Much of Montana was once an inland ocean, including Fergus County (county seat: Lewistown). As plants and animals died and sank to the bottom, sometimes they were preserved. If they were preserved under just the right conditions, they became fossils. Today the area is known for its fossils.

About 328 million years ago, Fergus County was a marine bay, similar to the Bay of Bengal in South Asia. In 1988, an octopus fossil from this time period was donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, where it sat in a drawer for decades until Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, noticed its preserved arms and took a closer look. “This was sitting in a museum since the ‘80s, and no one realized it was important,” he told the New York Times.

Dr. Whalen and colleagues say the fossil represents the oldest known ancestor of modern day octopuses and vampire squids.

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While most people could spot an octopus, the vampire squid is less well known. A vampire squid, whose scientific name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis (literally, “vampire squid from Hell”), grows to only about a foot long and lives in the dark depths of the ocean where sunlight does not reach. It is the only cephalopod that does not hunt for food and is, instead, a scavenger that feasts on remains of other animals and plants falling toward the ocean floor. Several of its physical characteristics earned it the unique name: a web-like cloak connecting many of its arms (equipped with spikes on the interior), a bloody colored body, and striking opal-blue eyes.

The new species was described in a paper published March 8 in the journal Nature Communications, and was named Syllipsimopodi bideni, as in President Biden, to commemorate the start of his presidency and because they “were encouraged by his plans to address climate change and to fund scientific research,” Dr. Whalen said.

Christian Klug, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who was not involved with the research, argued to the New York Times that the fossil is not likely a new species but rather represents a specimen of a known species of ancient cephalopods, Gordoniconus beargulchensis (Bear Gulch Limestone is a layer of rock in central Montana). Dr. Klug co-authored a paper in 2019 on its anatomy. “It’s the exact same size, the exact same age, the exact same locality, the exact same proportions and it’s just preserved a little bit differently,” Dr. Klug said.

President Biden is not the first President to have a species named after him. Two species were named after President Trump, and nine were named after President Obama.

To learn more about vampire squids, check out this video from Natural World Facts.

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