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Bizarre 500-Million-Year-Old Creature Unearthed

Science & Tech  (tags: ancient, archaeology, discovery, investigation, research, scientists )

- 1701 days ago -
A new fossilized, cigar-shaped creature that lived about 520 million years ago has been unearthed in Morocco.

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JL A (282)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 10:18 am
Fascinating what they can tell about it--thanks Kit

Kit B (276)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 10:18 am
Photo Credit: Andrew Smith -- During the Cambrian explosion, the diversity of life exploded and bizarre sea creatures such as the Helcocystis moroccoensis flourished.

A new fossilized, cigar-shaped creature that lived about 520 million years ago has been unearthed in Morocco.

The newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis, has "characteristics that place it as the most primitive echinoderm that has fivefold symmetry," said study co-author Andrew Smith, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, referring to the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins. Modern echinoderms typically have five-point symmetry, such as the five arms of the starfish or the sand dollar's distinctive pattern.

The primitive sea creature, described today (June 25) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could even change its body shape from slender to stumpy. Researchers say it is a transitional animal that could help explain how early echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said.

Cambrian explosion

In 2012, Smith and his colleagues were excavating in sediments dating to about 520 million years ago in the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco, when they uncovered several specimens of the strange fossil.

The creature lived on the ancient supercontinent called Gondwana during the Cambrian Explosion, a period when all creatures inhabited the seas and life on the planet diversified dramatically.

One of the oldest known echinoderms, Helicoplacus first unearthed in the White Mountains in California had a spiral but asymmetrical body plan. And all modern echinoderms start off as larvae with bilateral symmetry, raising the question of how and when the creatures' distinctive five-point body plan originated.

New creatures

H. moroccoensis, named after the country where it was found, had a cylindrical body that extended up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) long. The echinoderm's mouth was on the top of its body, and it sported a cup made of checkered plates with a small stem at its base. It had a latticelike skeleton made of calcite.

"It's a cigar-shaped beast, and it was able to expand and contract that cigar shape," Smith told LiveScience. "Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin."

The tiny sea creatures changed shape using a spiraling arrangement of five ambulacra, or grooves coming from the mouth that opened and closed to capture bits of food floating in the water.

The newly discovered species is the oldest known echinoderm with five ambulacra, and could shed light on how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said.

H. moroccoensis was also found in sediments containing several other bizarre echinoderms, many of which had wacky body plans, ranging from completely asymmetrical to bilaterally symmetrical. That wide variety suggests the creatures were going through a period of dramatic diversification around that time period, Smith said.

"The important thing about the whole fauna is that there is already, by this time, a remarkable diversity in body form," Smith said. "And yet this is only 10 [million] to 15 million years after the calcite skeleton evolved."

By: Tia Ghose | Live Science Staff Writer | Live Science Magazine |


Johan Maltesson (166)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 10:29 am
What an amazing animal. It feels so mind-boggling to even imagine a time more than half a billion years ago!

. (0)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 10:56 am
As an object, forget what it really is, it's just beautiful!

Angelika R (143)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 11:17 am
Bizarre, no question.. "Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin."
Some humans may envy that ability ;)

Kath P (9)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 11:22 am
Like Angelika Roll I commented humans would love to be able to change shape 'on demand'...." "Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin."

Kit B (276)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 11:32 am

This is of course an artistic rendition of this little creature, but as such it looks to me a little like a piece of jewelery.

Wilfred F. (3)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 1:03 pm
This creature looks unusual but very fascinating never the less.

David Menard (43)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 1:39 pm

Carmen S (611)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 2:53 pm
This is fascinating, thanks Kit for sharing this

Debra Tate (17)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 3:01 pm
Strange! Noted

Lois Jordan (63)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 3:58 pm
Noted. So interesting! Thanks, Kit.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 4:15 pm

Nelson Baker (0)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 4:17 pm

Birgit W (160)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 4:25 pm
Interesting, thanks.

Mike S (86)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 5:11 pm
Great article! Thanks very much Kit.

Kay M (347)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 7:22 pm

Past Member (0)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 9:22 pm
Very odd looking creature but very beautiful! It looks like a designer spinning top! Thanks 4 posting this Kit! It's always wonderful learning something unknown...

Laurie H (817)
Wednesday June 26, 2013, 10:21 pm
So very unique and fascinating, Many Thanks Kit!!!~

Caroline S (78)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 1:50 am

Lona G (84)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 5:31 am
Bizarre, why? Fascinating!

John De Avalon (36)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 5:47 am

Judy ComputerDownC (97)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 6:12 am
This is so remarkable. It's fascinating that it's a relative of starish, and apparently numerous other unique creatures. Thanks, Kit.

Past Member (0)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 5:24 pm

Shawna S (45)
Thursday June 27, 2013, 9:35 pm
So very cool. Thanks Kit :")

Edgar Zuim (47)
Friday June 28, 2013, 10:22 pm
Wow. That is fantastic and at the same time amazing.

Dana W (9)
Saturday June 29, 2013, 9:48 pm
Very cool - goes to show we're still learning about our past everyday.

Bryna Pizzo (139)
Sunday June 30, 2013, 10:42 am
Thank you for sharing this post. There is always more to learn! :)

pam w (139)
Monday July 1, 2013, 6:39 pm
Silly girl, Kit! We ALL know the planet is only 6,000 years old! This is obviously something which was SO SINFUL that it was murdered by a loving god in the flood!

Or, perhaps Noah couldn't find two of them, so he dropped the only one into the water.


Melania P (122)
Friday July 5, 2013, 3:41 pm
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