Ancient Ten-Armed Octopus Relative Named for Joe Biden

The discovery of ‘Syllipsimopodi bideni’ pushes back the fossil record of the vampyropods by over 82 million years

An illustration of a light-colored squid with ten arms in the water
An illustration of S. bideni, which is the oldest known cephalopod to have suckers along all of its arms. K. Whalen/Christopher Whalen

Buildings, streets, and even an ice cream flavor have been named in honor of United States President Joe Biden. Now, he can add one more namesake to that list: an ancient ten-tentacled ocean animal.

The discovery of Syllipsimopodi bideni, which lived around 328 million years ago, means these soft-bodied creatures appeared in the ocean far sooner than previously thought. It pushes back the fossil record of the vampyropods, the group of cephalopods containing octopus and vampire squid, by almost 82 million years, reports Live Science's Laura Geggel.

The fossil also suggests that the cephalopod ancestor may have originally had ten limbs, before evolving into modern eight-limbed octopuses and squids. The work was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

“This is the first and only known vampyropod to possess ten functional appendages,” study author Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, says in a statement. “So this fossil is arguably the first confirmation of the idea that all cephalopods ancestrally possessed ten arms."

The creature has a roughly five-inch-long body similar to those of modern squids, but instead of eight arms and two tentacles, all of S. bideni's limbs are arms, as they have suckers along their entire length. Two of its arms seem to be longer than the other eight, and scientists also found remnants of its ink sac, according to Ashley Strickland for CNN.

The ancient octopus was unearthed in Montana, which was submerged underwater hundreds of millions of years ago. The fossil was originally donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in 1988 but sat in storage until Whalen reexamined the specimen, Sabrina Imbler reports for the New York Times. When he did, Whalen unexpectedly found ten tentacles dotted with suckers.

"The completeness of this specimen gives us some evolutionary ideas as we don't know a lot about a lot of these groups,” says Zoë Hughes, the curator of fossil invertebrates at AMNH and who was not involved in the work, in a statement. “This will help to fill in some of the knowledge gaps that we've previously had to make inferences about.”

Finding an intact vampyropod fossil can be challenging because hard tissues preserve relatively easily, while soft tissues break down.

“Quite specific circumstances are needed for the soft tissue to become preserved, which is why these fossils are quite rare,” Hughes says in a statement.

The research team behind the work named the species in honor of President Biden because they “were encouraged by his plans to address climate change and to fund scientific research,” Whalen says to the Times

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