Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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This Ancient Gnarled Creature Had Spiny Teeth In Its Guts

A fossil of a strange, squishy creature with a toothy tongue inside its gut has been discovered in good condition.

Specimens of this strange mollusc-like creature have been found in the Carboniferous Bear Gulch Limestone deposit in Montana and have been exceptionally well preserved, according to a paper published in the journal BiologyLetters.

This species, named typhloesus, would have lived during the Carboniferous period, between 358.9 million and 298.9 million years ago. Although it has already been identified, it has not been classified into any group of animals due to a lack of fossil detail.

The Carboniferous Era is associated with rich coal deposits in its fossil rock layers. According to the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley, the amniote egg (with a shell) was one of the greatest evolutionary advances of its time, which allowed the ancestors of birds, mammals and reptiles to reproduce on land. The oceans were often warm and shallow, and they were dominated by sharks and bony fish after the Late Devonian extinction, as well as starfish, gastropods, sea urchins, and many other marine invertebrates.

“Here we document new features, including possible phosphated muscle tissue and a hitherto unrecognized feeding apparatus with two sets of approximately 20 spiny teeth whose closest similarities appear to be with the radula of the molluscs,” the authors wrote in the article. “Typhloesus may represent an independent radiation from Middle Paleozoic pelagic gastropods.”

The key finding in this new specimen is a “radula-like organ” in the creature’s foregut, with two rows of spiny teeth. Radulas are structures that molluscs like snails use to grind their food.

“The identification of the dentate feeding apparatus sheds additional light on the functional anatomy of Typhloesus, and potentially on its broader relationships,” the authors said. “The location of the teeth in the posterior part of the foregut, as well as their direction of curvature, suggests that to function effectively, most of the foregut should have turned over in order to put the teeth in a position to grasp. prey.”

Essentially, rather than swallowing prey and using the tooth-like tongue apparatus inside the gut, this creature flipped the tongue outside of its body to eat its prey.

“Foregut eversion would most likely have been achieved by a hydrostatic mechanism in which the foregut was enclosed in a fluid-filled body cavity,” the authors said.

This mechanism can be seen in other animals, ancient and modern, and some notable examples are starfish and sea cucumbers. The mechanism usually requires muscle contraction to evert the gut, which is also supported by the findings of a “paired structure close to the foregut-midgut boundary” in the Typhloesus specimen. However, according to the authors, the structure could have had another function.

“We are aware that the jaws are extremely convergent [traits that evolved to look similar despite having distant genetic ties, like wings in bats and bees] and radial-like structures occur elsewhere,” the authors wrote.

“We conclude that a place for Typhloesus among gastropods is plausible, but acknowledge that similarities to molluscs, not to mention heteropods [sea slugs and sea elephants]may be the result of convergence,” the authors said.

More soft-bodied samples from this time are needed to draw a firmer conclusion about Typhloesus’ place in the evolutionary tree. But due to the immense time that has passed since they lived, few well-preserved specimens are available, let alone finds.

“More specific statements from his [evolutionary] relationships are hampered by the unique aspects of its morphology and the scarcity of equivalent soft-bodied fossils in Paleozoic deposits,” the authors wrote in their paper.

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