Scientists find a "living fossil" off the coast of California

Scientists find a “living fossil” off the coast of California

Oysters were thought to be extinct for some time. However, the researcher undoubtedly found a very live specimen.

Whenever a new animal species is discovered, it is of course always exciting. But this is especially true when you come across a species that everyone thought was already extinct. It happened to researcher Jeff Goddard. He finds a tiny snail, previously known only from the fossil record, unexpectedly alive and well in a place that has also been studied extensively.

Look for slugs
One November afternoon, Goddard was searching for nudibranchs near Naples Point (located west of Santa Barbara, southern California), when a pair of small, transparent bivalves suddenly caught his eye. “Its shells were only 10 millimeters in size,” the researcher recalls. “But when they stretched out and began to wave their bright white striped limbs, longer than their shell, I realized I had never seen this species before.” Surprised and convinced that the animal was rare, he left the oysters alone.

Nine years later
Although Goddard took some pictures of the oysters, it wasn’t enough to classify them as a new species. After several unsuccessful attempts to catch snails in the place where the researcher first saw them, he gave up. The animal was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until nine years later, when a researcher, turning over a stone, suddenly came face to face with the mysterious animal again.

Photo of Cymatioa cookie, a long-lost clam that was found in Southern California. Photo: Jeff Goddard

After rummaging through all the scientific literature, Goddard came to the conclusion that the species was already known to science: it was first described in 1937 by a scientist who collected more than a million fossils around Los Angeles. This means that the researcher did not come across a new animal species, but a real “living fossil”. “It’s very unusual to find a living species that was previously only known from the fossil record,” he says. “Especially when you find it in a well-studied area like Southern California.”

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Cymatioa Cookie
bivalve oysters, for which they were named at the same time Cymatioa Cookie It is described in detail in the Trade Journal ZookiesTurns out, it hasn’t gone extinct for thousands of years. “Although our discovery may be less impressive than the famous one coelacanth or deep sea mollusks Neopilina galatheae – It’s believed to have disappeared 400 million years ago – dating back to the time of the amazing animals preserved in the La Brea Tar Pits,” says Goddard.

More on the La Brea Tar Pits
The La Brea Tar Pits is an area in the American city of Los Angeles where large amounts of fossils have been found, including many extinct animal species. Think mammoth, dire wolf, short-faced bear, ground sloth, cave lion and saber-toothed tiger. 10,000-year-old human remains were also found here. The oldest remains of bone and wood date back to about 38,000 years ago.

The pressing question is, of course, how the mysterious cochineal, despite its tiny appearance and well-hidden habitat, managed to go unnoticed for so long. “Shell has been collecting in Southern California for a long time,” says Goddard. “There are also a lot of people who enjoy looking for tiny, hard-to-find molluscs. So it’s hard to believe no one has seen clams before.”

Goddard suspects that ocean currents carried the clams from the south during several heat waves between 2014 and 2016. These heat waves allowed many marine species to extend their range north. This, according to the researcher, could explain why there was no one before 2018 Cymatioa Cookie around Naples Point, including Goddard himself, who has been diligently hunting for slugs here since 2002.

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