by Corey Hjalseth, KHQ Local News Contributor - email
have unearthed extraordinarily preserved fossils of a
520-million-year-old sea creature, one of the earliest animal fossils
ever found, according to a new study.
The fossilized animal, an arthropod called
a fuxhianhuiid, has primitive limbs under its head, as well as the
earliest example of a nervous system that extended past the head. The
primitive creature may have used the limbs to push food into its mouth
as it crept across the seafloor. The limbs may shed light on the
evolutionary history of arthropods, which include crustaceans and insects."
Since biologists rely heavily on organization of head appendages to
classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study
provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary
history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on
Earth," said study co-author Javier Ortega-Hernández, an earth scientist
at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. "This is as early as we
can currently see into arthropod limb development."
The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
fuxhianhuiid lived nearly 50 million years before animals first emerged
from the sea onto land, during the early part of the Cambrian explosion, when simple multicellular organisms rapidly evolved into complex sea life.
paleontologists have unearthed previous examples of a fuxhianhuiid
before, the fossils were all found in the head-down position, with their
delicate internal organs obscured by a large carapace or shell.
when Ortega-Hernández and his colleagues began excavating in a
fossil-rich region of southwest China around Kunming called Xiaoshiba,
they unearthed several specimens of fuxhianhuiid where the bodies had
been flipped before fossilization. All told, the team unearthed an amazingly preserved arthropod, as well as eight additional specimens.
primeval creatures probably spent most of their days crawling across
the seabed trawling for food and may have also been able to swim short
distances. The sea creatures, some of the earliest arthropods or jointed
animals, probably evolved from worms with legs.
The discovery sheds light on how some of the earliest ancestors of today's animals may have evolved.
fossils are our best window to see the most primitive state of animals
as we know them – including us," Ortega-Hernández said in a statement.
"Before that there is no clear indication in the fossil record of
whether something was an animal or a plant – but we are still filling in
the details, of which this is an important one."
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