Researchers identify prehistoric sea worm with 50 head spines

Researchers identify prehistoric sea worm with 50 head spines

Researchers have unearthed fossils of a tiny faceless prehistoric sea worm that had dozens of spines jutting out of its head.

The bizarre, ancient creature with a Venus flytrap-like head evolved in the seas long before dinosaurs came into existence.

The new creature, named Capinatator praetermissus, was merely 4 inches in length with its spines being just around 1/3 of an inch long. It would eat smaller plankton and shrimp-like creatures.

Scientists are hopeful that it discovery would offer a peep into the Cambrian explosion of life on the planet around 541 million years ago.

Derek Briggs of Yale University said, “The spines are like miniature hooks, although more gently curved. They were stiff rather than flexible. It’s hard to say why there are so many spines in the fossil example — but presumably thus armed it was a successful predator.”

The creature is so different that scientists involved in the study said that the fossils represented not only a new species, but also a new genus (a broader grouping of life).

The discovery and detailed analysis of the ancient, bizarre creature published in the latest edition of the journal Current Biology.

The new creature dubbed Capinatator praetermissus is so different that scientists said the fossils represent not only a new species, but a new genus — a larger grouping of life — as well.

It is an ancestor of a group of marine arrow worms called chaetognatha that are abundant in the world’s oceans. The prehistoric version was larger and with far more spines in its facial armory but without the specialized teeth of its descendants, said Derek Briggs of Yale University who led a team that discovered the trove of fossils in two national parks in British Columbia, Canada.

“The spines are like miniature hooks, although more gently curved. They were stiff rather than flexible,” Briggs said in an email. “It’s hard to say why there are so many spines in the fossil example — but presumably thus armed it was a successful predator.”

Capinatator — whose name translates to grasping swimmer — lived 500 million years ago at a time when creatures started getting bigger and more diverse. It’s difficult to find complete fossils belonging to the chaetognatha family because they decayed easily, said Briggs. This latest find, however, was so good that even soft tissue was saved, giving scientists a good idea about what Capinatator looked like.