Experts find rare ancient fossilized sea creature that’s ‘strange beyond measure’
- The second one of its kind ever found
- 518 million years old from Cambrian Period
- Likely lived in shallow waters less than 100 meters deep
This bizarre prehistoric sea creature looks like an armored spikey caterpillar from outer space! It was found by archaeologists at southern China’s famous fossil site of Yunnan Province where a treasure trove of ancient history lies hidden beneath the earth dating back to the Cambrian Period 541 to 485.4 million years ago.
Its official name is orthrozanclus elongata, after its long body and despite the tens of thousands of fossils in the area, only 2 of these have ever been found so far.
- The first one was dug up in 2015 in Chengjiang fossil site by Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology’s researchers.
- The second was discovered in 2016 in Kunming by a fossil lover who gave it to Mr. Zhao, who learned it was the same as species.
“The two specimens could shed light on the diversity of extinct creatures as well as their connection with animals in modern times.”
— Zhao Fangchen, researcher
Zhao Fangchen knew as soon as he saw the fossil it was different from others ‘even if it was very small’ because of its extremely long spikes and unsegmented body. These made it difficult to categorize.
“The creature was about 1.5cm long and 3mm wide, but its spikes were about 6mm long. It just looked so different,” said Mr. Zhao.
Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology. Shell-armoured creatures, sclerite-covered taxa, discovered in Chengjiang, Yunnan fossil site. A, b, f, and g are the two new specimens.
Ancient Mythical Beasts
With an armored body and long spikes all around Dr. Smith said “the creature is like a mythical beast.” He added that “we don’t know much about the animal underneath these mineralized plates – whether it had legs or a slug-like foot, whether it had teeth or tentacles.”
Mr. Zhao Fangchen believes this strange appearance is more than just some ornate decoration to attract mates but that it evolved to protect itself from enemies. The armor is a strong defense and the spikes are even better, acting as feelers through the water as well as an offensive defense to keep predators at a distance.
Mr. Zhao and other researchers think these fossils backup the Cambrian Explosion theory that claims a huge variety of creatures emerged about 541 million years ago due to a dramatic increase in oxygen. Before that time, there were mostly simple organisms that didn’t change much for a long time. This diversification explosion ended during an extinction even about 488 million years ago.
A tiny but significant discovery.