Scientists find ‘living fossil’

(ORDO NEWS) — Discovering a new species is always exciting, but this time the scientists were doubly lucky. The animal discovered by them was already known earlier, but only from fossil remains several thousand years old.

It’s not the first time scientists have found species long thought to be extinct. So, for example, it happened with the famous coelacanth: it was believed that the last coelacanths died out 65 million years ago, until in 1938 Marjorie Kurene-Latimer discovered live fish in a fishing catch.

Such species – they are called “species of Lazarus” because new discoveries “resurrect” them from the dead – are rare, and one can understand the delight of American researchers who discovered a tiny mollusk, described as early as 1937 from Pleistocene fossil shells.

Measuring only about ten millimeters long, with a translucent shell and a long white leg, these little ones have been hiding from researchers studying the marine fauna of the California coast for decades.

They were first discovered only in 2018: Jeffrey Goddard from the University of California at Santa Barbara (USA) turned over a stone lying on the shore after low tide and found a couple of live mollusks under it.

At first, the scientist thought that he had encountered a very rare species, so he did not take the animals away – he only photographed them.

However, after studying photographs in the laboratory, Goddard and colleagues concluded that they still needed a whole mollusk to accurately identify the find, and spent another six months to find another representative of the same species.

Then, having studied tons of scientific literature on fossil and modern molluscs, scientists were able to identify the find to the species: it turned out to be Cymatioa cooki, first described from a shell no less than 11 thousand years old.

Scientists find living fossil 2 1
Fossil shell of the Pleistocene epoch, according to which the species was first described

Even in the Pleistocene era, this mollusk was very rare: it is not surprising that it got its name in honor of Edna Cook (Edna Cook), who found the only known specimens of shells.

It is probably this rarity that has allowed the tiny animal to elude the eyes of scientists who have roamed the California coast for decades for so long.

The researchers also suspect that the larvae of the only mollusks found were brought by sea currents several years ago, during a heat wave from 2014 to 2016: in this case, the main population of Cymatioa cooki is in the south, and additional research will be required to find new “living fossils”.


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