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Scientists Finally Identify the ‘Tully Monster’

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© Sean McMahon

It’s all right, everyone. We can breathe easy now, because scientists have finally identified the creature known as the Tully monster. The monster’s fossilized remains have puzzled paleontologists for nearly 60 years, but at last we have an answer. The researchers published their findings today in the journal Nature.

The first Tully monster remains were spotted in Illinois in 1958 by an amateur fossil collector named Francis Tully. What he found was so bizarre and hard to categorize that Tully settled on “monster.” Scientists determined that the Tully monster (now with the scientific name Tullimonstrum gregarium) had oozed or trod or swum the Earth 307 million years ago—240 million years before T. rex. As paleontologists continued to sweep Illinois’s Mazon Creek, where the first fossil was found, they found many, many more.

Holotype fossil. Image credit: © Paul Mayer, The Field Museum

In 1989, T. gregarium became the state fossil of Illinois, despite the fact that nobody really knew what its was. Theories abounded, of course. Most assumed that the Tully monster was a soft-bodied invertebrate, but beyond that there was little agreement. Was it some kind of snail? A worm? A cuttlefish?

No, no, and no. A team of scientists from Chicago’s Field Museum, Yale, the American Museum of Natural History, and Argonne National Laboratory found that the monster was, in fact, a vertebrate: a really, really weird-looking jawless fish somewhat similar to modern lampreys.

They came to this conclusion after reviewing digitized data and x-rays of more than 1200 T. gregarium fossils from the Field Museum’s collection. They determined that the creature was submarine-shaped, with fins, eyestalks, and an extra-long snoot ending in spiky teeth.

Co-authors Scott Lidgard and Paul Mayer both work at the Field Museum. “Mazon Creek is an amazing window into deep time,” Lidgard said in a press statement. “Only a tiny fraction of all the kinds of creatures that have ever existed become fossils, and it’s mostly hard parts like bone and shell that survive to tell the tale. Mazon Creek gives us an extraordinarily clear view of past life, preserving even insects, jellyfish, and the Tully monster. Research like this is a great way of learning where our world today comes from.”

“The Tully monster is a wonderful fossil that captures the imagination of every school kid,” Mayer added. “When I talk to school groups, I used to use the Tully monster as an example of a mystery that paleontologists have been trying to solve ever since it was discovered. Now I’ll have to change my talk and use it as an example that highlights the importance of how amateur paleontologists and researchers from different backgrounds can work together using new technologies and museum collections to solve a mystery.”

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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