Spiky, Prehistoric 'Monster' Lived 500 Million Years Ago in China

First Posted: Jun 30, 2015 08:35 AM EDT
The new species of bizarre worm ate by filtering nutrients out of seawater with its feather-like front legs. In addition to being one of the first to develop armor, it was also one of the first animals to develop such a specialized form of feeding.

The creature belonged to a poorly understood group of early animals, and is a prime example of the broad variety of form and function seen in the early evolutionary history of a modern group of animals that are, today, rather homogenous.

The animal itself is named Collinsium cioliosum, and lived in what is now China during the Cambrian expansion. This period was known for its rapid evolutionary development, and most major animal groups appeared in the fossil record during this time. It's likely that this particular worm was a distant relative of the velvet worms of today.

"Modern velvet worms are all pretty similar in terms of their general body organization and not that exciting in terms of their lifestyle," said Javier Ortega-Hernandez, one of the lead authors of the new study, in a news release. "But during the Cambrian, the distant relatives of velvet worms were stunningly diverse and came in a surprising variety of bizarre shapes and sizes."

This latest creature is somewhat similar to the Hallucigenia, which is another legged worm. Yet this worm is actually more armored than Hallucigenia with up to five pointy spines per pair of legs as opposed to two.

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

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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