KATOWICE, Poland — A 150-million-year-old marine invertebrate unearthed in Africa has been named after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The bizarre creature had 10 long arms and sharp tentacle-like claws to grip the seabed.
The animal, which is called Ausichicrinites zelenskyyi, is closely related to starfish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. It was a type of feather star abundant today on rocky bottoms from the equator to the poles.
“The fossil is extraordinarily well preserved,” lead author Professor Mariusz Salamon, of the University of Silesia in Poland, said in a statement to the South West News Service. “Ausichicrinites zelenskyyi had 10 massive arms and a ring of claw-like appendages near the base for gripping the substrate.”
Salmon adds that the creature was named in honor of Zelensky “for his courage and bravery in defend the free Ukraine.”
Feather stars can be a variety of spectacular colors, from deep reds to vibrant oranges and electrifying yellows. Each arm can be up to a foot long. Their appendages are used to capture food, allowing the animals to filter feeders. They sit in the water, baring their arms and allowing nutrients moved by the current to come to them.
Feather stars also have the ability to fold an arm in the same way that some lizards can their tails, which is also a anti-predator response.
“The specimen shows evidence of regenerationwhich reinforces the hypothesis of the importance of predation in the evolution of the feather stars,” says Salamon.
Ausichicrinites zelenskyyi was about two inches in diameter. Its almost complete remains were excavated at a site in central western Ethiopia.
“Feather stars, or comatulids, are best known from highly disarticulated specimens,” the authors write in their paper. “Here we report a nearly complete, and thus extremely rare, comatulid from the Upper Jurassic of the Blue Nile Basin in central-western Ethiopia that provides unique insight into the morphology of comatulid guts and claws.”
The new fossil is believed to be the earliest example of regeneration in a comet star.
Born with a stalk that they shed in adulthood, feather stars can have as few as five arms and as many as 200. They are often conspicuous to divers and snorkelers. They are not poisonous to humans, but can be poisonous to other animals.
Snails often live on them. Fish can comb through feather stars are looking for a tasty meal.
Feather stars are echinoderms, like the more familiar starfish. They are also a type of crinoid, along with sea lilies, that have a stalk.
Ausichicrinites zelenskyyi is described in the Royal Society journal OpenScience.
Report by South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn.
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