Spaceship-shaped fossil reveals hungry predator from ancient oceans

506 million years ago, a predator swept through the silty bottoms of the Cambrian Ocean. His rake-like nurturing arms sifted through th...


506 million years ago, a predator swept through the silty bottoms of the Cambrian Ocean. His rake-like nurturing arms sifted through the darkness he lifted, channeling the soft-bodied worms into a circular, wrinkled mouth.

In 2018, a team of paleontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum discovered the preserved shell of this ancient hunter during a fossil-hunting expedition in the Canadian Rockies. At Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team identified the 19-inch animal, which they named Titanokorys gainesi, as one of the first known large predators on Earth.

“At a time when most animals were the size of your pinky finger, this would have been a really big predator and probably near the top of the food chain,” said Joe Moysiuk, a Ph.D. student at the University. from Toronto and co-author of the study.

Titanokorys belonged to a time when the first recognizable ecosystems were taking shape. Over half a billion years ago, the peaceful Ediacaran gardens – largely filled with soft-bodied organisms feeding on microbial mats – vanished. As the early predatory animals evolved, ecosystems became more complex, and many of the major groups of animals that still live today emerged for the first time: a geological shift called the ‘Cambrian Explosion’.

In 1909, the first evidence of this change was discovered by Charles Walcott, an American paleontologist, in the Burgess Shale of the Canadian Rockies. Researchers studying the fine-grained sediments there found the soft-bodied prints of a wild, albeit tiny, menagerie. Alongside early arthropods like trilobites and the earliest ancestors of vertebrates were Lovecraftian animals like Opabina and Halluciginia, unlike anything known today.

The main carnivores in this ecosystem were an extinct family of arthropods called radiodons, named for their circular, toothy jaws. The largest and most emblematic of the family, Anomalocaris, was a three-foot-tall predator, with a streamlined body and floating paddles that helped him navigate through open water.

For decades, Anomalocaris was the only known large predator in the Burgess Shale, said Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum. But in 2014, as he and his colleagues scooped up at a new quarry in Kootenay National Park in B.C., they began to find pieces of a mysterious new animal. Four years later, a full shell “the size of a football helmet” appeared.

“It was absolutely mind-boggling,” said Dr Caron. “A fossil like this is very rare. It took us a while to put it all together, but it got us to understand this animal for the first time – to show that there are other top predators in this community.

Although related to Anomalocaris, Titanokorys was a different kind of hunter. While he shared his larger relative’s lobed swimming oars, his large head shell – Mr. Moysiuk calls it “spaceship shaped” – took up half the length of his body. It had articulated claws and eyes placed at the back and facing upwards, suggesting that he spent most of his time on the seabed. It probably lived like a modern stingray or horseshoe crab, sucking its prey out of the silty bottom.

The discovery also suggests that Cambrian ecosystems were more complex than previously thought. The same quarry that produced Titanokorys also produced another radiodon, Cambroraster, a much smaller species with a different shaped shell but similar claws.

“It was a surprise to find two predators exploiting the same seabed community, but with different shells,” said Dr Caron. But such a range of top predators in the Cambrian suggests that the seas had sufficient resources for several different species of predators to coexist.

Predation may also have been a major driver of biodiversity, as species began to engage in an evolutionary feedback loop between predator and prey. As the prey developed stronger armor, the predators laughed with stronger jaws; predator and prey needed better eyes. “The notion of an arms race in evolution is becoming increasingly important,” said Moysiuk, and early predators may have been central to the development of the tangled and complex ecosystems we know today. .

The find also highlights how much remains to be learned about the Cambrian, Dr Caron said. “Every time we move sites, we find different species,” he said. “We have only scratched the surface of these mountains.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Spaceship-shaped fossil reveals hungry predator from ancient oceans
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