Pharyngula

Octopods from the Cretaceous!

i-e88a953e59c2ce6c5e2ac4568c7f0c36-rb.png

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.

i-43b532f0c9279d4273f9faa4719ef92e-keuppia.jpeg
(Click for larger image)

Keuppia levante sp. nov. from the Upper Cenomanian (Metoicoceras geslinianum Zone) of Hâdjoula (Lebanon). A,
holotype, MSNM i26320a. B, sketch of the holotype.

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.

i-4c45d63a0a312e034a823a85d9e7fe0a-styletoctopus.jpeg
Styletoctopus annae sp. nov. from the Upper Cenomanian (Metoicoceras geslinianum Zone) of Hâqel (Lebanon). A,
specimen MSNM i26323. B, close-up of A showing the imprints of the stylets situated in the lateral mantle sac.

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.

Comments

  1. #1 True_Bob
    March 18, 2009

    Looks like Cthulhu’s head to me.

  2. #2 TigerHunter
    March 18, 2009

    Holy crap, that is detailed.

  3. #3 EternalCritic
    March 18, 2009

    I’m not much of a biologist, but I can’t help but be amazed by what we find in the fossil record. And marvel even more about those who deny it.

    This is an incredible find.

  4. #4 KI
    March 18, 2009

    This is so amazing. That’s all I can coherently say.

  5. #5 Brownian
    March 18, 2009

    How come it’s upside down?

  6. #6 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    It is incredible – soft body critters like these rarely get preserved, especially with this great detail. I wish I had one of my one.

  7. #7 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    Brownian, it must be an australian octopus. ba-dump tssss

  8. #8 Abstruse
    March 18, 2009

    The detail IS spectacular. What allowed for that to occur?

  9. #9 hje
    March 18, 2009

    Always amazed at what the fossil record contains, given conditions required for preservation, loss to erosion, etc. Is this site in Lebanon a new Lagerstätten?

  10. #10 MPG
    March 18, 2009

    Posted by: Brownian

    How come it’s upside down?

    I think you might be onto something there. Quick, contact the Duhscovery Institute – evilutionists can’t explain Australian octopus in Lebanon fossil beds! Everyone knows only antipodean organisms are upside-down with respect to Biblical North!

  11. #11 Carlie
    March 18, 2009

    Holy crap. Fossils are awesome.

  12. #12 Warren
    March 18, 2009

    This really is a stunning find, and I appreciate the commentary on it too.

    I was just beginning to wonder whether someone would claim to have found it next to a fossil footprint when you went into creationist abuses in the next graf.

    I appreciate the way you pointed out the differences between this specimen and the modern varieties. That’s a nice preventive measure to block the arguments of the godtards.

  13. #13 DJav
    March 18, 2009

    Hmmm… Couldn’t this be another case of pareidolia? Christians see Jebus, maybe PZ sees cephalopods!

  14. #14 Moth Eyes
    March 18, 2009

    True Bob – our octopi are actually on upside-down when they get really drunk. Which means we see the sober ones upside down, and thus think that the blue rings are actually… ermm, blue rings.

  15. #15 Warren
    March 18, 2009

    Also, “the evolution of the octopods” sounds like a title from the original Dr. Who series.

  16. #16 Richard Wolford
    March 18, 2009

    What selection pressures would have been present to result in evolutionary changes in the gladius; or did the gladius simply become less useful until it’s all but disappeared?

  17. #17 DJav
    March 18, 2009

    Hey! If this Octopus was drunk, maybe thats the reason why it is so well conserved! The alcohol in its blood did the magic!

  18. #18 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 18, 2009

    That is some real detail for soft tissue. A great mid-morning coffee/science break.

  19. #19 Ranson
    March 18, 2009

    Heh. I was watching Lewis Black last night, and the bit about creationists came up. To quote, since I can’t link a video at work, “Whenever someone says they believe the earth was created in 7 days, I grab a fossil and say, “Fossil.” And if they keep talking, I throw it just over their heads.”

  20. #20 Glen Davidson
    March 18, 2009

    Sure, but Behe would tell you that it takes god to make life have the appearance of unplanned evolution. True, he wouldn’t allow that life appears unplannned, except that he studiously attempts to disallow all of the evidence that it is unplanned, so he has to know how it really does look to be.

    Only god can produce a non-rational, uncontrolled, and purposeless, set of life forms. Also why it can’t be aliens, because, oddly enough, no one can have the expectation of aliens acting as non-discrimately as the omnipotent god has always been thought to do.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/592

  21. #21 Emily Litella
    March 18, 2009

    Oh, not more about the Octomom again. Haven’t we heard enough? I’m so…. what’s that? Octopod? Oh. Never mind.

  22. #22 Spyderkl
    March 18, 2009

    Wow. That’s just incredible – can’t wait for my kid to come home from school so she can see this too. She’s the fossil fanatic in the house.

  23. #23 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    Hwey Moth Eyes, thanks. Too many things that live there have serious venom for us hyooomahns. I mean, really, venomous mammals?!?! Better get evolving.

  24. #24 John Phillips, FCD
    March 18, 2009

    Way cool PZ. Ain’t science awesome :)

  25. #25 Chris Davis
    March 18, 2009

    Remarkable how well the ink sac is preserved. Even a splash of the stuff!

    I’m off to try to find out why. I’m thinking sepia might use a metal-based pigment. Come to me, O Google…

  26. #26 Slugsie
    March 18, 2009

    That’s one well preserved Octo! Isn’t science amazing. :)

  27. #27 God Retardent
    March 18, 2009

    I was asked this quetion recently by a creationist.

    Why did cephalopods evolved 8 legs instead of 6 or 4 or 10? How are 8 legs better than 6 or worse than 10?

  28. #28 Chris Davis
    March 18, 2009

    Coo – it’s melanin!

    Now why would that stay around so long? I see that it’s usually in a granular form, which might help. But still – that splodge in the fossil can’t still be it, surely, so why’s it look dark.

    More hunting required.

  29. #29 Brock
    March 18, 2009

    I have very little biology education, so to clarify… does the shrinking gladius over time mean that squishy octopods evolved from clam-like molluscs with full exterior shells? If so, that’s amazing, and I’m going to start having nightmares about huge jurassic tentacled clams eating me.

  30. #30 Sean
    March 18, 2009

    Unfortunately Harun, as well as his Christian creationist bretheren, were gifted with a rich vein of quote mine ore by the lead author of the report.

    But what surprised the scientists most was how similar the specimens are to modern octopus: ‘these things are 95 million years old, yet one of the fossils is almost indistinguishable from living species.”

    I have seen that quote referenced in several ‘friendly’ online reports of the find. I suspect it has already metastasized into the repetoires of active creabots, and will live on in creationist pamphlets for the rest of our mortal lives.

  31. #31 Glen Davidson
    March 18, 2009

    I was asked this quetion recently by a creationist.

    Why did cephalopods evolved 8 legs instead of 6 or 4 or 10? How are 8 legs better than 6 or worse than 10?

    Octopi (or octopodes, whatever, I don’t care) evolved 8 limbs. Squids are decapods.

    So there’s no evidence that 8 were “best” at all. Squids show us that 10 are good.

    I guess I doubt that 6 or 4 would really be optimal. More seems better up to a point, if you have enough of a brain to deal with them. If you watch a film of cephalopods, they tend to make good use of all 8, or all 10, of their limbs.

    There is a picture of a hexapod, so it’s not as if evolution has had no opportunity to try it out (though I hardly know if the hexapod was a competent individual).

    There’s no obvious reason, either, why 4 limbs are best for vertebrates. While I can see that a cheetah might not benefit much, anyhow, from two more limbs, surely some flying animals might do well to have four limbs on the ground. They don’t, and we have reason to suspect that is because evolving two more functional limbs was not really possibly over the course of evolution.

    Glen D
    http;//tinyurl.com/6mb592

  32. #32 Peter Ashby
    March 18, 2009

    @God Retardent

    The answer of course is ‘because that is what works for them’. Also many squid have 10 legs. Find a video of an octopus catching a crab and show it to your pet creationist. The octopus will engulf the crab, those legs form a cage before the upper part where the legs are joined by the membrane comes down and the crab has nowhere to go. The mouth is in the middle of the legs with a beak to break through the crab’s shell.

    That’s it in a nutshell, many arms mean prey find it hard to escape. Tell them the same thing applies to things like sea anemones, jellyfish, venus flytraps etc, etc. They are indulging in vertebrate centred bigotry.

  33. #33 Peter Ashby
    March 18, 2009

    @God Retardent

    The answer of course is ‘because that is what works for them’. Also many squid have 10 legs. Find a video of an octopus catching a crab and show it to your pet creationist. The octopus will engulf the crab, those legs form a cage before the upper part where the legs are joined by the membrane comes down and the crab has nowhere to go. The mouth is in the middle of the legs with a beak to break through the crab’s shell.

    That’s it in a nutshell, many arms mean prey find it hard to escape. Tell them the same thing applies to things like sea anemones, jellyfish, venus flytraps etc, etc. They are indulging in vertebrate centred bigotry. Oh and starfish.

  34. #34 John Kwok
    March 18, 2009

    @ hje,

    No, this site isn’t a new lagerstätten. It’s as much a classic example of one as the Jurassic Solnhofen limestone from Germany or the Middle Devonian Hunsruck Slate (also from Germany), for example. This particular site is well known for its exquisitely-preserved fossil fish, especially of skates and rays. Without question, this octopod fossil is an extremely important, and rare, find for the reasons stated by PZ.

  35. #35 Sven DiMilo
    March 18, 2009

    Octopi (or octopodes, whatever, I don’t care)

    Both are wrong. Speaking English? Octopuses. Or you can cop out like PZ and use “octopods.” Usually that means “several species” instead of “several individuals” though.

  36. #36 Gilian
    March 18, 2009

    How is it possible for soft tissue to be fossilized ? You’ll probably laugh, but I always thought only the hard bits could become a fossil. I.e minerals fill in the porous bone structure and make it ‘stonelike’ whilst preserving the appearance of the bone.
    Or isn’t this the actual creature but more like a mold of one filled in with different minerals ?

  37. #37 Aelfric
    March 18, 2009
  38. #38 Aelfric
    March 18, 2009
  39. #39 Aelfric
    March 18, 2009

    Gah! Sorry for the doubling.

  40. #40 Brock
    March 18, 2009

    I have very little biology education, so to clarify… does the shrinking gladius over time mean that squishy octopods evolved from clam-like molluscs with full exterior shells? If so, that’s amazing, and I’m going to start having nightmares about huge jurassic tentacled clams eating me.

  41. #41 Peter Ashby
    March 18, 2009

    @God Retardent

    The answer of course is ‘because that is what works for them’. Also many squid have 10 legs. Find a video of an octopus catching a crab and show it to your pet creationist. The octopus will engulf the crab, those legs form a cage before the upper part where the legs are joined by the membrane comes down and the crab has nowhere to go. The mouth is in the middle of the legs with a beak to break through the crab’s shell.

    That’s it in a nutshell, many arms mean prey find it hard to escape. Tell them the same thing applies to things like sea anemones, jellyfish, venus flytraps etc, etc. They are indulging in vertebrate centred bigotry. Oh and starfish.

  42. #42 flaq
    March 18, 2009

    With apologies to Mr. Nash:

    Tell me, O Octopus, I begs,
    Is those things arms, or is they legs?
    I marvel at thee, Octopus;
    If I were thou, I’d call me Us.
    But since you hail from the Cretaceous,
    Creotards grow indignaceous.

  43. #43 Dave Godfrey
    March 18, 2009

    Ink sacs survive surprisingly well in lagerstätten deposits. There are several specimens where all we have are the ink sacs known from Christian Malford in the UK- home of several beautifully preserved vampyroteuthids (this is the group to which Vampyroteuthis belongs, and is closer to octopods than squid.)

    What’s really interesting is that they’re clearly incirrate octopods (the group that most people are familiar with) rather than cirrate ones- which are mostly deep sea species, have fins, and consequently a relatively large gladius.

  44. #44 Sonic Screwdriver
    March 18, 2009

    Whoooooaaa, that is amazing!
    Thanks for sharing the octopodian glory!

  45. #45 Chris Davis
    March 18, 2009

    @43: Thanks for that, Dave Godfrey. I’ve drawn a blank on why and how – and especially why the sac and ink splash seem to be pigmented in the fossil, but maybe that’s a trick of light.

  46. #46 flaq
    March 18, 2009

    What really amazes me is that not just the ink sac, but the actual ink itself left a fossil behind. Are there other examples of a liquid leaving an identifiable fossil? Amber comes to mind, but I always assumed that the sap dried and hardened first, then the dried sap became fossilized.

  47. #47 Oli Ward
    March 18, 2009

    I have “found a slender springy rod in the mantle” while cleaning squid, but I did nothing like “[stripping it] out and [throwing it] away”. I find killing my customers at The Squid Wash doesn’t help encourage repeat business.

    We like to give em a good clean and let em go again.

  48. #48 natural cynic
    March 18, 2009

    I’ll start believing Yahya when one of these guys is found next to a fossilized square shape with a silly face and spindly limbs, something like this.

  49. #50 Jello
    March 18, 2009

    That’s an incredible specimen, finding something of this detail must be a one in a million shot.

    On a related note I have a question, since it lived in the cretaceous would one call it an octosaurus or a dinopus??

  50. #51 octopod
    March 18, 2009

    This is an amazing thing. Does melanin fossilize this well in any other context?

  51. #52 KI
    March 18, 2009

    flaq@46
    I don’t know about other forms, but the amber you find in the Hell Creek formation in eastern Montana smells of fresh pine scent when you crush it.

  52. #53 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    flaq, amber is tree resin, not sap. Per wiki, the fount of all knowledge:

    Molecular polymerisation caused by pressure and heat transforms the resin first into copal and then over time through the evaporation of turpenes it is transformed into amber.

  53. #54 pvrugg
    March 18, 2009

    Wow! At first I thought, “That’s crazy – impossible!” then I looked at the pictures: the tentacles, the suckers, the inksac (THE INK!!!), and all the other details indicated on it. People at other desks here were turning to see what I was so vocally in awe over. Amazing! And they say atheists are incapable of feeling a sense of the numinous.

    I think I may become a cephalopodarian…

  54. #55 Rowan
    March 18, 2009

    I am curious. What is the length of the fossilised octopodi in these pictures? I am trying to get a frame of reference as i look at the preserved details. Are they six inches? Longer? Shorter?

  55. #56 flaq
    March 18, 2009

    @53
    Ok got it. Resin, not sap. Resin is sticky stuff that runs down the bark of a pine tree, sap is… different.

    But really, what I’m more curious about is how the octo-ink went from liquid to fossil. Tree resin hardens into a solid, which can then fossilize, but what about the ink? Or are we looking at an actual stain of pigment on the underlying fossil?

  56. #57 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    The top one is bigger, about 1/4 mile. You can see a road track running across the tentacles.

  57. #58 True Bob
    March 18, 2009

    Totally OT:

    Tennessee counties fined for violating Constitution:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/18/kentucky-ten-commandments-fines

  58. #59 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 18, 2009

    Note that in Keuppia above, the gladius is relatively robust ? it looks like a pair of clamshells imbedded in the head.

    (Of course it’s the middle of the back, not the head. Cephalopods are U-shaped animals.)

    The detail IS spectacular. What allowed for that to occur?

    In phosphates like this, it’s normal.

    BTW, Lagerstätten is the plural of Lagerstätte. Yay, a language with 12 regular ways to form noun plurals?

    Hmmm… Couldn’t this be another case of pareidolia? Christians see Jebus, maybe PZ sees cephalopods!

    Oh man. Look closer. Get the photo in hi-res? <headdesk>

    What selection pressures would have been present to result in evolutionary changes in the gladius; or did the gladius simply become less useful until it’s all but disappeared?

    There’s always selective pressure on losing everything that’s not needed, because building and maintaining it costs energy that could be invested in other things like reproduction.

    Why did cephalopods evolved 8 legs instead of 6 or 4 or 10? How are 8 legs better than 6 or worse than 10?

    Look at Vampyroteuthis, which has the 10 tentacles that are usual for coleoids. Imagine the two thin arms being lost? there’s your answer to why octopods are octopods.

    Why coleoids have 10 by default is a different question. Nautilus has, like, 90.

    Hunsruck

    Hunsrück.

    This particular site is well known for its exquisitely-preserved fossil fish, especially of skates and rays.

    It has also yielded the bird Enantiophoenix — a jumbled skeleton, but with feather remains.

    does the shrinking gladius over time mean that squishy octopods evolved from clam-like molluscs with full exterior shells?

    No, they evolved from coleoids with a “cuttlebone”. Check out the third figure again.

    But what surprised the scientists most was how similar the specimens are to modern octopus:

    Fuck. Yet another journalist not getting it.

    Or isn’t this the actual creature but more like a mold of one filled in with different minerals ?

    Sort of. I don’t think there’s any protein left.

    Are there other examples of a liquid leaving an identifiable fossil? Amber comes to mind, but I always assumed that the sap dried and hardened first, then the dried sap became fossilized.

    What do you mean by “a liquid leaving an identifiable fossil”? The pigment appears to be left.

    Does melanin fossilize this well in any other context?

    Apparently. Many fossil feathers preserve a color pattern.

  59. #60 ndt
    March 18, 2009

    True Bob, that’s Kentucky, not Tennessee.

  60. #61 Cuttlefish, OM
    March 18, 2009

    They look like modern octopods?they share the basic plan?
    The same way that gorillas share the form of modern man.
    Creationists will argue, but let?s drop them down a peg:
    An octopus is more than just a way to show some leg.

  61. #62 frog
    March 18, 2009

    GD: They don’t, and we have reason to suspect that is because evolving two more functional limbs was not really possibly over the course of evolution.

    Reduction of limb number is much easier than increase of limb number. It’s simply an effect of contingency and information loss — just like non-parasites often are reduced to parasites, but very rarely do parasites “unreduce” to free-living critters, or why mitochondria could become symbiotic with eukaryotes, but then could never leave, or why the panda has had such a tough time adding a thumb.

    To answer the original question: because eight is good enough. Evolution doesn’t have a direction, it doesn’t select the “fittest” (an unfortunate turn of phrase by Darwin) — it excludes the unfit, the losers — and it works with what it has, so many solutions are historically contingent.

  62. #63 Brock
    March 18, 2009

    [quote from me] does the shrinking gladius over time mean that squishy octopods evolved from clam-like molluscs with full exterior shells? [/quote]

    [quoth Dave Marjanovic] No, they evolved from coleoids with a “cuttlebone”. Check out the third figure again. [/quote]

    Thanks! I hadn’t heard of coleoids and I didn’t really know what I was looking at in figure 3.

  63. #64 Die Anyway
    March 18, 2009

    >”and you can see?”
    The Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. And baby Jesus is crying.
    [/end snark]

    I love fossils, or maybe more accurately, the idea of fossils. Someday I would like to go to one of these fossil beds and spend a week chipping through the sedimentary layers looking for hidden treasure.

  64. #65 evlenmek istiyorum
    March 18, 2009

    is a picture of a hexapod, so it’s not as if evolution has had no opportunity to try it out (though I hardly know if the hexapod was a competent individual

  65. #66 Bob L
    March 18, 2009

    This normal for octopus to be laid out so neatly in a fossil? I assume the only way an Octopus could be preserved like this if was buried before scavengers could get to it. Dare I suggest we maybe looking at a formal burial of an ancestor of our future tentacled masters.

  66. #67 Tulse
    March 18, 2009

    Reduction of limb number is much easier than increase of limb number. It’s simply an effect of contingency and information loss — just like non-parasites often are reduced to parasites, but very rarely do parasites “unreduce” to free-living critters, or why mitochondria could become symbiotic with eukaryotes, but then could never leave, or why the panda has had such a tough time adding a thumb.

    Exactly!!! Evilution can’t create new information, only eliminate it!!!! Jeebus FTW!!!!11eleventy!!!

  67. #68 Evolving Squid
    March 18, 2009

    You should not disturb such things. In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming. The Necronomicon states the he who disturbs the crystal cephalopod will bring about the end of the world when Yog Sothoth awakens Cthulhu who will wreak vengeance upon the mortals!

  68. #69 astrounit
    March 18, 2009

    This is truly marvelous.

    Finds like these give one the same sensation of immediacy as footprints.

  69. #70 tmaxPA
    March 18, 2009

    I suspect it’s probably much easier to add OR subtract limbs when you’ve got no skeleton. Evo Devo makes adding limbs seem almost trivial.

    Whenever contemplating a “question about evolution” of the form “why is it like that and not like something else?” my initial reaction is always to just respond “because that’s the way it started and there wasn’t a good enough reason to change it.”

    Lastly, a note about the preservation, since it hasn’t been mentioned yet. Other sources explain that the creature dropped intact to the sea bed (fortuitously splaying itself out due to currents, I guess, it wasn’t mentioned) where the layer at the bottom of the water column was almost completely oxygen starved. No microbes to perform the decomposition, and the corpse was rapidly covered in silt to preserve the shape of soft tissue during fossilization.

    Ta-dah!

  70. #71 Peter Ashby
    March 18, 2009

    As for how easy it is to add legs, well that depends. That is after all what antlers are. Unlike horns which are keratin, like fingernails and hair, antlers are bone and skin. Look at the pattern of the larger ones some time. One bone, then two then many, like a limb.

    To reinforce that I have a copy of a paper that appeared in the New Zealand Forest Service Journal detailing a red deer (Cervus elaphus) shot at the head of Lake Wakatipu that had an ectopic limb flopping around its head. It was just forward of the antler root on one side, appeared to have no muscle (like an antler) but had joints and a small hoof (unlike an antler). Photos of the post mortem head and the cleaned bones, showing the origin on the skull are presented.

    So a vertebrate antennapedia mutation, or if you like a septapod. So does that make normal deer insects? (being hexapods)

  71. #72 Fernando Magyar
    March 18, 2009
  72. #73 Menyambal
    March 18, 2009

    Yep, MSNBC titles their article Rare fossil octopuses found —
    Researchers surprised at how similar specimens are to modern octopus.

    Although the article isn’t too bad.

    Great posting!

  73. #74 Djav
    March 18, 2009

    David Marjanovi? @59: Relax man, I was kidding!

  74. #75 John Morales
    March 18, 2009

    Amazing.

    Cuttlefish @62, the first couplet is genius.
    The second, well, perhaps it’s beyond me.

  75. #76 frog
    March 18, 2009

    PB: To reinforce that I have a copy of a paper that appeared in the New Zealand Forest Service Journal detailing a red deer (Cervus elaphus) shot at the head of Lake Wakatipu that had an ectopic limb flopping around its head

    I’ve seen cows like that. But in general, that’s not a systematic re-segmentation, which allows it to leverage the pre-existing system. Adding limbs is hard — adding any generalization is hard, specializing is easy; it’s easier to go down the path to simplification than becoming more complex.

    Of course, at the species level of selection, species who lose too many unnecessary features and specialize ultimately go extinct. We’re all descended from the few generalists who have many features — even though they are a small percentage of species, they are the species that produce most new species. The mammalian ancestor was rodentlike — I doubt that the koala is going to produce the next great radiation.

    The unlikely is what drives evolution — it gets selected at some level, and propagates like mad. But that’s what you’ll rarely see, exactly because it’s quick, one-shot events. Like reversing your head and your anus — it’s not just a creationist tactic, it’s evolutionary innovation.

  76. #77 Mert Sansoy
    March 19, 2009

    I have been thinking about the Trilobites recently, something like 400 million year old fossils that show amazingly complex eye structure in these animals. There is no past history, no transition to this amazing creature.
    This one as well as the one you have described are apparently clear evidence that there was no change in animals throughout history. I am not a scientist, but a layman with university education. Me and most of my colleagues have the same idea on this claim of evolution.

  77. #79 Bape Nerd
    March 19, 2009

    wow great find. thanks for the post.

  78. #80 Stephen Wells
    March 19, 2009

    @78: 400 million years is only 10% of life’s history; trilobites, and we, are _recent_, and have a long history. You (and your colleagues) are still too ignorant to form useful opinions on this subject. Go and learn more. It’s fun.

  79. #81 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 19, 2009

    the panda has had such a tough time adding a thumb

    We didn’t add one either, we primates just took the first finger and twisted it (or rather its metacarpal). The pandas took different bones (sesamoids — ossifications within tendons — that we don’t have) and enlarged them for much the same effect.

    This normal for octopus to be laid out so neatly in a fossil?

    Nope. This is a special kind of sediment.

    the layer at the bottom of the water column was almost completely oxygen starved. No microbes to perform the decomposition, and the corpse was rapidly covered in silt to preserve the shape of soft tissue during fossilization.

    Yes, and said fossilization involved the precipitation of phosphates on the carcass.

    David Marjanovi? @59: Relax man, I was kidding!

    Sorry, there was no way to tell. There are trolls here who say things like this and mean them seriously.

    The mammalian ancestor was rodentlike

    No, it was shrewlike. (But sprawled like a crocodile.)

    Like reversing your head and your anus — it’s not just a creationist tactic, it’s evolutionary innovation.

    No, never happened.

    the Trilobites recently, something like 400 million year old fossils

    The oldest ones are something like 535 million years old, the youngest ones 250 million.

    (Got that? More time passed between the first and the last trilobite than has passed since the last one!)

    that show amazingly complex eye structure in these animals.

    Exactly like the eyes of insects and (other?) crustaceans.

    There is no past history, no transition to

    Wrong. Look it up. There’s at least one great website on trilobite origins somewhere out there. Google is your friend?

    this amazing creature.

    Dude. There isn’t just a single species of trilobite. There are hundreds or thousands of known ones! All different from each other!

    apparently clear evidence that there was no change in animals throughout history.

    To the contrary. A lot of change is well documented in trilobite history — which, I’ll repeat it just to rub it in, took longer than the time that has passed since.

    Just for the record, I’m a PhD student of paleobiology.

  80. #82 Monado
    March 19, 2009

    Mert, you obviously haven’t read the Big Book o’ Trilobites.

    There’s also a new book, called “Triobite! Eyewitness to Evolution, which sounds good and a little more accessible.

  81. #83 Monado
    March 19, 2009

    Mert, you obviously haven’t read the Big Book o’ Trilobites. < -- corrected link.

    There's also a new book, called “Triobite! Eyewitness to Evolution, which sounds good and a little more accessible.

  82. #84 Jam
    March 24, 2009

    It’s depressing that you let the mind of a Creationist affect your excitement in the face of this discovery.

    When are we all going to agree that Creationists are bloody idiots and not worth consideration? Let them talk, let them flail about and lie and obfuscate; only after they’ve done that should we counter their nonsense for the sake of the audience.

    Not before. Don’t pre-counter Creationists, we don’t need Creationist Insurance. Creationists are stupid; countering Creationists is easy. Let’s not let provincial stupidity jade our joy when we learn new things.

  83. #85 GotMilk
    March 28, 2009

    This

    adding any generalization is hard, specializing is easy; it’s easier to go down the path to simplification than becoming more complex.

    doesn’t seem to describe evolution accurately. I mean we all started out as single-celled organisms (or something like that). So evolving complexity is has to be equal part, no?

    Anyway, very cool and thanks for blogging it for the rest of us.