New species found in Burgess Shale fos­sils

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Co­lette DERWORIZ

Re­searchers at the Royal On­tario Mu­seum and Univer­sity of Toronto have un­cov­ered fos­sils of a large preda­tory species in 506 mil­lion-year-old rocks in the Cana­dian Rock­ies in Bri­tish Columbia.

The species, de­scribed in a study pub­lished Tues­day in Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal So­ci­ety B, is named Cam­bro­raster Fal­ca­tus.

“This an­i­mal has this re­ally unique look­ing frontal cara­pace, or shield-like struc­ture, cov­er­ing its head,” said Joseph Moy­siuk, a PhD stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Toronto and lead au­thor of the study.

“It’s like noth­ing we had seen be­fore. But we ac­tu­ally nick­named it in the field: The Space­ship.”

The species, which is the ear­li­est rel­a­tive of insects, crabs and spi­ders, was found at the Burgess Shale site near Marble Canyon in Koote­nay Na­tional Park.

“What makes this find­ing re­mark­able is that we found hun­dreds of spec­i­mens, in­clud­ing all of the dif­fer­ent parts of its body, so we are able to piece back to­gether this or­gan­ism in pretty re­mark­able de­tail,” Moy­siuk said.

His su­per­vi­sor, Jean-Bernard Caron, said it took some time to put all the pieces to­gether.

“It was like a jig­saw puz­zle or a Lego box, but you don’t have the in­struc­tions,” said Caron, who’s a cu­ra­tor at the Royal On­tario Mu­seum and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Toronto.

In ad­di­tion to its large head, the an­i­mal has a small body with flaps on the sides.

“It looks a bit ridicu­lous in some ways,” Caron said.

Re­searchers be­lieve large claws on the front of its body, which look like rakes, were used to feed on ev­ery­thing from worms to small lar­vae liv­ing be­tween sed­i­ment grains in the mud.

Caron said they ex­pect the an­i­mal was liv­ing at the bot­tom of the sea.

“They are preda­tors but they are also prey for some­thing larger,” he said. “It’s adding more com­plex­ity to the Burgess Shale. It’s a level of pre­da­tion that we had not en­coun­tered be­fore.”

Moy­siuk called the Cam­bro­raster Fal­ca­tus a “fear­some-look­ing an­i­mal.”

Most an­i­mals at the time were smaller than a cou­ple cen­time­tres, but he said the new species was up to 30 cen­time­tres long.

“This is a su­per ex­cit­ing find­ing for us,” Moy­siuk said. “Be­cause it’s such an abun­dant or­gan­ism, we know it was im­por­tant in the Burgess Shale com­mu­nity at the time.”

The Marble Canyon fos­sil site, home to more than a dozen new species, was found by re­searchers in 2012 as they worked at the nearby Stan­ley Glacier.

Re­searchers have said the area and its fos­sils are fur­ther­ing the un­der­stand­ing of an­i­mal life dur­ing the Cam­brian Pe­riod, when most ma­jor groups of an­i­mals ap­pear on the fos­sil record.

The Marble Canyon site is about 40 kilo­me­tres south of the orig­i­nal Burgess Shale in Yoho Na­tional Park, which was dis­cov­ered 110 years ago.

Of­fi­cials with Parks Canada said the ar­eas are mag­i­cal places for fos­sil dis­cov­er­ies.

“They are static and they are in the moun­tains and they are not mov­ing, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean there aren’t new sto­ries to be told,” said Alex Ko­lesch, se­nior ad­viser for Yoho and Koote­nay na­tional parks. “These fos­sils are a re­ally neat way to demon­strate what Parks Canada does and what our role is here. By virtue of these sites be­ing in na­tional parks, we pro­tect them and it’s also re­ally im­por­tant for us to share the sto­ries of na­tional parks.”

RED TRIL­LIUM FILMS HAND­OUT PHOTO BY AN­DREW GREGG VIA CP

Pro­fes­sors Jean-Bernard Caron and May­di­anne An­drade dis­cuss newly-re­vealed fos­sils in this hand­out im­age.

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