Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Cambrian


Recent discoveries of fossil nervous tissue in Cambrian fossils have allowed researchers to trace the origin and evolution of the complex arthropod head and brain based on stem groups close to the origin of the clade, rather than on extant, highly derived members. Here we show that Kerygmachela from Sirius Passet, North Greenland, a primitive stem-group euarthropod, exhibits a diminutive (protocerebral) brain that innervates both the eyes and frontal appendages. It has been surmised, based on developmental evidence, that the ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods had a tripartite brain, which is refuted by the fossil evidence presented here. Furthermore, based on the discovery of eyes in Kerygmachela, we suggest that the complex compound eyes in arthropods evolved from simple ocelli, present in onychophorans and tardigrades, rather than through the incorporation of a set of modified limbs.

Concepts: Paleontology, Insect, Cambrian, Annelid, Evolution, Fossil, Arthropod, Cambrian explosion


Preservation of soft-bodied organisms is exceedingly rare in the fossil record. One way that such fossils are preserved is as carbonaceous compressions in fined-grained marine sedimentary rocks. These deposits of exceptional preservation are known as Burgess Shale-type (BST) deposits. During the Cambrian Period, BST deposits are more common and provide a crucial view of early animal evolution. The earliest definitive fossil evidence for macroscopic animal-grade organisms is found in the preceding Ediacaran Period. BST deposits from the Ediacaran are rarer and lack conclusive evidence for animals. Here we report the discovery of a new Ediacaran BST deposit with exceptional preservation of non-mineralizing macro-organisms in thinly bedded black shale from Zavkhan Province, western Mongolia. This fossil assemblage, here named the Zuun-Arts biota, currently consists of two new species of probable macroscopic multicellular benthic algae. One species, Chinggiskhaania bifurcata n. gen., n. sp., dominates the biota. The other species, Zuunartsphyton delicatum n. gen., n. sp., is known from three specimens. SEM-EDS analysis shows that the fossils are composed of aluminosilicate clay minerals and some carbon, a composition comparable to fossils from the Cambrian Burgess Shale biota. This discovery opens a new window through which to view late Precambrian life.

Concepts: Burgess Shale, Geology, Paleontology, Animal, Evolution, Fossil, Sedimentary rock, Cambrian


Here we report exceptionally preserved non-biomineralized compound eyes of a non-trilobite arthropod Cindarella eucalla from the lower Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte, China. The specimen represents the oldest microanatomical evidence confirming the occurrence of highly developed vision in the early Cambrian, over 2,000 ommatidia in each eye. Moreover, a quantitative analysis of the distribution of eyes related to life habit, feeding types, and phyla respectively, from the Chengjiang biota indicates that specimens with eyes mostly belong to the arthropods, and they usually were actively mobile epifaunal and nektonic forms as hunters or scavengers. Arthropods took the lead in evolution of ‘good vision’ and domination in Cambrian communities, which supports the hypothesis that the origin and evolution of ‘good vision’ was a key trait that promoted preferential diversification and formed the foundation of modern benthic ecosystems in the early Cambrian ocean.

Concepts: Cambrian, Eye color, Chengjiang County, Brain, Life, Cambrian explosion, Eye, Trilobite


We herein describe Surusicaris elegans gen. et sp. nov. (in Isoxyidae, amended), a middle (Series 3, Stage 5) Cambrian bivalved arthropod from the new Burgess Shale deposit of Marble Canyon (Kootenay National Park, British Columbia). Surusicaris exhibits 12 simple, partly undivided biramous trunk limbs with long tripartite caeca, which may illustrate a plesiomorphic “fused” condition of exopod and endopod. We construe also that the head is made of five somites (= four segments), including two eyes, one pair of anomalocaridid-like frontalmost appendages, and three pairs of poorly sclerotized uniramous limbs. This fossil may therefore be a candidate for illustrating the origin of the plesiomorphic head condition in euarthropods, and questions the significance of the “two-segmented head” in, e.g., fuxianhuiids. The frontalmost appendage in isoxyids is intriguingly disparate, bearing similarities with both dinocaridids and euarthropods. In order to evaluate the relative importance of bivalved arthropods, such as Surusicaris, in the hypothetical structuro-functional transition between the dinocaridid frontal appendage and the pre-oral-arguably deutocerebral-appendage of euarthropods, we chose a phenetic approach and computed morphospace occupancy for the frontalmost appendages of 36 stem and crown taxa. Results show different levels of evolutionary decoupling between frontalmost appendage disparity and body plans. Variance is greatest in dinocaridids and “stem bivalved” arthropods, but these groups do not occupy the morphospace homogeneously. Rather, the diversity of frontalmost appendages in “stem bivalved” arthropods, distinct in its absence of clear clustering, is found to link the morphologies of “short great appendages,” chelicerae and antennules. This find fits the hypothesis of an increase in disparity of the deutocerebral appendage prior to its diversification in euarthropods, and possibly corresponds to its original time of development. The analysis of this pattern, however, is sensitive to the-still unclear-extent of polyphyly of the “stem bivalved” taxa.

Concepts: Spider, Cambrian, Yoho National Park, Marrella, Arthropod, Crustacean, Opabinia, Trilobite


Until now, the fossil record has not been capable of revealing any details of the mechanisms of complex vision at the beginning of metazoan evolution. Here, we describe functional units, at a cellular level, of a compound eye from the base of the Cambrian, more than half a billion years old. Remains of early Cambrian arthropods showed the external lattices of enormous compound eyes, but not the internal structures or anything about how those compound eyes may have functioned. In a phosphatized trilobite eye from the lower Cambrian of the Baltic, we found lithified remnants of cellular systems, typical of a modern focal apposition eye, similar to those of a bee or dragonfly. This shows that sophisticated eyes already existed at the beginning of the fossil record of higher organisms, while the differences between the ancient system and the internal structures of a modern apposition compound eye open important insights into the evolution of vision.

Concepts: Insect, Fossil, Cambrian, Paleontology, Cambrian explosion, Eye, Evolution, Trilobite


Reinvestigation of the Kushk and Chahmir areas (Bafq and Behabad regions) of central Iran has yielded a diverse assemblage of Ediacaran fossils, including several new species, just prior to the Cambrian explosion of complex animals. The Kushk series consists mainly of shallow marine carbonate deposits followed by deep-water calcareous marine shales. Ediacaran fossils occur commonly in the shale deposits and include biostratigraphically-important taxa Cloudina and Corumbella, which confirms a latest Ediacaran age for these deposits, the youngest examples of Kimberellomorphs (stem-group molluscs) that helps bridge the gap between their first occurrence in the middle-Ediacaran and the crown diversification in the Cambrian, and likely sponges, which are rare prior to the Cambrian.

Concepts: Paleontology, Crown group, Sedimentary rock, Ediacara biota, Ediacaran, Cambrian, Animal, Cambrian explosion


Whilst the fossil record of polychaete worms extends to the early Cambrian, much data on this group derive from microfossils known as scolecodonts. These are sclerotized jaw elements, which generally range from 0.1-2 mm in size, and which, in contrast to the soft-body anatomy, have good preservation potential and a continuous fossil record. Here we describe a new eunicidan polychaete, Websteroprion armstrongi gen. et sp. nov., based primarily on monospecific bedding plane assemblages from the Lower-Middle Devonian Kwataboahegan Formation of Ontario, Canada. The specimens are preserved mainly as three-dimensional moulds in the calcareous host rock, with only parts of the original sclerotized jaw walls occasionally present. This new taxon has a unique morphology and is characterized by an unexpected combination of features seen in several different Palaeozoic polychaete families. Websteroprion armstrongi was a raptorial feeder and possessed the largest jaws recorded in polychaetes from the fossil record, with maxillae reaching over one centimetre in length. Total body length of the species is estimated to have reached over one metre, which is comparable to that of extant ‘giant eunicid’ species colloquially referred to as ‘Bobbit worms’. This demonstrates that polychaete gigantism was already a phenomenon in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago.

Concepts: Evolution, Polychaete, Paleontology, Fossil, Cambrian, Annelid, Geology, Orders of magnitude


Deuterostomes include the group we belong to (vertebrates) as well as an array of disparate forms that include echinoderms, hemichordates and more problematic groups such as vetulicolians and vetulocystids. The Cambrian fossil record is well-populated with representative examples, but possible intermediates are controversial and the nature of the original deuterostome remains idealized. Here we report millimetric fossils, Saccorhytus coronarius nov. gen., nov. sp., from an Orsten-like Lagerstätte from the earliest Cambrian period of South China, which stratigraphically are amongst the earliest of deuterostomes. The bag-like body bears a prominent mouth and associated folds, and behind them up to four conical openings on either side of the body as well as possible sensory structures. An anus may have been absent, and correspondingly the lateral openings probably served to expel water and waste material. This new form has similarities to both the vetulicolians and vetulocystids and collectively these findings suggest that a key step in deuterostome evolution was the development of lateral openings that subsequently were co-opted as pharyngeal gills. Depending on its exact phylogenetic position, the meiofaunal habit of Saccorhytus may help to explain the major gap between divergence times seen in the fossil record and estimates based on molecular clocks.

Concepts: Eumetazoa, Phylogenetics, Cambrian, Paleontology, Evolution, Animal, Fossil, Deuterostome


The record of arthropod body fossils is traceable back to the “Cambrian explosion,” marked by the appearance of most major animal phyla. Exceptional preservation provides crucial evidence for panarthropod early radiation. However, due to limited representation in the fossil record of internal anatomy, particularly the CNS, studies usually rely on exoskeletal and appendicular morphology. Recent studies [1-3] show that despite extreme morphological disparities, euarthropod CNS evolution appears to have been remarkably conservative. This conclusion is supported by descriptions from Cambrian panarthropods of neural structures that contribute to understanding early evolution of nervous systems and resolving controversies about segmental homologies [4-12]. However, the rarity of fossilized CNSs, even when exoskeletons and appendages show high levels of integrity, brought into question data reproducibility because all but one of the aforementioned studies were based on single specimens [13]. Foremost among objections is the lack of taphonomic explanation for exceptional preservation of a tissue that some see as too prone to decay to be fossilized. Here we describe newly discovered specimens of the Chengjiang euarthropod Fuxianhuia protensa with fossilized brains revealing matching profiles, allowing rigorous testing of the reproducibility of cerebral structures. Their geochemical analyses provide crucial insights of taphonomic pathways for brain preservation, ranging from uniform carbon compressions to complete pyritization, revealing that neural tissue was initially preserved as carbonaceous film and subsequently pyritized. This mode of preservation is consistent with the taphonomic pathways of gross anatomy, indicating that no special mode is required for fossilization of labile neural tissue.

Concepts: Dinosaur, Cambrian, Arthropod, Fossils, Evolution, Paleontology, Fossil


Morphology-based phylogenetic analyses support the monophyly of the Scalidophora (Kinorhyncha, Loricifera, Priapulida) and Nematoida (Nematoda, Nematomorpha), together constituting the monophyletic Cycloneuralia that is the sister group of the Panarthropoda. Kinorhynchs are unique among living cycloneuralians in having a segmented body with repeated cuticular plates, longitudinal muscles, dorsoventral muscles, and ganglia. Molecular clock estimates suggest that kinorhynchs may have diverged in the Ediacaran Period. Remarkably, no kinorhynch fossils have been discovered, in sharp contrast to priapulids and loriciferans that are represented by numerous Cambrian fossils. Here we describe several early Cambrian (~535 million years old) kinorhynch-like fossils, including the new species Eokinorhynchus rarus and two unnamed but related forms. E. rarus has characteristic scalidophoran features, including an introvert with pentaradially arranged hollow scalids. Its trunk bears at least 20 annuli each consisting of numerous small rectangular plates, and is armored with five pairs of large and bilaterally placed sclerites. Its trunk annuli are reminiscent of the epidermis segments of kinorhynchs. A phylogenetic analysis resolves E. rarus as a stem-group kinorhynch. Thus, the fossil record confirms that all three scalidophoran phyla diverged no later than the Cambrian Period.

Concepts: Kinorhyncha, Fossil, Priapulida, Cambrian explosion, Ecdysozoa, Phylogenetics, Cambrian, Animal