Scientists at Yale and in England are honoring renowned naturalist and TV documentarian Sir David Attenborough with his own proto-shrimp.
In this case, it is a 430-million-year-old crustacean fossil named in Attenborough’s honor. The extinct creature is new to the scientific community and is a distant relative of today’s lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. Researchers described the new fossil as “exceptionally well-preserved in three dimensions,” complete with the soft parts of the animal, such as legs, eyes, and antennae.
Attenborough, 90, is a distinguished broadcaster whose “Life on Earth” and other documentary series stand as a comprehensive study of animal and plant life on the planet. He was knighted in 1985 and has received dozens of awards and honorary degrees in recognition of his work.
In 2016, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History awarded Attenborough the Addison Emery Verrill Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the curators of the museum, as part of the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the museum’s founding.
Derek Briggs, Yale’s G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics and curator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, said, “It is wonderful to be able to name a remarkable fossil from the United Kingdom in honor of Sir David, who has done so much to promote the conservation of the Earth’s biodiversity.” Briggs is co-author of a paper about the new crustacean fossil in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The first author of the study is David Siveter of the University of Leicester. Additional co-authors are Derek Siveter and David Legg of Oxford University and Mark Sutton of Imperial College London.
“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,” said David Siveter.
The fossil is named Cascolus ravitis in honor Attenborough’s 90th birthday and the University of Leicester campus, where Attenborough grew up (his father was the principal of the then-named University College Leicester). The first half of the name, “Cascolus,” is derived from the Latin word castrum, which means “stronghold,” and colus, which means “dwelling in.” It is the equivalent of the Old English words comprising Attenborough’s name — atten (“at the”) and burgh (“a fortified place”). The second part of the name, “ravitis,” is a combination of the Latin words Ratae (the Roman name for Leicester), vita (“life”), and commeatis (“messenger”).
The fossil comes from volcanic ash deposits that accumulated in a marine setting in what is now Herefordshire in the Welsh Borderland. The fossil has been reconstructed as a virtual fossil by 3D computer modeling.
The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Invertebrate Paleontology Division, the Natural Environmental Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, English Nature, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History supported the research.