A species of crab that is known for its 28,000-year-old bones has been found alive on the coast of America.
A small, fine-looking bivalve, called Cymatioa to cookthey were recently found hiding in a rocky area of the southern California coast – a place carefully avoided by scientists for years.
“It’s not very common to find species that are first known from fossils, especially in an area that’s so well studied like Southern California,” said marine biologist Jeff Goddard of the University of California Santa Barbara.
Goddard himself has spent years exploring the beaches of California to study slugs, nudibranchs, and other invertebrates, but it was in November 2018 that he came across some strange looking white particles.
“Their bullets were only 10 millimeters [0.4 inches] long,” he says. “But when they stretched out and began to shake like a bright foot with lines much whiter than their shell, I realized that I had never seen these creatures before.”
Goddard took pictures and gave them to Paul Valentich-Scott, curator of mollusks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. But Valentich-Scott could no longer place the species. He needed a physical example.
When Goddard returned to get the crabs, they were gone. It took months and many waves to start hitting the little one. Finally he cut four study samples.
Even then, the brand escaped Valentich-Scott.
“This really started to ‘hunt’ me,” recalls the museum curator.
“If I suspect that something is a new organism, I have to search through all the scientific literature from 1758 to the present. It can be a difficult task, but with knowledge it can go very quickly.”
It was during this intensive research that scientists discovered a specimen of a fossilized cow clam photographed in 1937.
They were collected by a local woman, named Edna Cook, in Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, and scientists at the time had a name. Bornia cookies (the brand name has now been changed to Cymatioa). The archaeological site is dated to between 28,000 and 36,000 years old, representing the late Pleistocene period when sea levels reached much higher than they do now.
When Valentich-Scott asked for a sample of the museum where the illustrations came from, they found similarities. This was the same type of clam Goddard found at Naples Point, just up the coast from Santa Barbara.
He was still alive.
“There’s a long history of shell collecting and malacology in Southern California — including people interested in finding mollusks — so it’s hard to believe that no one has found the shells of our little cutie,” says Goddard.
No one knows exactly where the clams prefer, or why they left southern California. However, researchers suspect that these ‘living fossils’ have recently entered the region, carried north as larvae during the oceanic climate that occurred between 2014 and 2016.
This isn’t the first time marine animals thought to be extinct have been discovered in fossils, and it’s not the oldest.
These giant fish were once thought to be extinct, known only from their skeletal remains, but as it turns out, these giant fish are still hiding in the depths as they have been doing for over 65 million years.
C. cookies they may be the most recent resurrections, but they are unlikely to be the last.
This study was published in ZooKeys.