By Rachel Feltman
The Tully Monster is a fascinating animal – and not just because of its name. It’s one of the most enigmatic specimens ever found, which is a nice way of saying it’s a total oddball that’s left scientists scratching their heads.
And now, half a century after its discovery, researchers claim to have found the creature’s place in the tree of life. It may not have a family, taxonomically speaking, but it could finally have a phylum. According to new analysis of a body structure previously assumed to be the gut, the strange blob of a creature is actually a vertebrate in disguise – a relative of modern lampreys, or eel-like toothed fish.
“There are plenty of fossils that are really enigmatic, but the Tully Monster has always been kind of in a class of its own,” Yale University’s Victoria McCoy, lead author on the study published Wednesday in Nature, told The Post.
When the first Tullimonstrum gregarium fossil was uncovered by Francis Tully in 1958, the amateur fossil-hunter wasn’t sure what the strange Illinois native might be. Even when professional paleontologists examined the specimen, they were puzzled. That’s not so unusual, but it is for a fossil of T. gregarium‘s age: At just 300 million years old or so, it’s from a time when lots of more familiar creatures lived. Scientists are generally able to sort newly discovered animals from this era into previously defined categories. But the researchers who studied Tully’s “monster” took nearly a decade to publish their first official description of it.