Jun 26 2013, 6:46am CDT | by Sumayah Aamir
The strange creature has a cigar-like shape and is about 520 million years old. It has been termed the Helicocystis moroccoensis. The bizarre beast was dug up from the depths in Morocco. According to LiveScience
, it is the oldest specimen among echinoderms and has five-fold symmetry. The echinoderms include in their purview sea urchins and starfish. Most of the creatures in this family have five similar projections such as the sand dollar. As for this sea creature, the details of its characteristics were discussed in the Journal of the Royal Society. A special trait it possessed was that it could transform its physical dimensions from thin to fat.
Basically, it was an animal that thrived in the interregnum when echinoderms were evolving. That explains the unique body symmetry. The fossil discovery was made a year ago. Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent was the provenance of this creature of the past eons. It lived during the Cambrian Explosion when there was a great proliferation of marine life. The oldest echinoderm besides the Helicocystis moroccoensis has an asymmetrical body plan. All modern echinoderms begin as bilaterally symmetrical larvae. This new creature which has been unearthed has a length of 4 centimeters. The feeding apparatus was on top. As for the crisscross skeleton, it was made of calcite. It could change shape thanks to five groove-like appendages called ambulacra.
The country it was discovered in forms a major part of its name. This creature was like a tunnel or tube. And it could make itself short and fat or long and thin at will by contraction and expansion. Several other old echinoderms have been exhumed in the region. They have pretty crazy bodily designs. The symmetry issue is the most puzzling and will take some time to resolve. These changes in symmetry came about just a few million years after the adoption of a calcite skeleton.
The Cambrian Explosion during which the creature flourished was a time of rapid change and intense activity. A sudden growth in plant and animal life occurred throughout this evolutionarily fertile period. The echinoderms are some of the most beautiful creatures among the variety of marine organisms. The starfish is a perfect example of a visually appealing life form that is often seen at the bottom of aquariums. A lot of unanswered questions about evolution will get answered after this rare fossil find.
Image Credit: Live Science
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