Paleontologists working in Southern China have unearthed the fossil of a bizarre worm that sported body armor covered in spines.
A fascinating spine-covered fossil of a prehistoric worm has been uncovered by paleontologists working in the south of China. According to Phys.org, Collinsium ciliosum lived a half a billion years ago, and was one of the first known animals on Earth that used body armor for protection against predators.
The strange-looking worm belongs to a group of early invertebrates that scientists know little about. It represents the vast evolutionary diversity of animals at this point in fossil history – its descendants today are lack many unique characteristics by comparison.
The results were published in the journal PNAS by a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge and Yunnan University in China this Tuesday. Also known as the Hairy Collins Monster, after the Canadian paleontologist Desmond Collins, who found a similar fossil in the 80’s. The bizarre worm species existed during the Cambrian explosion, a period almost 542 million years ago when biological diversity catapulted and most well-known animal groups first showed up in the fossil record.
According to an analysis of the fossil’s body features and related species, the Chinese Hairy Collins Monster is most likely a predecessor of the modern velvet worm. Velvet worms, or onychophorans, are a group of small soft-bodied worms that are endemic to tropical forests around the world.
Dr. Javier Ortega-Hernandez of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences was amazed by the well-preserved fossil found in rural southern China. It contains an intact body with a full digestive tract and minuscule hair-like structures covering the worm’s mouth, which it likely used to eat.
The Chinese Collins Monster was likely an immobile creature, fastening itself onto solid objects on the seafloor and filtering nutrients from the water. Because it was so susceptible to predators, its spiky shell was its best chance for protection. The worm had as many as 72 pointy spines of different sizes along its body, and is a fascinating example of the power of natural selection.