Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of an Ancient ‘Alien Goldfish’

Scientists may have finally figured out where an ancient sea animal fits into the “tree of life.” The animal, known as Typhloesus wellsi, perplexed scientists for nearly 50 years, leading them to dub it the “alien goldfish.”

Typhloesus was just 90 mm long when it was alive. It had no fins other than a singular large tail fin. Bizarrely, it also had no backbone, anus, eyes or shell.

Scientists previously thought the creature was a conodont, a group of jawless vertebrates that resembled eels. Upon closer inspection, scientists realized that the Typhloesus fossil specimen actually showed the animal had the remains of a conodont inside its digestive tract, indicating the Typhloesus ate conodonts.

The recent discovery of a tooth-covered ribbon-like structure in the Typhloesus helped scientists figure out its possible taxonomic placement. Paleontologists believe they were most likely a marine mollusk and an ancient relative of gastropods like sea slugs.

Embed from Getty Images

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron and Dr. Simon Conway Morris, paleontologists at the University of Cambridge, made the discovery after examining several Typhloesus fossil specimens taken from a 330-million-year-old fossil deposit in the Bear Gulch Limestone site in Montana, US.

Dr. Caron found the toothed tonguelike structure under a high-powered scanning microscope. The structure was similar to that of a radula, an anatomical structure snails and mollusks use to scrape food into their mouths.

The scientists believe the structure was likely attached to a retractable trunk. The alien goldfish would extend it whenever it was feeding, much like a lizard. The existence of the Typhloesus’ radula led scientists to deduce that the mysterious creature may be a mollusk.

Embed from Getty Images

Dr. Caron believes the creature was similar to a sea slug, which swims through water, sticking its radula through trunklike proboscis to hunt prey. Typhloesus also had a flexible body and large tail. They were likely good swimmers and did not move along the sea floor.

Professor Mark Purnell from the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK suggests that scientists cannot definitively say “the very strange animal” is a mollusk.

“[The researchers] have found some tantalizing new information, but it is far from being a slam-dunk case in terms of definitely knowing what this weird thing is.”

Typhloesus fossils predate the rest of the swimming snail fossil record by over 100 million years. Dr. Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said that since sea slugs lacked shells and other features commonly imprinted in fossils and quickly swam in the water, they are not as present in fossil records.

Understanding the Typhloesus will help paleontologists learn more about the evolution of mollusks, the planet’s second largest group of invertebrates.

According to Dr. Caron, studying the strangest creatures often unearths the most valuable discoveries.

 “They are enigmatic, but they reveal a lot of important evolutionary information.”


The Reapers Of Death: New T-Rex Species Discovered in Canada

The fossil remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (T. Rex) “cousin species” have been uncovered in Alberta, Canada. Scientists are classifying the meat-eating dinosaur as Thanatotheristes degrootorum, and since they concluded that the remains are over 80 million years old, the T. Rex cousin is being deemed as the oldest known Tyrannosaur on record in North America; “Tyrannosaur” is the general term that covers all subspecies of the T. Rex. 

Scientists are also nicknaming the species the “reapers of death” based on the fact that their fossils show evidence of a “monstrous face”, vicious looking serrated teeth that were likely as sharp as steak knives and 3 inches long, and legs that were 8 feet in length from foot to hip. The fossil evidence also allowed scientists to estimate that the reapers measured in at 26 feet long from snout to tail. 

Embed from Getty Images

“Like other tyrannosaurs, the ‘reaper of death’ had strange bumps on its skull that gave it a monstrous appearance. But it also had a one-of-a-kind feature, a distinct set of vertical ridges that ran from its eyes along its upper snout. These ridges are not like anything we’ve ever seen before in other tyrannosaur species. Exactly what the ridges do, we’re not quite sure,” said study lead researcher Jared Voris, a doctoral student of paleontology at the University of Calgary in Alberta.

Voris and his team also concluded that the reapers of death walked the Earth during the Cretaceous period, which was the final period of the dinosaur age on Earth before they all were wiped out. This also means that these creatures were likely alive 145 million years ago (when the Cretaceous period began). 

Embed from Getty Images

The initial remains that were discovered were found by a Canadian couple on the shore of the Bow River in southern Alberta. That was back in 2010, and at the time it was believed that the only dinosaurs who lived in the Alberta area, hundreds of millions of years ago, were plant eaters. So 10 years ago it was believed that the mysterious skull remains that the couple found were just another Triceratops relative of sorts; even though the skull remains were abnormally three feet in length.

Once Voris began his own personal research regarding new dinosaur species he was able to determine that those decade old remains were actually the reapers of death, and not just another herbivore. In fact, based on their new conclusions they’ve determined that the reapers likely ate a majority of the herbivores that did live in Alberta. 

“The new discovery shows that Daspletosaurus-like tyrannosaurs were diversifying in the northern part of western North America about 80 million years ago. But these long- and deep-snouted tyrannosaurs appeared to stay in their neck of the woods. This seems to be a bigger theme: There were different subgroups of tyrannosaurs characteristic of certain times and places, and they did not all mix together,” said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. 

While the reapers of death weren’t as large as their more well known younger T. Rex cousins, their remains give scientists a great insight into the vastly diverse world of dinosaurs. Paleontologists and scientists alike can never be fully satisfied with their “conclusive” data regarding dinosaurs because they lived millions of years ago, making it close to impossible to know about every detail and subspecies that pertained to their time on Earth. However, discoveries such as this open dozens of doors in terms of possibilities for what other kinds of dinosaurs were roaming the Earth and where.