Jurassic throwback reeled in from the deep has barbed arms and eight sets of razor-sharp teeth 


Marine biologists have discovered a spine-chilling new species of brittle star deep in the South Pacific.

The creature, dubbed Ophiojura exbodi, has eight four-inch appendages, each covered in rows of sharp spines. 

Experts say its almost unheard of for brittle stars to have eight arms.

Even more daunting than its appendages, though, are its teeth—eight rows of razor-sharp chompers.

They believe Ophiojura, hidden away on an underwater mountain, has remained essentially unchanged for 180 million years, since the early Jurassic period.

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Researchers in the South Pacific uncovered what they believe is a new species related to the starfish, with eight rows of razor sharp teeth to snatch and shred prey

Researchers in the South Pacific uncovered what they believe is a new species related to the starfish, with eight rows of razor sharp teeth to snatch and shred prey

Scientists from the French Natural History Museum first discovered this otherworldly specimen in 2011, more than 1,600 feet below surface on the summit of Banc Durand, an underwater mountain in the South Pacific over 120 miles east of New Caledonia.

Like their distant relatives the starfish, brittle stars use their radiating arms to deftly crawl across the sea floor.

But this creature was more menacing than Spongebob’s pal, Patrick Star,  with eight four-inch appendages barbed with long rows of hooks and spines.

A CT indicated those weren’t the creature’s only defense: those ‘arms’ meet in the center, where its mouth houses a ‘nest’ of sharp teeth lining eight sets of jaws.

The creature, dubbed Ophiojura exbodi, has eight four-inch appendages, each covered in rows of sharp spines

The creature, dubbed Ophiojura exbodi, has eight four-inch appendages, each covered in rows of sharp spines

The creature, dubbed Ophiojura exbodi, has eight four-inch appendages, each covered in rows of sharp spines

In a report published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Tim O’Hara, a senior curator at Museums Victoria in Australia, posited Ophiojura exbodi isn’t just a new species of brittle star, it’s a new genus and a new family from the phylum Echinodermata.

He theorizes the scary chompers are used to snatch and rip apart its prey—but he was particularly intrigued by its eight arms.

‘Brittle stars always have five, a few have six, and the very odd one has more than 10,’ O’Hara told The New York Times. ‘To suddenly have eight arms? That was special.’

To confirm if this was a new species, O’Hara sent a piece of its arm to his colleague Ben Thuy, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Luxembourg.

After treating the specimen to remove its flesh, and coating it in gold to maximize its conductivity, Thuy ran the arm under a scanning electron microscope, according to the Times.

The analysis revealed the star’s arm plates, which link together in a chain to form its skeleton, ‘each had a pair of holes, a nerve hole and a muscle attachment hole.’

Looking at one of the arms under an electron microscope, the scientists joked its porous lobes (aboev) looked like a 'pig snout'

Looking at one of the arms under an electron microscope, the scientists joked its porous lobes (aboev) looked like a 'pig snout'

Looking at one of the arms under an electron microscope, the scientists joked its porous lobes (aboev) looked like a ‘pig snout’

The porous passageway, O’Hara joked, looked oddly similar to a pig’s nose. 

‘Pig snout articulations,’ he told the Times. ‘That was our internal joke name, but it’s quite descriptive.’

Thuy couldn’t find a specimen with a similar porcine structure until he happened to glance at a poster on his office wall of some early Jurassic microfossils discovered in northern France.

‘It looked exactly the same,’ Thuy said.

The underwater mountain, or seamounts, of the South Pacific where the specimen was found are a hotbed of undiscovered marine line and 'living fossils' one to two thousand feet under the surface

The underwater mountain, or seamounts, of the South Pacific where the specimen was found are a hotbed of undiscovered marine line and 'living fossils' one to two thousand feet under the surface

The underwater mountain, or seamounts, of the South Pacific where the specimen was found are a hotbed of undiscovered marine line and ‘living fossils’ one to two thousand feet under the surface

That would make Ophiojura exbodi a ‘relic’ species, one that hasn’t evolved for millions of years.

DNA evidence suggests that Ophiojura branched off from its nearest relative 180 million years ago, some time in the early Jurassic or Triassic era.

[It represents] a totally unique and previously undescribed type of animal,’ O’Hara wrote in The Conversation. ‘It is one of a kind. The last species of an ancient lineage, like the Coelacanth fish (Coelacanthiformes) or the Tuatara (Sphenodon),’

With only a single dead specimen, though, Thuy and O’Hara are left with more questions than answers, including what it looked like when alive.

Its home in the underwater mountains, or seamounts, of the South Pacific are a hotbed of undiscovered marine line and ‘living fossils,’ one to two thousand feet underwater.

‘Currents swirl around them, bringing nutrients from the depths or trapping plankton from above, which feeds the growth of spectacular fan corals, sea whips, and glass sponges, O’Hara wrote in The Conversation. ‘These in turn host numerous other deep-sea animals.’

O’Hara’s team is launching another expedition in July to explore seamounts in the Indian Ocean, but they don’t know when they’ll get back to New Caledonia.

‘This could be the last time we find this animal,’ Mah said.



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Written by bourbiza

bourbiza is an entertainment reporter for iltuoiphone News and is based in Los Angeles.

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