Researchers reveal remarkable fossil

Mar 24, 2011
This is the detail of 525 million-year-old hemichordate. Credit: Credit: Professor Derek Siveter, Oxford University

Researchers from China, Leicester and Oxford have discovered a remarkable fossil which sheds new light on an important group of primitive sea creatures.

The 525-million-year-old fossil belongs to a group of tentacle-bearing creatures which lived inside hard tubes. Previously only the tubes have been seen in detail but this new specimen clearly shows the soft parts of the body including tentacles for feeding.

Details of the discovery have been announced today in the journal . The study was funded by the Royal Society and the National Natural Foundation of China.

The creature belongs to a group called pterobranch hemichordates which are related to starfish and but also show some characteristics that offer clues to the evolution of the earliest . About 30 species of pterobranch are known to exist today although 380-490 million years ago a group of these animals called graptolites were common across the prehistoric oceans.

Pterobranches are which secrete a substance that builds up into a hard tube around their soft body. Tentacles extend from the top of the tube to catch plankton. Although less than 4cm in length, the new is beautifully preserved and minute details can be seen including 36 tiny tentacles along one feathery arm.

This is the entire 525 million-year-old hemichordate. Credit: Credit: Professor Derek Siveter, Oxford University

Professor David Siveter from the University of Leicester's Department of Geology commented, "Amazingly, it has exceptionally preserved soft tissues - including arms and tentacles used for feeding - giving unrivalled insight into the ancient biology of the group."

Colleagues from Yunnan University and the Universities of Leicester and Oxford collaborated in identifying and describing the remarkable find which was discovered in Yunnan Province, China. It has been named Galeaplumosus abilus which means 'feathered helmet from beyond the clouds', referring to both the creature's shape and its location – 'Yunnan' literally translates as 'south of the clouds'.

Explore further: Modern humans may have migrated into Austria 43,500 years ago

More information: Hou, Xian-guang, Aldridge, R.J., Siveter, David J., Siveter, Derek J.,Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J.A. & Ma Xiao-ya. 2011. A pterobranch hemichordate zooid from the lower Cambrian. Current Biology.

Related Stories

Fossil fish shows oldest live birth

Feb 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A 380-million-year-old fossil fish that shows an unborn embryo and umbilical cord has been discovered, scientists report in the journal Nature.

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

User comments : 0