Some fossils have never been identified. Mark Carnall takes a look at a selection of UFOs – unidentifiable fossil organisms
Palaeontological research can yield an amazing amount of information about the lives of long dead organisms, as specific as the last meal consumed, the colour of feathers, or the precise depth at which a marine organism lived. However, there are some fossils which defy classification either because their remains are incomplete, because they don’t bear a resemblance to any known form of life, or because they are just plain weird.
There is a detailed vocabulary used to describe organisms which defy classification and a system of nomenclature to denote confidence limits on probable or speculative affinities, but they are generally grouped together as “problematica”. A handy grab-bag of misfits which have exacerbated or eluded scientists, ready for future generations to have a go at. In museums, problematica specimens reside in drawers and cabinets equivalent to the ubiquitous drawer of odds and sods that most people have in the kitchen. You know the one. The one where chopsticks, elastic bands and watch batteries go.