New Caledonia

New Caledonia’s own Jurassic Park discovered

This false-color CT scan shows the pig-snouted arms of the brittle star Ophiojura exbodi.  Photo: redit: Jay Black/University of Melbourne

A new species of brittle sea star found in New Caledonia has roots dating back to the Jurassic period.

Brittle stars with a body diameter of only 1.1 inches (3 centimetres) and arm lengths of about 3 inches (8 centimetres) represents a completely new family of these starfish relatives – one with members dating back 180 million years ago, when dinosaurs lived.

It was first discovered by Dr Tim O’Hara, study leader and an invertebrate curator at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, who was sorting through preserved creatures from a mission to New Caledonia in the South Pacific Ocean in 2011.

The specimen was strange, with eight arms instead of five or six which is typical for a brittle star.

It had long jaws on the underside of its body, bristling with teeth, and its arms had an odd skeletal pattern that looked as if they were built from dozens of tiny pig snouts snapped together.

“Even from the first look, I could see that it was different from all other brittle stars that I was looking at,” Dr O’Hara told Live Science.

Dr O’Hare got in touch with Dr Ben Thuy, a palaeontologist at the National Museum of Natural History, in Luxembourg to identify the mysterious sea star.

They discovered that it was not only a new species, but an entirely new family of brittle sea stars.

The anatomical similarity revealed that the brittle star had relatives reaching back 180 million years.

The researchers created a new family, which they name Ophiojuridae, to fit these new species.

Dr Ohara said New Caledonia was still being surveyed raising hope that this won’t be the last dinosaur-era living fossil found in the region.

“The tropics at this depth seem to be a ripe spot for discovering evolutionary relicts, or surviving species of very old groups of organisms. This is probably because tropical environments are very old, dating back to the dinosaur era, and haven’t changed much. This allows some of these ‘living fossils’ to persist into our time.”

  • Originally published on Live Science.

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