About 506 million years ago, a strange sea creature whose body looked so much like a sci-fi spaceship that it was nicknamed “the mothership” thrived in tropical seas, threatening prey at the bottom. of the ocean in what is now Canada as one of Earth’s biggest predators at that time.
Scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of fossils of an arthropod from the Cambrian period named Titanokorys sheaths in Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies, within a large rock formation called the Burgess Shale.
The name Titanokorys means “titanic helmet”, and for good reason. The shell of this creature’s head was about two-thirds of its body length of about 20 inches (50 cm). While it may not seem important by modern standards, during the Cambrian Period – a pivotal moment in the history of life on Earth – he was a giant.
Measuring half a meter in length, Titanokorys gainesi was a giant compared to most of his short Cambrian contemporaries. Its large, flattened shell shape also suggests that it was adapted to life near the seabed. ??
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“Most other life forms were smaller than a human miniature at that time. In comparison, Titanokorys was longer than an adult human forearm. Yes, he was a giant guy, ”said paleontologist Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, lead author of the study published in the journal. Royal Society Open Science.
Titanokorys had multifaceted eyes, a circular mouth dotted with triangular tooth-shaped structures, two spiny rake-shaped claws for capturing prey, feather-like gills, and a series of flaps on the sides of its body for to swim.
“Overall, the animal was torpedo-shaped and relatively flat, an adaptation to life on the seabed. It could be compared to a giant swimming head since the body was so short – a very bizarre looking beast indeed, ”Caron said.
He lived at a time when most of North America was under tropical seas. “When the shell fossils were first discovered, they looked so unusual that we didn’t know what type of animal they were,” said paleontologist and study co-author Joe Moysiuk of the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum. “In the field, we nicknamed them ‘the mothership’,” Moysiuk added. The nickname “spaceship” was given to a little cousin also found in the Burgess Shale, a treasure trove of Cambrian fossils.
Scientists have discovered partial fossils of at least a dozen individuals of Titanokorys in British Columbia between 2014 and 2018.
Arthropods are a large group including insects, spiders, and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters. They are invertebrates with exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and articulated appendages. Its large head shell makes Titanokorys resemble modern horseshoe crabs, although they represent different lineages of arthropods.
It was during the Cambrian Period, about 542 million to 488 million years ago, that many large groups of animals appeared. The relatively short period of time in which this took place inspired the term “Cambrian explosion”.
Titanokorys is a member of a line of arthropods called radiodons that lasted from about 520 million years to about 390 million years. Another radiodont was Anomalocaris, perhaps the largest Cambrian predator, reaching about 1 meter in length. The thorns on the gripping appendages of Anomalocaris were adapted for harpooning or grabbing prey prey, unlike Titanokorys.
The Titanokorys apparently fed on prey buried like worms, using its claws to stir the mud and filter out the pieces. Its claws were adapted not to grab a prey but to bring food to its mouth. “The Titanokorys may have swam something like a modern stingray, waving the flaps along its body,” Moysiuk said.
He lived alongside various arthropods and worms as well as the small fish Metaspriggina, a precursor to the evolution of many vertebrates on the planet, including humans.
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