These Jurassic Sea Creatures Spent Decades Crossing The Ocean on Rafts. Here’s How

The English city of Lyme Regis is element of the Jurassic Coastline Globe Heritage Site. It was in this article in the 1830s that William Buckland, superior identified for the discovery of the first dinosaur, Megalosaurus, collected fossils with an additional revolutionary palaeontologist, Mary Anning.


One particular of their discoveries was the stays of fossilised crinoids, often identified as “sea lilies”. Near family of sea urchins and starfish, these flower-like animals consist of a series of plates connected together in branches with a stem.

The specimens from Lyme Regis, courting again to the Jurassic time period about 180 million yrs back, appear like polished brass for the reason that they have been fossilised with pyrite (fool’s gold).

Buckland recognized that these crinoid fossils have been attached to compact items of driftwood we get in touch with lenses, which had turned into coal. He hypothesised that the crinoids had been attached to the driftwood even though alive, and most likely for their overall lives, possibly residing suspended beneath it.

Fashionable crinoids really don’t ordinarily acquire this kind of journeys, but we’ve since found fossilised illustrations of teams of floating crinoids. On the other hand it wasn’t distinct regardless of whether these have been genuinely thriving colonies residing on the driftwood or just short-phrase passengers.

Now my colleagues and I have revealed that this kind of rafts could last for as very long as twenty yrs, lots of time for crinoids to grow to maturity and grow to be complete-time ocean sailors.

Buckland’s concept was in the beginning observed as fantastical and the scientific environment remained sceptical. Until finally, that is, the discovery in the 1960s of a certainly amazing team of fossils from Holzmaden, a village not significantly from Stuttgart, Germany.

Crinoid raft fossils have now been identified. (R. Haude/University of Göttingen)

In among the maritime reptiles, crocodiles and ammonites, have been giant colonies consisting of full logs lined with hundreds of properly preserved crinoids.

The German professor Adolf Seilacher and his then college student (now professor) Reimund Haude appeared to have solved Buckland’s secret. These floating rafts of crinoids did exist.


This concept was strengthened by evidence that, in the Jurassic time period, what is now Holzmaden had been a seabed that was uninhabitable because of to small oxygen amounts. The crinoids would have clung for life to these logs as there was no seabed for them to reside on.

On the other hand, not all scientists agreed. One particular of the key inquiries asked was regardless of whether these log rafts could have survived for very long sufficient for the crinoids to grow to maturity. This can acquire up to ten yrs, dependent on contemporary progress fees of their residing family that can continue to be identified at depths of all over two hundred meters.

A team of scientists from the United kingdom and Japan led by myself resolved to deal with the dilemma. We have been enthusiastic by groundbreaking research on Japanese crinoids by Professor Tatsuo Oji, that have been kept alive in the labs at the University of Tokyo.

One particular of the key pieces of the initial concept was that any floating colony of crinoids would have grown till the population became also heavy for the wood raft to assist it. The log would have sunk to the oxygen-free seafloor exactly where the crinoids would then have grow to be fossilised.

On the other hand, research on residing crinoid populations off the coastline of Japan disclosed that the animals would be also lightweight, even in big mature colonies, to induce a log to grow to be overburdened and sink.


Model break up

Our research then turned to the wood alone. We established that the way to fully grasp how very long the colony could have lasted was to create a “diffusion model”. This estimated how very long it would acquire right before the log would grow to be saturated with h2o and fail.

The wood in crinoid raft fossils has not been preserved well sufficient for us to know what species it arrives from. So we represented it in the model with a composite estimate of trees we know existed in the Jurassic, this kind of as conifers, cycads and ginkgo trees.

We identified that the floating wood and its crinoid cargo would have been capable to last for at least 15 yrs and possibly up to twenty yrs right before the log would begin to sink or break up. There is evidence from museum collections of fragments of wood with overall, completely grown crinoids attached to them that could only have resulted from this kind of collapse.

Lastly, we utilised a procedure identified as spatial stage analysis created by Dr Emily Mitchell, to plot the areas among the fossils and work out regardless of whether the situation sample is ecological, environmental or both. This enabled us to estimate how this crinoid community might have seemed on the log.


We identified that the crinoids do certainly dangle suspended beneath the driftwood, but clustered to just one end of it. Even though tricky to notice in the initial fossils, the sample resembles that of other contemporary rafting species this kind of as goose barnacles.

They are likely to inhabit the space at the again of a raft exactly where there is least resistance, which can notify us the way of journey of the colony across the ocean.

This research has now put past question that crinoid raft colonies could exist and survive for a lot of yrs to grow to maturity and journey the broad distances across the Jurassic oceans. They are a deep-time instance of equivalent structures we see in present-day oceans.

These exciting strategies are now remaining used by a new team to review residing populations on the sea floor to their Jurassic forebears.

This could expose how past modifications in weather have formed maritime communities and will help scientists fully grasp how this kind of communities might answer to long run problems in an ever shifting environment. The Conversation

Aaron W Hunter, Science Guidebook & Tutor, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge.

This article is republished from The Dialogue under a Innovative Commons license. Examine the initial article.