Sci­en­tists ID tiny pre­his­toric sea worm with 50 head spines

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

WASH­ING­TON: Long be­fore di­nosaurs roamed the Earth, a bizarre crea­ture with a Venus fly­trap-like head swam the seas. Sci­en­tists have un­cov­ered fos­sils of a tiny face­less pre­his­toric sea worm with 50 spines jut­ting out of its head. When some un­sus­pect­ing crit­ter came too close, its jaw-like spines snapped to­gether and din­ner was served. The dis­cov­ery re­ported in Thurs­day's jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy of­fers a glimpse into the Cam­brian ex­plo­sion of life on Earth about 541 mil­lion years ago.

The new crea­ture dubbed Cap­inata­tor praeter­mis­sus is so dif­fer­ent that sci­en­tists said the fos­sils rep­re­sent not only a new species, but a new genus - a larger group­ing of life - as well. It was only 4 inches long and its spines were about one-third of an inch long. It feasted on smaller plank­ton and shrimp-like crea­tures. It is an an­ces­tor of a group of ma­rine ar­row worms called chaetog­natha that are abun­dant in the world's oceans.

The pre­his­toric ver­sion was larger and with far more spines in its fa­cial ar­mory but with­out the spe­cial­ized teeth of its de­scen­dants, said Derek Briggs of Yale Univer­sity who led a team that dis­cov­ered the trove of fos­sils in two na­tional parks in British Co­lum­bia, Canada. "The spines are like minia­ture hooks, although more gen­tly curved. They were stiff rather than flex­i­ble," Briggs said in an email. "It's hard to say why there are so many spines in the fos­sil ex­am­ple - but pre­sum­ably thus armed it was a suc­cess­ful preda­tor."

Cap­inata­tor - whose name trans­lates to grasp­ing swim­mer - lived 500 mil­lion years ago at a time when crea­tures started get­ting big­ger and more di­verse. It's dif­fi­cult to find com­plete fos­sils be­long­ing to the chaetog­natha fam­ily be­cause they de­cayed eas­ily, said Briggs. This lat­est find, how­ever, was so good that even soft tis­sue was saved, giv­ing sci­en­tists a good idea about what Cap­inata­tor looked like. The dis­cov­ery ex­pands sci­en­tists' knowl­edge of a "pretty enig­matic" group of an­i­mals from the Cam­brian era, said Smith­so­nian pa­le­o­bi­ol­o­gist Doug Erwin, who had no role in the re­search.—AP

WASH­ING­TON: In this il­lus­tra­tion by Mar­i­anne Collins/Royal On­tario Mu­seum shows a Cap­inata­tor praeter­mis­sus. — AP

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