The cuddliest fossil from 500 million years ago

I love when new fossil discoveries come out because they always tell me something crazy and exciting about ancient earth. Today, it’s time to talk about Anomalocaris , the three foot long, Cambrian sea predator. A well preserved fossil of this animal was found in shale beds in Kangaroo Island in Southern Australia. Now, before I can talk about this any more, let’s see a CGI rendering of this animal:

My skin starts to crawl when I see all the flipper legs. It's adorable little face...SO MANY LEGS.

I’m not going to link to what a silver fish is. If you’re brave and don’t have a crippling phobia of arachnids, google it. Suffice to say, this is the giant, underwater ancestor of that animal. (You can also look at the phylogenetic tree for a silver fish, but that tree is also filled with spiders, cockroaches and every insect that has ever given you nightmares.) This fossil discovery shows that Anomalocaris is more terrifying than this picture could even show you. It’s stalk eyes, which were found well preserved in shale, have not been found fossilized before. For the first time, we have a well preserved fossil. John Paterson found the eyes, and he said, “You split them along the really fine layers in the shale with hammer and chisel, like opening the pages of the book, and hopefully something will be looking back at you for the first time in 500 million years,” Paterson told LiveScience. “I was actually the one that found the pair of eyes. That was a spine-tingling moment.”

The actual Anomalocaris fossil is less terrifying than the CGI image. When you can't see all of those legs, it's kind of cuddly.

This is a glorious quote from a paleontologist. When I look through hundreds of pups, my heart always jumps when I find one with a right sided heart, which is visible through the skin in a new born mouse pup. One of the things that’s under reported is the shear joy scientists feel when they get a game changing result or find something worthwhile and exciting. A more complete fossil record also helps put to rest the idea that everything just appeared on this earth. When we learn about animals from ancient earth, it becomes obvious they are related to current critters still running or swimming or crawling around today. They also provide examples that the earth changes, species go extinct, and only small subsets of species will survive to continue to populate the earth. Also, finding soft tissues like eyes, skin, and feathers in new fossil beds has helped form a more complete model of ancient earth. So, enjoy your giant, underwater bug fossil, and be thankful that extinction does exist with the knowledge that the descents of these animals are now crawling around on land.

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