An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Tully Monster: A Bizarre, Rather Plesiosaur-Shaped Invertebrate

Artistic reconstruction of Tullimonstrum gregarium.
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While searching on YouTube for videos on paleontological information, I came upon a video which inspired great interest in me. This video displayed Paul Mayer, Fossil Invertebrate Collection Manager at the Field Museum of Natural History in Illinois, speaking about "The Tully Monster." I had previously heard of this extremely interesting prehistoric invertebrate, in fact I read about it several years ago, but this video (which is shared below) made me desire to briefly write about these intriguing animals here.

The Tully Monster (scientifically named Tullimonstrum gregarium) was an eight to thirty-five centimeter long, soft-bodied invertebrate which existed approximately 300 million years ago (Pennsylvanian subperiod of the Carboniferous period).These marine animals had flexible bodies which may have been segmented and a tail which possessed one vertical and two horizontal fins.1 Perhaps the strangest features Tullimonstrum exhibited were its eyes on stalks which projected out from the sides of its body and the long proboscis at the front of its body.2 The animal's proboscis ended in a "jaw" which contained small yet sharp teeth, suggesting that it was an active carnivore.1 It is likely that the animal used this jaw-equipped proboscis to attack marine prey animals such as jellyfish and shrimp, although the appendage most probably acted to pass food into its mouth as no evidence suggests that the throat actually went through the proboscis.1, 2 Although this bizarre invertebrate was discovered in 1958, it is still unknown as to what the species is related to (although snails and other molluscs have been suggested by some scientists).1
A Tullimonstrum gregarium fossil.
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To tell the tale of how I first heard of Tullimonstrum, we must go down a road which is often travelled in articles on this blog. The discovery and likely appearance of this odd invertebrate was included in a section of a book on the "Loch Ness Monster" which I read in my grade school library at a young age; the book which started my interest in cryptozoology. Strangely, it actually has been suggested that the "Loch Ness Monster" and other long-necked unknown aquatic animals are relict populations of Tullimonstrum. This bizarre hypothesis was inspired by the ancient invertebrate's long neck-like proboscis and flipper-like eye stalks.3 The main proponent of this hypothesis was Ted Holiday who, after allegedly witnessing an unknown animal in Loch Ness in 1962, felt that the fossilized Tully Monster was a miniature version of his "Loch Ness worm."3 Fellow researcher Scott Mardis and I both feel that this is the most likely, realistic scenario and we hope to coauthor an article on it which will hopefully be posted on April 1st. I'm kidding, of course, as the very small size and very old age of Tullimonstrum gregarium poses serious problems for the hypothesis. Therefore, most cryptozoological researchers regard the hypothesis as most likely false, although some have recently suggested invertebrates in the form of giant slugs for the identity of the Loch Ness unknown animals.
Due to features which may remind one of a plesiosaur, Tullimonstrum has been suggested as an identity for "lake monsters."
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So, as you have read if you've made it this far, Tullimonstrum gregarium is arguably one of the most bizarre animals known. While gigantic, freshwater Tullimonstrum most likely don't exist today, they certainly were "monsters" in their own respects. With unique anatomical features and a rather enigmatic taxonomy, further research into this fossil invertebrate will certainly be excitedly awaited.
  1. "State Symbol: Illinois State Fossil Tully Monster (Tullimonstrum Gregarium)."Amphibian. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
  2. "Illinois' State Fossil Tullimonstrum Gregarium." ISGS Geobit 5:. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
  3. "Tully’s Mystery Monster." Conde Nast Digital, 25 Jan. 0011. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.

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