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Thought extinct for 4 million years, found living in New Zealand

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 8:22 PM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
The openings of the Protulophila in a worm tube.
The openings of the Protulophila in a worm tube.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A sea creature was thought extinct for 4 million years
  • It was discovered living in New Zealand
  • A fossil discovery led to the finding

(CNN) -- Don't call it a comeback, it's been here for years -- millions of years.

A sea animal called Protulophila was thought to have been extinct for 4 million years, but has been found living in New Zealand waters.

Never heard of Protulophila?

It is a tiny animal related to corals and sea anemones, that forms tiny holes on the tubes of marine worms, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Artist\'s impression of living Protulophila polyps.
Artist's impression of living Protulophila polyps.
Resin cast of the Protulophila polyp chambers and connections in a worm tube.
Resin cast of the Protulophila polyp chambers and connections in a worm tube.

This creature was not known to have lived outside of Europe and the Middle East, but this year, a group of scientists found fossils of Protulophila in New Zealand. These fossils dated to a period when the creatures were thought to be extinct already.

So the researchers re-examined some tubeworms that were collected in New Zealand in 2008, and discovered that they had overlooked the Protulophila that was living on them, NIWA said in a news release.

Scientists refer to this finding as the discovery of a "living fossil," referring to animals and plants that are so rare they are usually only seen as fossils.

"Finding living Protulophila is a rare example of how knowledge of fossils has led to the discovery of living biodiversity," NIWA marine biologist Dennis Gordon said.

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