Latest Palaeontology News

New Vampyromorph

“It’s the Eighty million year old great granddaddy of the Vampire squid from hell” says Pat Trask Curator of Natural History at the Courtenay Museum.

Celebrating over twenty five years of discovery-The Courtenay and District Museum Marks the 20th anniversary of the elasmosaur discovery. Twenty years ago a surprising discovery in the Puntledge River brought Vancouver Island and the Courtenay Museum into the paleontological spotlight. November 12, 1988, Mike Trask and his daughter Heather were looking for fossils on the banks of the Puntledge River and discovered the fossil remains of an 80 million year old marine reptile called elasmosaur. This was the first find of an elasmosaur west of the Canadian Rockies.

The scientific community was ecstatic and the public was enthralled. This excitement continues to this day and will continue for many generations to come. The fossil beds of Vancouver Island are vast and diverse; yet still poorly understood. A new group of fossil hunters, professional and amateur alike, continue to discover evidence of ancient life. This fossil evidence is adding to the sum of scientific knowledge as new creatures are discovered and described.

In a paper published in the March 2008 Journal of Paleontology by Dr. Kazushige Tanabe, Pat Trask, Rick Ross and Yoshinori Hikida, is a new genus and species of an ancient vampyromorph-a squid like creature, and a new genus and two new species of octopods. Most of these specimens come from the Courtenay and District Museum’s collections.

Technically, vampyromorphs and octopods are neither octopi nor squids. They have eight tentacles but also two antennae-like projections that may be modified tentacles, putting them into a sister group to octopi and squids. Squids and octopi have suckers that run the length of their tentacles where the vampyromorphs and octopods have suckers at the end of their tentacle tips only.

Nanaimoteuthis jeletzkyi
The genus Nanaimoteuthis means Nanaimo Squid

Nanaimo named after the Nanaimo group of rocks, teuthis meaning squid. The species name “jeletzkyi” in honor of George Jeletzky, a paleontologist who worked for 30 years in Canada studying Cretaceous and Cenozoic mollusks.

The only living relative of the Nanaimoteuthis is the “vampire squid from hell”, Vampyroteuthis infernalis. The current day vampire squid is a very unusual and interesting animal. It lives in the deep dark ocean and looks very similar to an octopus only deep red in color. It can turn itself almost inside out in a defensive move dubbed “the pineapple” with spiky cirri or hairs that stick out making it look unappetizing. It can also release bioluminescent slime from its tentacle tips to confuse its predators and has the largest eyes per body size of any creature.

Technically, vampyromorphs and octopods are neither octopi nor squids. They have eight tentacles but also two antennae-like projections that may be modified tentacles, putting them into a sister group to octopi and squids. Squids and octopi have suckers that run the length of their tentacles where the vampyromorphs and octopods have suckers at the end of their tentacle tips only.

New Octopods

Paleocirroteuthis haggarti and Paleocirroteuthis pacifica

The genus Paleocirroteuthis means ancient curly haired squid. Paleo-ancient, cirro-curly hairs, and teuthis-squid.

Paleocirroteuthis haggarti
The species name haggarti is to honor paleontologist Dr. Jim Haggart of Vancouver who is currently studying ammonites all along the Pacific Coast and who also chairs the British Columbia Paleontological Alliance, an organized group of professional and amateur fossil collectors in B.C.

Paleocirroteuthis pacifica
The species name pacifica -the pacific ocean, was chosen because the first specimen of pacifica was found here on Vancouver Island and then subsequently one was discovered on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. The fossils of Hokkaido are very similar in age and paleo environment to the fossils of Vancouver Island.

Background
The new Octopods are ancient relatives of another modern group, the cirroctopods. Named for the hair like projections (cirri) on their tentacles, these are also very deep water creatures. Some are named “Dumbo octopus” after the large fins near the back of their bodies that look like large ears. This is the first discovery of Cirroctopods in the fossil record.

All of the fossil jaws discovered, when compared to the jaws of their living relatives are much larger and more robust, 17-57kg., suggesting that during the Cretaceous, the oceans were home to very large vampyromorphs and octopods. Perhaps these were tasty meals for the mosasaurs and plesiosaurs swimming in the same waters.

These newly named specimens are from lower jaws embedded in concretions (a sedimentary rock form) found on local rivers and during the recent Inland Island highway construction near Courtenay. Local amateur fossil hunters have been finding these jaws and donating them to the museum’s collections for many years but conflicting scientific literature suggested that they were from ammonites–extinct relatives of the octopus and squids.

A visit to the Courtenay Museum from Dr. Kazushige Tanabe, a Japanese expert from the University of Tokyo, led to the discovery that several of these fossilized jaws (aptychus) were quite different in size and shape from those of ammonites. After careful study, they were recognized as rare Vampyromorph and Octopod fossils. So rare, in fact, that they represent some the oldest fossils of these creatures ever found.

The Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre would like to thank Rick Ross, Dan Bowen, Tim O’bear, and A. Rosenberg, for kindly providing these specimens for scientific study. The museum holds over 6000 fossil specimens, all generously donated by professional and amateur collectors over the years. Many of these fossils have turned out to be new to science.