New fossil discovered in China

Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Leicester, in the UK, and from Yunnan University, China, discovered a well-preserved fossil that provides new information on primitive sea creatures and their evolution.

The 525-million-year-old creature belongs to the pterobranch hemichordate, a group related to starfishes and sea urchins. These animals secrete a substance that builds up into a hard tube around their soft body.

The minuscule fossil (it measures less than 4 centimetres) has 36 tiny tentacles — which might have been useful to catch plankton — and one feathery arm. Since it is so well preserved, the Galeaplumosus abilus (“feathered helmet from beyond the clouds”) offers clues to the evolution of the earliest vertebrates.

Professor David Siveter, from the University of Leicester, said on the press release: “Amazingly, it has exceptionally preserved soft tissue — including arms and tentacles used for feeding — giving unrivalled insight into the ancient biology of the group.”

Further study of this fossil will help us understand the prehistoric ocean and its evolution.

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