500 Million Year Old Weird Creature Fossil Discovered

A team of scientists and palaeontologist’s have unearthed a half a billion old weird fossil in Morocco. The new fossil is a cigar-shaped creature that lived about 520 million years ago. The new found species Helicocystis moroccoensis ( as named by study co-author Andrew Smith, a palaeontologist and his colleagues ), “characteristics that place it as the most primitive echinoderm that has fivefold symmetry”, same as the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins.

The new creature may help shed light on when and how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans.

The new creature may help shed light on when and how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans.

Modern echinoderms typically have five-point symmetry, such as the five arms of the starfish or the sand dollar’s distinctive pattern. The primitive creature is believed to be capable of even changing 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.

 

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,” “Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin”- Smith quoted ( during his discussion with the reporters of LiveScience )

During the Cambrian explosion, the diversity of life exploded and bizarre sea creatures such as the Helcocystis moroccoensis flourished.

During the Cambrian explosion, the diversity of life exploded and bizarre sea creatures such as the Helcocystis moroccoensis flourished.

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 animals skeleton had long since disintegrated, but it left a characteristic impression in the sediments of the Moroccan Anti-Atlas Mountains.

The animals skeleton had long since disintegrated, but it left a characteristic impression in the sediments of the Moroccan Anti-Atlas Mountains.

“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.”

Helicocystis moroccoensis is just one of many primitive creatures that emerged during the Cambrian explosion, a period when the number of species on the planet exploded. Bizarre shrimplike sea monsters known as anomalocaridids grew up to 6 feet long and filled the Cambrian seas.

Helicocystis moroccoensis is just one of many primitive creatures that emerged during the Cambrian explosion, a period when the number of species on the planet exploded. Bizarre shrimplike sea monsters known as anomalocaridids grew up to 6 feet long and filled the Cambrian seas.

[Source – LiveScience.com ]

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