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‘외계 금붕어’ 미스터리 화석은…‘이 달린 혀’ 가진 “연체동물”

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It has a rugby ball body on its tail fin, no spine and no anus, and an ancient fish in its stomach.
A mysterious animal from 330 million years ago was discovered half a century later ‘similar to a sea slug’
‘toothed tongue’ hunting for food with teeth… Mollusk General Characteristics

Conceptual drawing of Typlosus based on a fossil of a mysterious animal nicknamed the ‘alien goldfish’. It is believed that they hunted their prey by extending their teeth with small teeth. Courtesy of Joshua Knuppe, Royal Ontario Museum.

“A giant spacecraft landed on Earth’s Paleozoic beach. The alien dropped the pet goldfish, exhausted from the long flight, into the water and lost it. The alien goldfish that escaped died a few months later, leaving behind a fossil. Simon Conway Morris, a professor at the University of Cambridge in England, jokingly introduced the nickname ‘Alien Goldfish’ to the world in 2005 in a paper published in the scientific journal ‘Astronomy and Geophysics’. It was a paper that argued that extraterrestrials looked just like us, citing a representative secret fossil called Typlosus.

Typlosus Fossil.  The caudal fin resembles a fish.  Courtesy of Simon Conway Morris.

Typlosus Fossil. The caudal fin resembles a fish. Courtesy of Simon Conway Morris.

Discovered in the late 1960s in a 330-million-year-old limestone formation in Montana, US, Typlosus baffled paleontologists. It is not clear which mechanism should be entered in the form. The talk was about aliens. It was originally thought to be an extinct type of jawless conodont that looked like an eel. However, confusion arose when a conodont from its last meal was found in the stomach of this fossil. The 9-centimeter-long, rugby-ball-sized animal looked like a fish with its well-set tail fin. But it had no spine or anus, and was not surrounded by a hard shell. It is not clear whether it is a fish or an invertebrate.

A mysterious fossil animal for almost half a century, a series of fossil studies revealed its identity. Professor Morris, who coined the term ‘alien goldfish’, and Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, said in a paper published in a recent issue of the scientific journal ‘Biology Letters’, “Tiplosus is a surface-swimming mollusk.” The researchers analyzed more than 10 fossils of this animal and suggested that the stomach had a ribbon-shaped organ with about 20 small teeth. This ribbon “appears to be an organ equivalent to the dental plaque of a modern mollusk.”

Teeth and body of Typlosus.  The top indicates when it is on the body, the bottom indicates when it is hunting prey.  Simon Conway Morris et al.  (2022) Courtesy of 'Biology Letters'.

Teeth and body of Typlosus. The top indicates when it is on the body, the bottom indicates when it is hunting prey. Simon Conway Morris et al. (2022) Courtesy of ‘Biology Letters’.

Dental gums are a type of ‘toothy tongue’ and are characteristic of molluscs. It moves the small-toothed ribbon like a hacksaw to cut prey into small pieces before swallowing. Researchers have found that modern sea slugs resemble Typlosus. This mollusk has a transparent body and swims along the sea surface in search of food.

A species of modern sea slug.  It swims along the surface of the ocean with its transparent body and hunts by sticking out its flexible nose.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A species of modern sea slug. It swims along the surface of the ocean with its transparent body and hunts by sticking out its flexible nose. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The formation process of the Typlosus fossil, which has been placed in the tree of life, is also clear with this study. One day in the Paleozoic Carboniferous, a sea slug-like mollusk died in a coastal lagoon depleted of oxygen by eutrophication when giant dragonflies flew by. Found it. Papers Cited: Biology LettersDOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2022.0179 Correspondent Jo Hong-seop ecothink@hani.co.kr

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