Fossil named in honour of David Attenborough


Rebecca Pool

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 15:15
Image: New 430 million-year-old fossil - Cascolus ravitis - named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.
A team of researchers led by UK-based University of Leicester has discovered a 430 million-year-old fossil and named it in honour of Sir David Attenborough, who grew up on the University campus.
The fossil is described as 'exceptionally well preserved in three-dimensions' - complete with the soft-parts of the animal, such as legs, eyes and very delicate antennae - and is an ancient crustacean new to science.
As Professor David Siveter of the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester points out, the find comes from volcanic ash deposits that accumulated in a marine setting in what is now Herefordshire in the Welsh Borderland.
"Such a well-preserved fossil is exciting, and this particular one is a unique example of its kind in the fossil record, and so we can establish it as a new species of a new genus," explains Siveter.
"Even though it is relatively small, at just nine millimetres long, it preserves incredible detail including body parts that are normally not fossilized," he adds. "It provides scientists with important, novel insights into the evolution of the body plan, the limbs and possible respiratory-circulatory physiology of a primitive member of one of the major groups of Crustacea."
L-R: David Siveter, University of Leicester, Sir David Attenborough and Derek Siveter, University of Oxford. Credit: University of Leicester 
The fossils were preserved as calcitic in-fills in three dimensions.
To re-create 'virtual fossils' the researchers used a custom SPIERS software suite for 3D computer modelling.
The crustacean Cascolus ravitis [Siveter et al]
After grinding the fossil, they captured images at 20 µm intervals and then digitally removed extraneous material to resolve the fossil-matrix ambiguities.
‘SPIERSview’ was used to generate colour-coded three-dimensional interactive visualizations and reconstructions, including stereo-pairs and an animation.
SPIERS - Serial Palaeontological Image Editing and Rendering System - is a package of three programs for the reconstruction and analysis of tomographic datasets, such as those obtained from serial-grinding of specimens or from CT scanning.
Ventral view of Cascolus ravitis [Siveter et al]
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) houses the original datasets that resulted from serial grinding.
The fossil is named Cascolus ravitis in honour of Sir David, who grew up on University College Leicester campus (the forerunner of the University), in celebration of his 90th birthday.
Cascolus is derived from castrum meaning 'stronghold' and colus, 'dwelling in', alluding to the Old English source for the surname Attenborough; while 'ravitis" is a combination of Ratae - the Roman name for Leicester - 'vita', life, and 'commeatis', a messenger.
According to Siveter: "In my youth, David Attenborough's early programmes on the BBC, such as 'Zoo Quest', greatly encouraged my interest in Natural History and it is a pleasure to honour him in this way."
"The biggest compliment that a biologist or palaeontologist can pay to another one is to name a fossil in his honour and I take this as a very great compliment," says Sir David Attenborough. "I was once a scientist so I'm very honoured and flattered that the Professor should say such nice things about me now."
Research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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