Brittle stars looking like starfish: the first fossil record of the Astrophiuridae and a remarkable case of convergent evolution

Ben Thuy, Andy Gale, Lea Numberger-Thuy

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    Abstract

    The genus Astrophiura, which ranks among the most extraordinary of modern brittle stars, is the type genus of the recently resurrected family Astrophiuridae within the order Ophiurida. On account of its absurdly enlarged and strongly modified lateral arm plates, Astrophiura bears a closer resemblance to a pentagonal starfish than to a typical ophiuroid. Although molecular evidence suggests an ancient origin of the Astrophiuridae, dating back at least to the Early Jurassic, not a single fossil astrophiurid has been reported so far. Here, we describe dissociated lateral arm plates from the Campanian of Cringleford near Norwich, UK, and the Maastrichtian of Rügen, Germany (both Upper Cretaceous) with unambiguous astrophiurid affinities and assign these to a new species, Astrophiura markbeneckei. This represents the first fossil record of the family. In addition, the Rügen material included lateral arm plates that superficially resemble those of A. markbeneckei sp. nov. but differ in having spine articulations that are typical of the ophionereidoid family Amphilimnidae. We assign these plates to a new genus and species, Astrosombra rammsteinensis, an extinct amphilimnid with morphological modifications similar to those of Astrophiura, and thus representing a remarkable case of parallel evolution amongst brittle stars looking like starfish.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere8008
    Number of pages15
    JournalPeerJ
    Volume7
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2019

    Keywords

    • Ophiuroidea
    • Astrophiuridae
    • Amphilimnidae
    • new taxa
    • Cretaceous
    • convergent evolution
    • microfossils

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