Tube feet do the talking in ancient marine animal discovery

Section through a specimen of Heropyrgu, an echinoderm.
Section through a specimen of Heropyrgus in the rock (bottom) and a partial reconstruction (top) with the plates covering the tube feet shown in different colors.

Researchers are learning more about the evolution of echinoderms, the group that includes sand dollars, sea urchins, and starfish, thanks to new evidence of the tentacle-like, tube feet of an extinct group of sea creatures.

Tube feet enable starfish and other echinoderms to feed, move, and breathe. Yet knowledge of the evolutionary history of this distinctive group has been limited by a lack of preserved soft tissues in extinct forms.

A view of the upper surface of Heropyrgus, an echinoderm.
A view of the upper surface of Heropyrgus reconstructed with four of the plates removed. The tube feet are colored green.

Yale paleontologist Derek Briggs and colleagues from Oxford University, the University of Leicester, and Imperial College London have discovered a new species — Heropyrgus disterminus — that includes preserved tube feet. Heropyrgus was a tower-like echinoderm unlike anything today. About one inch long, it stood vertically on the seabed; the tube feet were on the upper surface, protected by plates.

The findings appear in the Sept. 13 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The fossil was discovered in the Herefordshire deposit in the U.K., the source of many distinctive fossils, and is approximately 430 million years old.

Read the study here: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/284/1862/20171189.

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