Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, The Loh Down on Science is a fun way to get your daily dose of science plus a dash of humor in less than two minutes.
Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh
Airs Weekdays 2:43 and 3:43 a.m.

Monster Fossils




SEAN MCMAHON / YALE UNIVERSITY

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Hey baby, what's your state fossil?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Learn from our mistakes:  Don't use that line.

For the record, California's state fossil is the saber-toothed tiger, of course!

Naming fossils is the easy part.  Finding where they go on the evolutionary tree?  Much harder.  For decades, Illinois' state fossil was a puzzle.

Named for its discoverer, Francis Tully, it's a sea creature called Tullymonstrum gregarium. "Tully monster" for short!  At just a few inches long, it's only monstrous looking.  Pixture a soft squid-like body with a sort of giant lobster-claw for a head.  What on Earth could it be related to?

Once, paleontologists sidestepped tricky classifications:  They just said specimens belonged to extinct branches of the family tree.  Modern science has more tools at its disposal—tools that Yale University scientists used to analyze twelve-hundred Tully monster specimens.  Their conclusion?  It had features in common with the modern eel-like lamprey.

Sure, that's a parasitic sucker fish, but who are we to mock fossils?  Ours is a cat that needs braces. Meow.