New to science: Find from 425 million years ago with body, limbs, eyes, gills and alimentary system preserved

Dec 11, 2012
This is an oblique frontal view of Pauline avibella. Credit: David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter, Mark D. Sutton and Sarah C. Joomun

An international team of researchers have made an extremely rare discovery of a species of animal - related to crabs, lobsters and shrimps – that is new to science.

Scientists from the universities of Leicester, Oxford, Imperial and Yale have announced their discovery of a new and scientifically important of in the journal, .

The discovered species, which is up to 10 millimetres long, is special because it is exceptionally well preserved, complete with not only the shell but also the soft parts – its body, limbs, eyes, gills and alimentary system. Such discoveries are extremely rare in the record.

The discovery of the tiny shelled arthropod was made in 425 million year old rocks in Herefordshire, Welsh Borderland. The rocks at the site date to the Silurian period of , when southern Britain was a sea area on a small continent situated in warm, southerly subtropical latitudes. The ostracods and associated living there were covered by a fall of that preserved them frozen in time.

This is the right lateral view of the fossil Pauline avibella . Credit: David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter, Mark D. Sutton and Sarah C. Joomun.

Professor David Siveter, of the University of Leicester Department of Geology, said: "The two ostracod specimens discovered represent a genus and species new to science, named Pauline avibella. The genus is named in honour of a special person and avibella means 'beautiful bird', so-named because of the fancied resemblance of a prominent feature of the shell to the wing of a bird."

"Ostracods are the most abundant fossil arthropods, occurring ubiquitously as bivalved shells in rocks of the last 490 million years, and are common in most water environments today. The find is important because it is one of only a handful preserving the fossilised soft-tissues of ostracods. Its assignment to a particular group of ostracods based on knowledge of its biology is at odds with its shell form, thus urging caution in interpreting the classification of fossil ostracods based on shell characters alone."

This shows the ventral view of the fossil Pauline avibella. Credit: David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter, Mark D. Sutton and Sarah C. Joomun

"The preservation of soft-parts of animals is a very rare occurrence in the fossil record and allows unparalleled insight into the ancient biology, community structure and evolution of animals - key facts that that would otherwise be lost to science. The fossils known from the Herefordshire site show soft-part preservation and are of global importance."

The fossils were reconstructed 'virtually', by using a technique that involves grinding each specimen down, layer by layer, and photographing it at each stage. Ten millimetres is relatively tiny, but at an incremental level of 20 µm (micrometres) that yields 500 slices, which can then be pieced together in a computer to provide a full, three-dimensional image of each fossil, outside and in.

Professor Siveter added: "Fossil discoveries in general help elucidate our own place in the tree of life. This discovery adds another piece of knowledge in the jigsaw of understanding the diversity and evolution of animals."

"It is exciting to discover that a common group of fossils that we thought we knew a lot about may well have been hood-winking us as to their true identity, which we now realise because we have their beautifully fossilised soft-parts. A case of a 'wolf in sheep's clothing."

Explore further: Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

More information: Siveter DJ, Briggs DEG, Siveter DJ, Sutton MD, Joomun SC. 2012 A Silurian myodocope with preserved soft-parts: cautioning the interpretation of the shell-based ostracod record. Proc R Soc B 20122664. dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2664

Related Stories

Researchers reveal remarkable fossil

Mar 24, 2011

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

Ancient mollusc missing link revealed in 3-D

Oct 03, 2012

Scientists have discovered a rare fossil called Kulindroplax, the missing link between two mollusc groups, which is revealed in a 3D computer model, in research published today in the journal Nature.

Recommended for you

Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

23 hours ago

A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archeologists hope will let people walk over ...

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Myno
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 11, 2012
One cannot blame the scientists for using such a non-non-destructive method. One only hopes there will be future finds of similar quality that may be preserved for when science can perform miracles without taking such precious samples apart so thoroughly.
Allex
5 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2012
One only hopes there will be future finds of similar quality that may be preserved

You may not be aware but ostracods are anything but rare. There are tons of them, some preserved with their soft parts intact, some just as shells. The problem is not rarity but their minuscule size.
rod_russell_9
1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2012
The article states: "The discovery of the tiny shelled arthropod was made in 425 million year old rocks in Herefordshire, Welsh Borderland." -- The fact that this soft tissue exists makes the 425 mY dating absurd. Has a radiocarbon test been performed?
Jonseer
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2012
You may not be aware but ostracods .....here are tons of them, some preserved with their soft parts intact.....


You might want to read the article. Apparently the researchers disagree on the point that there are some with soft parts intact on the level this fossil retained.

They called it an extremely rare find to locate a fossil with such a high level of soft tissue fossilization. This is true despite the fact that the shell remains from ostracods is extremely common.
JoeBuddha
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2012
Uh, radiocarbon dating is pretty useless beyond 50,000 years or so. They have other means for dating fossils this old.
Jonseer
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2012
One cannot blame the scientists for using.....destructive method. One only hopes there will be future finds for when science can perform miracles without taking such precious samples apart so thoroughly.


The ability to do this NON-destructively exists today.

BUT there is a catch.

You need a CT scanner.

Yes the same device Drs use to give patients a CT scan. but it can used to reveal fossils entirely entombed in rock.

What has to happen before it becomes common place to use a CT Scan to reveal hidden fossils is for the price to drop dramatically.

Doing what they did, doesn't necessarily require any special equipment beyond what a decent university lab would have available on campus
Allex
5 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2012
The fact that this soft tissue exists makes the 425 mY dating absurd. Has a radiocarbon test been performed?

Seriously? Are you a troll or just a creationist retard?

'Preserved soft tissues' doesn't mean they are REALLY soft and squishy... @_@
If you want to date silurian ostracods with radiocarbon dating you have no idea about radiocarbon dating.