Emeritus Professor Roy Plotnick Flips the Script on Anemone Fossils
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Billions of sea anemones adorn the bottom of the Earth’s oceans — yet they are among the rarest of fossils because their squishy bodies lack easily fossilized hard parts. Now a team of paleontologists has discovered that countless sea anemone fossils have been hiding in plain sight for nearly 50 years.
In a newly published paper in the journal Papers in Palaeontology, University of Illinois Chicago’s Roy Plotnick and colleagues report that fossils long-interpreted as jellyfish were anemones. To do so, they simply turned the ancient animals upside down.
Credit: Papers in Palaeontology
“Anemones are basically flipped jellyfish. This study demonstrates how a simple shift of a mental image can lead to new ideas and interpretations,” said Plotnick, UIC professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences and the study’s lead author.
The fossils come from the 310-million-year-old Mazon Creek fossil deposits of northern Illinois. Mazon Creek is a world-famous Lagerstätte, a term used by paleontologists to describe a site with exceptional fossil preservation. An ancient delta allowed the detailed preservation of the Mazon Creek soft-bodied organisms because millions of anemones and other animals were rapidly buried in muddy sediments.