Science for All | What is the Tully monster?

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April 19, 2023 07:26 pm | Updated April 20, 2023 10:06 am IST

An artist’s reconstruction shows the Tully Monster.

An artist’s reconstruction shows the Tully Monster.

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The Tully ‘monster’ is a prehistoric animal that –at 15 cm – isn’t exactly monstrous, however its strange structure made it difficult to classify as a vertebrate or invertebrate.

The 300-million-year-old ‘monster’ was discovered by amateur fossil hunter, Francis Tully, at a site known as Mazon Creek Lagerstätte in the U.S. state of Illinois. Unlike dinosaur bones and hard-shelled creatures that are often found as fossils, the Tully monster was soft-bodied. The Mazon Creek Lagerstätte is one of the few places in the world where the conditions were just right for imprints of these marine animals to be captured in detail in the underwater mud, before they could decay. In 2016, a group of scientists in the US proposed a hypothesis that the Tully monster was a vertebrate. If this was the case, then it could be a missing piece of the puzzle on how vertebrates evolved.

Despite considerable effort, studies both supporting and rejecting this hypothesis have been published in recent years, and so a consensus had not been reached. However, new research suggests that the conundrum is solved and that the creature was certainly an invertebrate. The most important point is that the Tully monster had segmentation in its head region that extended from its body. This characteristic is not known in any vertebrate lineage, suggesting a nonvertebrate affinity.”

For their conclusions, researchers studied more than 150 fossilized Tully monsters and over 70 other varied animal fossils from Mazon Creek. With the aid of a 3D laser scanner, they created color-coded, three-dimensional maps of the fossils which showed the tiny irregularities which existed on their surface through colour variation.

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