Octopus ancestors, found in Montana, lived even before dinosaurs, study finds

The 4.7-inch fossil has 10 limbs — not eight — each with two rows of suckers. Scientists, who named the species for President Joe Biden, say it probably lived in a shallow, tropical ocean bay.

SHARE Octopus ancestors, found in Montana, lived even before dinosaurs, study finds
An octopus swims at the zoo in Frankfurt, Germany.

An octopus swims at the zoo in Frankfurt, Germany. In new research, scientists have described the oldest known fossil ancestor of octopuses — an approximately 330-million-year-old specimen found in Montana.

Bernd Kammerer / AP

Scientists have found the oldest known ancestor of octopuses — an approximately 330-million-year-old fossil unearthed in Montana.

The researchers concluded the ancient creature lived millions of years earlier than previously believed, meaning that octopuses originated before the era of dinosaurs.

The 4.7-inch fossil has 10 limbs — modern octopuses have eight — each with two rows of suckers. It probably lived in a shallow, tropical ocean bay.

“It’s very rare to find soft tissue fossils except in a few places,” said Mike Vecchione, a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History zoologist who wasn’t involved in the study. “This is a very exciting finding. It pushes back the ancestry much farther than previously known.”

The specimen was discovered in Montana’s Bear Gulch limestone formation and donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in 1988.

For decades, the fossil sat overlooked in a drawer while scientists studied fossil sharks and other finds from the site.

Then, paleontologists noticed the 10 tiny limbs encased in limestone.

The well-preserved fossil also “shows some evidence of an ink sac,” probably used to squirt out a dark liquid cloak to help to evade predators, just like modern octopuses, said Christopher Whalen, an American Museum of Natural History paleontologist and co-author of the study examining the fossil, published in the journal Nature Communications.

The creature, a vampyropod, was likely the ancestor of modern octopuses and also vampire squid, a confusingly named marine critter that’s much closer to an octopus than a squid.

Previously, the “oldest known definitive” vampyropod was from around 240 million years ago, the authors said.

Naming the fossil after President Joe Biden, the scientists dubbed the newly discovered species Syllipsimopodi bideni. They say that was because of theiradmiration for the president’s science and research priorities.

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