Small and exceptional: this is the first fossil named after Messi

It was going to happen. And in the end it happened: an Argentine paleontologist discovered a new species in Patagonia and named it after the football player Lionel Messi. But now it wasn’t even a long-necked, stout-legged titanosaur like the patagotitan any argentinosaurus, nor a huge, ferocious predator the size of meraxes gigas, scorpiovenator any carnotaurus. It is about a small marine organism looking like clam who lived 20 million years ago. I call discinisca messii.

the investigator Damian E Perez honored the world champion and current player of Paris Saint-Germain by naming this small, but at the same time rare and wonderful bark. “From what I understand, it’s the first fossil that bears Messi’s name”, reveals to SINC this paleontologist from the National Center of Patagonia (CENPAT) in Puerto Madryn, Chubut.

“In 2019, a live lizard, Liolaemus messii”, remembers Perez. This time, the name came up spontaneously, because, according to him, while preparing the scientific publication, the world Cup Qatar 2022. “The work was sent in its final version to the magazine Ameghinian, on the 20th of December of last year, while all the Argentine people were celebrating the players’ arrival in the country. There was no other option. It’s a small way of dedicating something to one of the two most important players in the history of the Argentine national team and world football. And thank you for the joys he has given us”, he adds.

treasures in sight

It all started in 2021, when Pérez, together with his colleagues from the Patagonian Institute of Geology and Paleontology of CENPAT, embarked on the study of the Gaiman Formation, east of the province of Chubut, in Patagonia Argentina, in which marine sediments from 20 to 10 millions of years ago. Best known for the ancient remains of whales, sharks and dolphins located there, it has been little explored in search of invertebrate fossils.

When carbon dioxide levels rose and the ocean became more acidic, these invertebrates found it difficult to grow large shells; so they suffered what is known as the ‘Lilliput effect’: they got smaller

“The fossils are found both in the ground and inside the outcrops, so there’s no need to drill or excavate”, says the paleoecologist. Aylen Allende Mosqueraresearch co-author.

Small and rare: fossil Discinisca messii. Measures approximately 2.5 cm. It was a filter feeder, which fed on small microorganisms found in the water. Credit: Damián E. Pérez.

On a campaign to the Bryn Gwyn Paleontological Park (“White Hill” in Welsh), seven kilometers from the city of gaimanIn June of that year, they found something strange: the remains of a brachiopod, that is, small and solitary marine animals similar to clams, although they are not related to them. “It attracted attention very quickly because this shell has a glassy appearance”, warns Pérez.

Six months later, in another campaign on outcrops north of the city of puerto madrynin a place called Cañadón del Puma, they located a second specimen.

To date, about 450 live species of brachiopods worldwide. but no fossil recordcovering about 500 million years, there are many more: among 12,000 and 30,000 species.

These tiny marine animals that live enclosed in two shells have suffered and survived several mass extinctions. Your study serves to learn more about the tumultuous history of climate change that crossed the planet and the successive changes in the atmosphere and seas. For example, when carbon dioxide levels increased and the ocean has became more acidic, these invertebrates had difficulty developing large shells. So they suffered what is known as ‘lilliput effect: dwarf, a temporary phenomenon restricted to the period of survival of the extinction event.

It was a filtering animal, which fed on small microorganisms. It certainly had few predators, especially considering how rare it was: rare like Messi

Damián Pérez, paleontologist

After studying these pieces —and others found in forgotten collections—, the researchers deduced that they were extremely rare brachiopods. They belong to the group of lingulidsof the genus Discinisca”, specifies Pérez.

“Currently, dyscyniscs are organisms that live in a similar way to the limpets, in very shallow waters, on rocks, among mussels and dog teeth or barnacles, but in warmer regions, such as northern Chile, Peru and the Caribbean; had never been found in Patagonia”, clarifies the author. “We were able to describe two species, discinisco future It is Discinic messii. Both would have lived together around 20 million years ago on these Patagonian coasts,” he adds.

passage to immortality

At that time, the east coast of Chubut (in the South Atlantic) was submerged, as the sea level was higher than today and the Atlantic entered several kilometers into the continent. In what is now the lower valley of the Chubut River (area where the cities of Trelew, Gaiman and Dolavon are located) marine sediments are known up to about 60 km from the coast.

was about a warmer sea than the current one, with an abundant fauna of invertebrates and vertebrates. There were found remains of primitive dolphins and whales, large sharks and turtles up to three meters long. There were still no seals or sea lions, so common today. The right whale that lives in the region today did not exist.

“The fossil of discinisca messii It measures approximately 2.5 cm in length”, details the paleontologist. It was a “filter feeder”, feeding on small microorganisms found in the water, such as diatoms and other plankton organisms. He certainly hadfew predators”, especially for how rare it was. “Rare like Messi” and certainly “prey for crabs or some fish”.

In addition to the peculiarities of these resistant marine organisms, the investigation published in scientific journal ameghinian displays the intimacies and riches of taxonomy.

So far, approximately 1.8 million species have been identified, cataloged and named, but another three, five, ten or even 100 million are still waiting to be found. Is named. As the German biologist recalls michael ohl, scientific names are linguistic beauties, creations that involve subjective and emotional motives. “The imaginative invention of scientific names for newly discovered species is an especially joyous ritual,” said the book’s author. the art of naming. “It is through the naming of species that we perceive and understand nature,” he added.

The world around us was full of tributes. There are chandeliers with the names of David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Harrison Ford, Pablo Neruda, Jack Nicholson, Orson Welles, Elvis Presley and the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. The trilobites honor Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe and the beetles honor Arnold Schwarzenegger. An extinct lizard resembles Jim Morrison, a Stephen Hawking crustacean, a Bob Marley worm, a Salvador Dalí sea lily. Wasps were named in memory of Rosalind Franklin, Lady Gaga or Shakira. And writer Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Parkthere are two dinosaurs that bear his last name: crichtonsaurus It is Crichtonpelta benxiensis.

These curious names serve to attract attention. From a dedication that alludes to a fictional character or a world sports celebrity, research or fossils can reach an audience that would not be interested without that name.

In 2020, the bacteria Bacillus saganii he isolated himself in a building at the Kennedy Space Center, where the Viking spacecraft was assembled, and was given the name Carl Sagan.

the land spider latica galeanoi (found in Uruguay and northern Argentina) recalls the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. the wasp Triraphis Cortazari commemorates Julio Cortázar. The name of the maiden fossil Librefly refers to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the one with the dragonfly Argentinala cristinae, Vice President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Likewise, a catfish, a spider, a louse and a sniper honor Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez.

Sporting figures are no strangers to these taxonomic delights. There is the sea snail buffonaria borisbeckerithe beetle duvalius djokovicithe herbivorous dinosaur iniestapodusthe choir paragorgia jamesi, by Colombian soccer player James Rodríguez. In homage to Diego Maradona, there is a wasp (Anaphes maradonae) and a flying insect (maradona bookfly).

Twenty million years ago, the east coast of the Argentine province of Chubut was under water. The remains of many of the organisms that lived in that sea today can be found with the naked eye in outcrops of the Gaiman Formation. /Damian E. Perez.

For scientists like Pérez, the moment of naming a taxon or a population of organisms is one of the few totally creative instances within the gray that can be everyday work. By the way, this is not the first time that this paleontologist has assigned a name to a new species. In the past, he has used pop culture characters to name hitherto unknown organisms.

These curious names serve to attract attention. From a dedication that alludes to a fictional character or a world sports celebrity, research or fossils like that of this small invertebrate can reach an audience that would not be interested without that name.

In addition, a scientific name grants immortality to the honoree. Or, at least, that eternity that lasts as long as human beings exist and explore nature.

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