It's Spring or at least it feels that way today and one of my favorite Spring activities is going fossil hunting, before the ground warms up and the snakes start crawling, This year's warmer weather has probably urged a few of them to crawl out their dens already. If I see one I will not be pleased. they too enjoy the riverbanks and the sun warmed stones. I wonder if they like the sound of the water rushing along and the sparkling ripples, the ducks floating and the beautiful cloudless skys?
I always find something interesting, often it is the trash that got thrown in the river many years ago, broken caps guns, the soles of old shoes, broken canning jars and worn-out meat grinders. Sometimes I even find some fossils. Certainly I never found anything like the Tully Monster, but I did want to share this improbable creature. And on what better day than April Fools day, though the folks at "Nature" magazine might not appreciate my choice of day, I'm sharing anyway.
The enigmatic creature—Illinois’ official state fossil—is a vertebrate, putting it on our branch of the massive tree of life.
More than 60 years after its discovery, Illinois’ bizarre state fossil—a soft-bodied “monster” that swam in rivers more than 300 million years ago—has been identified as a vertebrate. That puts the strange creature among the earliest in the group that eventually branched into today’s vertebrates, including fish, birds, reptiles—and us.
The surreal-looking creature, dubbed Tullimonstrum gregarium or the Tully monster, defies easy description.
“It looks like an alien,” says Victoria McCoy of the University of Leicester, who authored the study while at Yale.
McCoy’s analysis of more than a thousand Tully monster fossils, published Wednesday in Nature, reveals that the Tully monster was a vertebrate and had a primitive spinal cord.
The announcement comes as a shock to paleontologists, who for decades puzzled over the Tully monster’s place on the tree of life, but mostly thought of it as a spineless invertebrate, maybe some ancient version of worm, arthropod, or mollusk. Instead, the study shows that it was an ancient cousin to lampreys, which were among the first animals with backbones to evolve.
“A vertebrate! Amazing!” wrote Sam Heads of the Illinois Natural History Survey, who wasn’t involved with the study.
A Hobbyist’s Legacy
The Tully monster has been a mystery since a pipefittter named Francis Tully discovered it in a fossil bed known as the Mazon Creek formation in 1955, after rummaging through a coal mine’s scrap heap.
Tully came across a fossil unlike anything he had ever seen: an animal with a shovel-shaped tail, a trunk-like snout tipped with a claw-like mouth, and eyes affixed to the ends of a rigid bar. “None of the books had it,” Tully recalled in a 1987 interview. “I’d never seen it in museums or at rock clubs. So I brought it to Chicago to the Field Museum to see if they could figure out what the devil it was.”
Field Museum paleontologists were just as stumped. “No one recognized the creature,” wrote staff paleontologist Eugene Richardson in 1966. “We could not even decide what phylum to put it in, and that was a serious and embarrassing matter.”