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“Extinct” for 50 million years, an enigmatic fossil species may still live at the bottom of the sea—but it defies capture.
Two hypotheses for its origin are being tested. One is Seilacher's original explanation, that the form is constructed as a burrow by an as-yet-unknown worm. The alternative hypothesis is that the form itself reflects the shape of the organism, perhaps a large single-celled organism whose living tissue fills the horizontal network. In that event, the organism might take up the sediment to make a kind of hexagonal exoskeleton, leaving holes in the sediment open to catch food from above. These studies are in progress. After nearly thirty years, to my surprise, the mystery of Paleodictyon still seems as deep as the waters where it lives.
Photo of ocean floor from P. A. Rona, 1978, “A benthic
invertebrate from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge,” Bulletin of Marine Science, 28(2):371–375.
Photo courtesy The Stephen Low Company