These Jurassic Sea Creatures Spent Decades Crossing The Ocean on Rafts. Here’s How

The English town of Lyme Regis is aspect of the Jurassic Coast Planet Heritage Web page. It was right here in the 1830s that William Buckland, better recognised for the discovery of the to start with dinosaur, Megalosaurus, collected fossils with another revolutionary palaeontologist, Mary Anning.


A person of their discoveries was the remains of fossilised crinoids, sometimes recognised as “sea lilies”. Shut family members of sea urchins and starfish, these flower-like animals consist of a series of plates connected jointly in branches with a stem.

The specimens from Lyme Regis, dating again to the Jurassic interval about a hundred and eighty million decades in the past, glimpse like polished brass since they have been fossilised with pyrite (fool’s gold).

Buckland observed that these crinoid fossils had been hooked up to little parts of driftwood we simply call lenses, which experienced turned into coal. He hypothesised that the crinoids experienced been hooked up to the driftwood though alive, and most likely for their total lives, probably residing suspended underneath it.

Modern day crinoids don’t generally choose these types of journeys, but we’ve considering the fact that learned fossilised illustrations of teams of floating crinoids. However it was not very clear whether these had been really thriving colonies residing on the driftwood or just small-term travellers.

Now my colleagues and I have proven that these types of rafts could final for as extended as 20 decades, loads of time for crinoids to grow to maturity and turn into entire-time ocean sailors.

Buckland’s concept was at first observed as fantastical and the scientific entire world remained sceptical. Right until, that is, the discovery in the 1960s of a actually amazing team of fossils from Holzmaden, a village not considerably from Stuttgart, Germany.

file 20200731 14 15j5ylqCrinoid raft fossils have now been identified. (R. Haude/University of Göttingen)

In amid marine reptiles, crocodiles and ammonites, had been giant colonies consisting of finish logs covered with hundreds of perfectly preserved crinoids.

The German professor Adolf Seilacher and his then scholar (now professor) Reimund Haude appeared to have fixed Buckland’s secret. These floating rafts of crinoids did exist.


This concept was strengthened by evidence that, in the Jurassic interval, what is now Holzmaden experienced been a seabed that was uninhabitable due to reduced oxygen ranges. The crinoids would have clung for life to these logs as there was no seabed for them to dwell on.

However, not all researchers agreed. A person of the crucial issues asked was whether these log rafts could have survived for extended ample for the crinoids to grow to maturity. This can choose up to ten decades, centered on modern day progress charges of their residing family members that can nevertheless be identified at depths of all-around 200 meters.

A group of researchers from the British isles and Japan led by myself resolved to deal with the trouble. We had been motivated by groundbreaking investigate on Japanese crinoids by Professor Tatsuo Oji, that had been held alive in the labs at the University of Tokyo.

A person of the crucial parts of the authentic idea was that any floating colony of crinoids would have developed until the population grew to become far too large for the wooden raft to help it. The log would have sunk to the oxygen-absolutely free seafloor where the crinoids would then have turn into fossilised.

However, investigate on residing crinoid populations off the coast of Japan discovered that the animals would be far too light-weight, even in substantial mature colonies, to cause a log to turn into overburdened and sink.


Model separation

Our investigate then turned towards the wooden by itself. We founded that the way to understand how extended the colony could have lasted was to acquire a “diffusion model”. This approximated how extended it would choose just before the log would turn into saturated with h2o and fail.

The wooden in crinoid raft fossils hasn’t been preserved properly ample for us to know what species it will come from. So we represented it in the model with a composite estimate of trees we know existed in the Jurassic, these types of as conifers, cycads and ginkgo trees.

We identified that the floating wooden and its crinoid cargo would have been in a position to final for at minimum 15 decades and maybe up to 20 decades just before the log would start to sink or break up. There is evidence from museum collections of fragments of wooden with total, entirely developed crinoids hooked up to them that could only have resulted from this variety of collapse.

Last but not least, we utilised a procedure recognised as spatial stage evaluation produced by Dr Emily Mitchell, to plot the spaces among the fossils and do the job out whether the place pattern is ecological, environmental or each. This enabled us to estimate how this crinoid group may well have looked on the log.


We identified that the crinoids do without a doubt dangle suspended underneath the driftwood, but clustered towards 1 stop of it. Despite the fact that complicated to notice in the authentic fossils, the pattern resembles that of other modern day rafting species these types of as goose barnacles.

They tend to inhabit the location at the again of a raft where there is minimum resistance, which can tell us the direction of vacation of the colony across the ocean.

This investigate has now place past question that crinoid raft colonies could exist and survive for a lot of decades to grow to maturity and vacation the vast distances across the Jurassic oceans. They are a deep-time illustration of related constructions we see in present-day oceans.

These remarkable approaches are now staying made use of by a new group to examine residing populations on the sea ground to their Jurassic forebears.

This could reveal how previous modifications in weather have formed marine communities and will support researchers understand how these types of communities may well react to future issues in an ever changing entire world. The Conversation

Aaron W Hunter, Science Information & Tutor, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Inventive Commons license. Browse the authentic article.