A team of scientists from Oxford and Yale Universities has discovered the fossils of a sea creature believed to be one of the first ancestors of modern insects, arachnids and crustaceans. The researchers also found something they didn’t expect to find on the fossils.
The ancient creature was named Aegirocassis benmoulae after Mohamed Ben Moula, a fossil hunter, and experts believe it lived more than 480 million years ago, swimming in the oceans during the Cambrian age.
The creature belongs to an earlier version of arthropods, a family known as the anomalocaridid. According to the analysis of the fossils, the marine creature measured almost 7 feet, resembling a giant lobster.
Peter Van Roy, one of the researchers involved in the study and a scientist at Yale University, said he was very surprised when analyzing the ancient fossils.
Van Roy said that prior to this, scientists believed that the earliest species of arthropods, which existed more than 530 million years ago, appeared to have only one set of flaps on their lower bodies. The creatures used these limb-like body parts for breathing, according to the researchers.
However, the new giant lobster fossil revealed that this sea creature had another set of flaps, called dorsal flaps. These dorsal flaps were located on the back side of its lower body used for swimming.
But scientists observed that these flaps were not joined together, compared to those of modern arthropods.
The arthropods are invertebrates that have external skeleton, or exoskeleton, a partitioned body and appendages that are connected.
The flaps show the evolution of the limbs of modern arthropods. The ancient flaps looked like a single limb that had two branches and were used for walking and breathing.
Van Roy said that for weeks he studied the fossils of the giant lobster to make sure the strange flaps were there and he was not seeing things. He added that the discovery was one of the most exciting scientific findings he ever studied.
This strange discovery made the scientists reexamine some of the previous anomalocaridids fossils and found that these too had two flaps, but they were very well hidden and not easy to detect.
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