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This 10-armed fossil is the oldest known relative of octopuses and vampire squids

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Thousands of feet below the ocean's surface in the murky depths lives the vampire squid.

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BRUCE ROBISON: Imagine a small, soft football with eight arms and enormous, beautiful blue eyes. When they're threatened, they can squirt out a luminous fluid that surround themselves in a cloud of light.

MCCAMMON: That's Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now, vampire squids are not actually vampires, though their arms are joined by a cape of flesh. And they're not squids, either. This is kind of confusing. They're more closely related to octopuses.

ROBISON: We think of them informally as living fossils. We believe that they're very close to animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

MCCAMMON: Now, scientists have described an actual fossil creature from 328 million years ago. It has 10 arms, not eight. And researchers say it's the oldest-known relative of the vampire squid and modern octopuses. Christopher Whalen of the American Museum of Natural History led the work.

CHRISTOPHER WHALEN: To have the arms preserved so well that you can see the suction cups is incredibly rare. From my knowledge, there's only a handful of fossils that are preserved with that kind of detail.

CHANG: Whalen describes the new species in the journal Nature Communications. And its name?

WHALEN: Syllipsimopodi bideni.

CHANG: Bideni, as in President Biden.

WHALEN: It seemed like a nice way to commemorate the beginning of his presidency.

MCCAMMON: Regardless of whether the president is flattered by this tribute, the discovery pushes back the fossil record for these types of animals tens of millions of years. And it gives scientists a rare window into just how long these many-armed creatures have ruled the Earth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.