Irish scientists have discovered a new species of fossil starfish in the Maam Valley in County Galway.

The fossil, which is about the size of a thumbnail, has been named 'Crepidosoma doyleii' in honor of Dr Eamon Doyle, who found it.

Doyle is a geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and Clare County Council. Dr Doyle found the fossil when he was completing his PhD in Galway in the late 1980s, but it has only now been analyzed by experts.

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International researchers have described the fossil as an ophiuroid starfish, better known as a 'brittle star,’ which evolved around 500 million years ago and has remained relatively unchanged to the present day.

The “exceptional fossil” is a key piece of evidence in the hunt for past life in the ocean that covered the country over 400 million years ago.

Professor David Harper of Durham University, co-author of the study that was published in The Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, said: "The remote areas of the west of Ireland continue to yield some exceptional fossils with a significant impact on understanding of the history of life.

"We owe a great deal to the painstaking efforts of Dr Eamon Doyle who combed these distant mountains for fossils during his PhD studies at University College Galway."

Dr. Sarah Gatley of the Geological Survey said: "This discovery by Dr Doyle in the area of the Joyce Country aspiring Geopark highlights the need to protect our geological heritage.

"It underlines why the Geological Survey support the three UNESCO Geoparks as well as the aspiring Geoparks in Ireland."

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Dr Doyle said: "I am delighted with the honor afforded to me by these eminent international paleontologists.

"I wish to thank Clare County Council and the Geological Survey for their support and I look forward to presenting some new fossils from the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark in the near future."

The specimen is displayed at the National Museum (Natural History) in Dublin.

H/T  RTE, Irish Examiner