In 1958, amateur fossil hunter Francis Tully discovered an odd looking fossil in the Mazon Creek fossil bed located in Illinois. Since its discovery, paleontologists had no idea how to classify the organism that dated back to around 300 million years ago. However, a team of paleontologists based at Yale University recently published a study classifying the bizarre organism.
A team led by Victoria McCoy and Derek Briggs analyzed a collection of 2,000 Tully Monsters located at the Field Museum of Natural History. Using new analytical techniques such as synchrotron elemental mapping, which maps the chemistry of a fossil to illuminate the organism’s physical features, the team discovered that the Tully Monster had gills and a notochord. These key features had not been previously identified and helped determine that the Tully Monster is part of the same lineage as modern lamprey. The one foot long creature also had teeth at the end of a trunk-like extension from its head as well as eyes that sat on either side of a rigid bar.
Even with the creature’s classification there is still little known about the time span in which it lived. Scientists only have access to the small window dating back 300 million years and these fossils have only been found in this region in Illinois. Regardless, these new techniques may prove useful in identifying and classifying key features in ancestors of modern lineages that may help us better understand mechanisms of evolution.
Allen Currier (Group 1)
Yale University. (2016, March 16). Solving the mystery of the Tully Monster.ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 21, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160316151355.htm