Several new and spectacular cephalopod fossils from 95 million years ago have been found in Lebanon. “Spectacular” is not hyperbole — these specimens have wonderfully well-preserved soft parts, mineralized in fine-grained calcium phosphate, and you can see…well, take a look.
The arms (all eight of them) are intact, right down to the suckers; muscles and gills are preserved; the animal has an ink sac; there is a shell gland a chitinous chunk of vestigial shell called the gladius. In some of the specimens, even membranous fins can be found on the mantle. This stuff is amazing — I’ve seen some other fossil cephalopods before, but usually they’re a squid-shaped smudge of a dark smear on rock. These are detailed.
Accustomed as I am to the workings of the minds of creationists, though, I’m sad to say that I also immediately saw how this find will be abused. I guarantee you that Harun Yahya is grabbing these images and planning to stuff them into his next bloated and repetitive tome, with a caption that announces that there has been no change in octopuses over 95 million years, therefore evolution is false.
He’d be wrong. The other wonderful thing about these specimens is that they are sufficiently well preserved that we can see transitional features all over the place. This is not a modern octopod at all.
In particular, look at the gladius. This may not be familiar to most of you, but the octopus is a mollusc, and molluscs have shells…shells that may be reduced to miniscule remnants in some forms, but they’re still there, hidden away. If you’ve ever cleaned squid, you may have found a slender springy rod in the mantle, which you’ve stripped out and thrown away. Octopods also have something similar, but in modern forms it is reduced to a delicate little rod-like bar, nothing more.
Note that in Keuppia above, the gladius is relatively robust — it looks like a pair of clamshells imbedded in the head. Next, here’s another of the specimens found in this locality, Styletoctopus annae. Look at the gladius here.
What’s going on here? If you put these data together with other observations of even older cephalopods, including more squid-like forms, you get a picture of an evolving morphology from an ancestral unpaired shell to a divided form to spread-apart lateralized stylets to the modern, even more reduced form.
Don’t be fooled by the superficial resemblance — there are more subtleties to being an octopus than simply having eight arms. What these fossils reveal is more detail about the evolution of the octopods.
Fuchs D, Bracchi G, Weis R (2009) New octopods (Cephalopoda: Coleoidea) from the late Cretaceous (Upper Cenomian) of Hâkel and Hâdjoula, Lebanon. Paleontology 52(1):65-81.