March 19, 2009—It's about as unlikely as capturing a "fossil sneeze," but researchers have found the second known set of octopus fossils, a new study says.
The five well-preserved fossils were found in 95-million-year-old rocks in Lebanon.
The specimens represent three new species of ancient octopus, study lead author Dirk Fuchs of the Freie Universität Berlin said in a statement.
For each animal, all eight arms, traces of muscle, and rows of suckers are visible, and a few of the fossils even contain remnants of ink and internal gills.
With boneless bodies made mostly of muscle and skin, octopuses usually disintegrate into "slimy blobs" after death—making preservation over time extremely rare, experts say.
(Watch an octopus squeeze through a maze.)
While none of the 200 to 300 modern octopus species have been found in fossil form, the ancient creatures look indistinguishable from living species, Fuchs and colleagues note.
The fossils' unprecedented detail has shaken up the octopus family tree.
That's because primitive octopus relatives had fleshy fins along their bodies, said Fuchs, whose study appeared in March in the journal Palaeontology.
But the newfound fossils, like modern octopuses, lack these fins, a discovery that pushes back the origins of modern octopuses by tens of millions of years.