It lived an uneventful life in Earth's oceans 500 million years ago, but now this newly discovered creature has an unusual honor: It's been given the scientific name Obamus coronatus, a name that honors President Barack Obama's passion for science. ("Coronatus" means "crowned.")
The tiny, disc-shaped animal was about a 1/2 inch long, with raised spiral grooves on its surface. It spent its entire life embedded on the ocean floor, likely never moving, according to scientists from the University of California-Riverside.
A second small animal, an egg-shaped critter that may have looked like a raisin, was also discovered. It was given the name Attenborites janeae, after the English naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, who was known for his science advocacy and support of paleontology. (Janeae is a nod to Jane Fargher, a co-owner of the property where the fossils were discovered.)
Both are among the earliest animals to exist on Earth. They were discovered in a remarkably well-preserved fossil bed in a southern Australia mountain range.
“I’ve been working in this region for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites,” said paleontologist Mary Droser of the University of California-Riverside, the lead author of two new studies about the discoveries.
The researchers dubbed the fossil bed “Alice’s Restaurant Bed,” a tribute to the Arlo Guthrie song and its lyric, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”
The soft-bodied animals were visible as fossils cast in sandstone that had been preserved for hundreds of millions of years. The species no longer exists.
“The two genera that we identified are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described,” Droser said. “We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal.”
The studies appear in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. Other authors include Pete Dzaugis and Scott Evans, both from the University of California – Riverside.