Super-Armored Ancient Spiky Worm Unearthed In China

Posted: Jun 30 2015, 4:44am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Super-Armored Ancient Spiky Worm Unearthed in China
  • Super-Armored, Spike-Covered Ancient Worm Unearthed in China

Fossils of a super-armored ancient worm were unearthed in China. It has spikes on its back which make it look formidable indeed.

The very idea of a worm suggests a pathetic and humble creature that crawls on the ground and often becomes a tasty meal for some early bird. But wait till you get a peek at the ancient worm discovered in China awhile back.

It is 500 million years old and looks much fiercer if appearances are anything to go by. English and Chinese researchers termed the curious creature the Hairy Collins’ Monster. This title comes from the name of the paleontologist Desmond Collins.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge in England and Yunnan University in China published a paper about this super-armored, spike-covered ancient worm on Monday in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Modern velvet worms are all pretty similar in terms of their general body organisation and not that exciting in terms of their lifestyle,” said Dr Javier Ortega-Hernández of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, one of the paper’s lead authors. “But during the Cambrian, the distant relatives of velvet worms were stunningly diverse and came in a surprising variety of bizarre shapes and sizes.”

The lobopodian or many-legged worm hails from the Cambrian Era in prehistory. More than six dozen sharp spikes arise from its lumbar region. And its many legs bear claws at the end of the appendages. Since the worm stayed put most of the time, it was a sitting duck for predators.

Thus it evolved into a tough creature with spikes and body armor. Southern China was the provenance of this strange worm. The prehistoric worm is an early version of the modern velvet worm. And it fed on the nutrients in sea water by passing them through its hairy appendages.

“Both creatures are lobopodians, or legged worms, but the Collins’ Monster sort of looks like Hallucigenia on steroids,” said Ortega-Hernández.

“It had much heavier armour protecting its body, with up to five pointy spines per pair of legs, as opposed to Hallucigenia’s two. Unlike Hallucigenia, the limbs at the front of Collins’ Monster’s body were also covered with fine brushes or bristles that were used for a specialized type of feeding from the water column.”

The structure and function of this bizarre creature remains something the scientists are still not able to wrap their heads around. The diversity found in the times when this creature flourished was simply unbelievable.

Yet today the animals which bear a remote resemblance to these ancient monsters are much more homogeneous in their form and function. In the fossils of the animal which reach us, even the digestive system is visible.

And the filaments at the end of the appendages can be clearly seen too. While the Hairy Collins’ Monster probably had a soft and weak body, its armor was sufficient protection against any potential predators.

The bratwurst-shaped elongated body of the worm has projections on it that make it look like a cross between a Slipknot band member and a Scampi shrimp.

“Animals during the Cambrian were incredibly diverse, with lots of interesting behaviors and modes of living,” said Ortega-Hernández.

“The Chinese Collins’ Monster was one of these evolutionary ‘experiments’ – one which ultimately failed as they have no living direct ancestors – but it’s amazing to see how specialized many animals were hundreds of millions of years ago. At its core, the study of the fossil record seeks answers about the evolution of life on Earth that can only be found in deep time. All the major biological events responsible for shaping the world we inhabit, such as the origin of life, the early diversification of animals, or the establishment of the modern biosphere, are intimately linked to the complex geological history of our planet.”

There are few creatures exhumed from the depths of the earth that have such weird features that make mankind think of sea monsters and sci-fi androids. This shows that truth is stranger than fiction since fiction depends upon the conventional tropes while the truth has no such limitations. The ugliness of this particular brand of worm has infinite angles to it which lend it a grotesque demeanor. It’s a rare find alright!

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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