March 22, 2017

430-million-year-old fossil named after Sir David Attenborough

An international team of researchers has found a new 430 million-year-old fossil and named it in honor of Sir David Attenborough, an icon of conservationism in the United Kingdom.

The fossil is said to be 'exceptionally well preserved in three-dimensions', and included many soft parts of the animal, like legs, eyes and antennae. The fossil has been established as an ancient crustacean and remote relative of modern lobsters and shrimps.

According to a report published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the discovery was made in volcanic marine deposits that built up near the present day Wales-England border.

"Such a well-preserved fossil is exciting, and this particular one is a unique example of its kind in the fossil record, and so we can establish it as a new species of a new genus,” study author David Siveter, a paleontologist from the University of Leicester, said in a news release. "Even though it is relatively small, at just 9 millimeters long, it preserves incredible detail including body parts that are normally not fossilized. It provides scientists with important, novel insights into the evolution of the body plan, the limbs and possible respiratory-circulatory physiology of a primitive member of one of the major groups of Crustacea."

An ancient crustacean

The study team said the crustacean they discovered lived from the Silurian period, around 430 million years ago, when the southern area of Britain was in subtropical latitudes and near what we currently call North America. The entire region was covered by a shallow sea. The crustacean was killed and preserved when volcanic ash rained down.

The new fossil species was named Cascolus ravitis, an Old English allusion the 'Attenborough' surname (Cascolus), and the Roman name for Leicester, which is where the British icon grew up.

"In my youth, David Attenborough's early programs on the BBC, such as 'Zoo Quest', greatly encouraged my interest in Natural History and it is a pleasure to honor him in this way,” Siveter said.

Attenborough responded to the honor by saying, "The biggest compliment that a biologist or paleontologist can pay to another one is to name a fossil in his honor and I take this as a very great compliment. I was once a scientist so I'm very honored and flattered that the Professor should say such nice things about me now."


Image credit: University of Leicester