Whalen C. D. & Landman N.H., Nature Communications 2022

K. Whalen/Christopher Whalen

Syllipsimopodi’s age makes it the oldest vampyropod on record.

Previously, the oldest vampyropod fossil was 82 million years old — Syllipsimopodi is nearly 330 million.

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The finding sheds light on the cryptic evolution of octopi and squid, revealing that a crucial ancestor was much older than we once thought.

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