Article: Three-dimensional anatomy of the Tully monster casts doubt on its presumed vertebrate affinities
Abstract Tullimonstrum gregarium, also known as the Tully monster, is a well-known phylogenetic enigma, fossils of which have been found only in the Mazon Creek Lagerstätte. The affinities of Tullimonstrum have been debated since its discovery in 1966, because its peculiar morphology with stalked eyes and a proboscis cannot easily be compared with any known animal morphotypes. Recently, the possibility that Tullimonstrum was a vertebrate has attracted much attention, and it has been postulated that Tullimonstrum might fill a gap in the fossil record of early vertebrates, providing important insights into vertebrate evolutionary history. With the hope of resolving this debate, we collected 3D surface data from 153 specimens of Tullimonstrum using a high-resolution laser 3D scanner and conducted x-ray micro-computed tomographic (μCT) analysis of stylets in the proboscis. Our investigation of the resulting comprehensive 3D morphological dataset revealed that structures previously regarded as myomeres, tri-lobed brain, tectal cartilages and fin rays are not comparable with those of vertebrates. These results raise further doubts about its vertebrate affinities, and suggest that Tullimonstrum may have been either a non-vertebrate chordate or a protostome.