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Emeritus Professor Roy Plotnick Flips the Script on Anemone Fossils

“Death and decay in the Pennsylvanian”: A doomed cluster of the sea anemone Essexella is inundated by an underwater sediment avalanche, which kills and buries them. A previously killed anemone lies rotting on the sea floor, while the jellyfish Anthracomedusa and Octomedusa, soon to also be buried, swim above.

Full article on UIC News

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.

Essexella, a 310-million-year-old fossil sea anemone from Illinois.
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.

Read more:

WTTW - Fossil Discovery in Northern Illinois Has Turned Science on Its Head

Popular Mechanics - Rare anemone fossils found in plain sight

Live Science - Oops, this 300 million year old "blob" fossil was upside down. It's not a jellyfish after all