June 18, 2014
Sea Creature Believed To Be Extinct Rediscovered In New Zealand
Gerard LeBlond for www.redorbit.com - Your Universe Online
Recently, Dr. Paul Taylor and some colleagues from the Natural History Museum of London found fossilized remains of Protulophila -- small hydroids similar to jellyfish -- on rocks dated to less than a half-million years ago. These creatures were thought to only be present in the Middle East and Europe, becoming extinct four million years ago. However, a recent discovery in New Zealand has revealed the creature may still exist.
The team analyzed tube worm samples collected from the sea around New Zealand in 2008 and found samples of the organism inside. The Protulophila is a microscopic organism that forms colonies inside sea worms. It first appeared in fossil records about 170 million years ago and its last known existence was found on rocks dating back four million years, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Dr. Taylor was working on an unrelated project and discovered oval holes in the tube worms, which are a characteristic of the Protulophila. He contacted Dr. Dennis Gordon from the NIWA to have him analyze recent collections of tube worms from New Zealand for evidence of holes.
Apparently the first jar of specimens were full of the tiny creature, but no other jars were found to contain them. Gordon sent the samples to Dr Taylor and a small polyp with tentacles was found, suggesting it was a Protulophila.
“It’s amazing no-one ever noticed it before, despite it being a popular fossil-hunting site,” said Dr Taylor. “It just needed some serendipity and that I knew something about them from Britain.”
According to the researchers, inside the tube worms, the Protulophila form colonies. Each individual measures less than 0.1 mm in size. They have two stages of life. The polyp is the first stage and it anchors to something solid, then morphs into a tiny jellyfish.
The next step for the scientist is to collect fresh samples of the creature for gene sequencing. Off the coast of New Zealand are several microscopic jellyfish, and the team hopes to match up one of them with the tiny creature and be able to describe its complete life cycle.
In 1975, Dr. Colin Scrutton predicted that the Protulophila would have been a hydroid by the evidence he used from the Museum’s collection. Forty years later, his theory was proven correct by scientists.