New Details of Tully Monster Revealed by University of Tokyo: Illinois Fossil Mystery Solved


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CHICAGO, IL – The Tully monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium), a curious creature found in Illinois that has confounded scientists for over half a century with its mysterious soft-bodied anatomy. But new research from the University of Tokyo may have brought us closer to unraveling the secrets of this enigmatic organism.

Utilizing state-of-the-art 3D imaging techniques, the team has unveiled intricate features of the Tully monster that defy previous assumptions, pointing to the possibility that it was not a vertebrate as previously hypothesized. This groundbreaking discovery challenges the long-held belief that the Tully monster played a pivotal role in the evolutionary timeline of early vertebrates.

The researchers now propose a radical reevaluation of the Tully monster’s classification, suggesting that it may belong to an entirely distinct group of organisms. The Tully monster could possibly be classified as a nonvertebrate chordate or protostome with highly modified morphology, defying conventional categorization and opening new avenues for understanding its evolutionary significance.

The Tully monster was first discovered in the late 1950s by Francis Tully, an avid amateur fossil collector from Lockport, at the Mazon Creek Lagerstätte in Illinois. Unlike traditional fossils of hard-shelled creatures or dinosaur bones, the Tully monster was soft-bodied, making its preservation at Mazon Creek particularly unique. In 2016, a group of US scientists proposed a hypothesis that the Tully monster was a vertebrate, but this new research challenges that idea.

“We believe that the mystery of it being an invertebrate or vertebrate has been solved,” said Tomoyuki Mikami, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Science at the University of Tokyo. “Based on multiple lines of evidence, the vertebrate hypothesis of the Tully monster is untenable. The most important point is that the Tully monster had segmentation in its head region that extended from its body. This characteristic is not known in any vertebrate lineage, suggesting a nonvertebrate affinity.”

The research team meticulously examined over 150 fossilized Tully monsters and over 70 other animal fossils from Mazon Creek, employing advanced techniques such as 3D laser scanning and X-ray micro-computed tomography to generate intricate models of the specimens. Through the analysis of the 3D data, it was discovered that characteristics previously attributed to vertebrates were absent in the Tully monster, challenging the previous assumption that it was a vertebrate species.

Despite this significant finding, the exact classification of the Tully monster and its place in the evolutionary tree is still to be determined. Further research is needed to unlock the secrets of this ancient creature and understand the dynamic history of Earth and its diverse inhabitants.

“Research on the fossils from Mazon Creek is important because it provides paleontological evidence that cannot be obtained from other sites. More research is needed to extract important clues from these fossils to further our understanding of life’s evolutionary journey,” said Mikami.

The findings of this groundbreaking study are published in the journal Palaeontology, shedding new light on the enigmatic Tully monster and rewriting the story of Illinois’ prehistoric past. As scientists continue to unlock the secrets of our planet’s history, the Tully monster remains a fascinating puzzle that offers insights into the rich diversity of life that has inhabited our world over millions of years.

The Tully monster has captured the imaginations of scientists and amateur fossil enthusiasts alike for decades. Francis Tully’s chance discovery in the Illinois mining site near Braidwood sparked curiosity and led to numerous scientific inquiries. Despite its soft-bodied nature and lack of hard-shelled fossils, the Tully monster has remained a unique specimen that has stumped researchers for years.


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