Long before the first sharks appeared, more than 500 million years ago, large predatory insects were the sea’s “terrifying beasts”, according to a new study.
Scientists have discovered previously unknown insect fossils during an expedition in northern Greenland, revealing what may be some of the oldest carnivores.
The insect reached nearly a foot (30 centimeters) in length, making it one of the largest swimming animals of the period known as the Early Cambrian Period.
The researchers named the insect Timolebestia, which means “terrifying beast” in Latin. It had fins extending down the sides of its body, and its distinctive head had long antennae and a huge jaw.
Until now, primitive arthropods, including strange-looking distant relatives of crabs and lobsters called anomalocaris, were at the top of the marine food chain during the Cambrian Period, which lasted from 485 million to 541 million years ago. It was believed that he was in
But predatory insects were an important part of ecosystems 518 million years ago, and scientists didn’t even know they existed until the fossils were discovered. The study explaining the discovery was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
“Timolevestia was a giant of its time and would have been near the top of the food chain,” study lead author Dr. Jakob Binther, Associate Professor in the Department of Macroevolution in the School of Earth and Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, said in a statement. Ta. .
“That puts them on a par with major carnivores in the modern ocean, such as Cambrian sharks and seals,” Winter said. “Our study shows that these ancient marine ecosystems were fairly complex and had food chains that tolerated multiple layers of predators.”
The Cambrian period, when carnivorous predators appeared, was “the first explosion of animal evolution,” Vinther said. “It had a huge impact on carbon and nutrient cycling and the pace of evolution.”
follow the path of evolution
These predatory insects are distant relatives of much smaller modern arrowworms, or trichognathids, that feed on zooplankton, Vinter said.
Arrowworms are considered to be one of the oldest animals, originating from the Cambrian period. Arthropods first appeared between 521 million years ago and 529 million years ago, but evidence for arthropods suggests that arthropods did not exist before 538 million years ago. It suggests that it was.
“Both the caterpillar and the more primitive Timolebestia were swimming predators,” Winter says. “We can therefore infer that arthropods were likely predators that dominated the oceans before they took off. They probably had a dynasty that lasted 15 million years.”
Timolebestia’s fossilized digestive system preserved the swimming arthropod Isoxys, which had long protective spines pointing forward and backward.
“However, it is clear that Timolevestia munched on them in large numbers, so they could not completely avoid that fate,” said study co-author Morten Lunde Nielsen, a former PhD student at the University of Bristol. said in a statement.
The researchers said that by uncovering details about Timolevestia, they can learn the timeline of nematode evolution from 500 million years ago to the present day.
“Today, the beetles have fearsome setae on the outside of their heads to catch prey, but Timolebestia has jaws inside its head,” said study co-author Luke Parry, associate professor of palaeontology at the University of Oxford. he said in a statement.
“This is what we see today in the bearded bugs that we can see under a microscope, an organism that shared an ancestor with the bearded bugs more than 500 million years ago. Timolebestia and its similar “Other fossils provide links between closely related organisms that look very different today.”
The abdomen of modern yam beetles has a unique nervous system called the ventral ganglion, which was also found to be preserved in Timolebestia, said Tae-yoon, lead study author and senior researcher at the Korea Polar Research Institute.・Dr. Park said. This nervous system has also been found in another fossil called Amiskwea, suggesting that this soft-bodied animal is also evolutionarily related to arrow worms.
Remote but rich fossil deposits
Park led a research team on an expedition to Sirius Passet, a well-preserved fossil site in the farthest reaches of northern Greenland. In the remote region, 600 miles (966 kilometers) from the North Pole, the sun shines all day long, Winter said. Researchers only have access to the site for a short period of time, about six weeks each year, but it’s worth the trip, he said.
“Compared to other localities, fossils are so dense here that every time you crack open a rock, you uncover dozens to hundreds of soft-bodied fossilized creatures,” says Winter.
Members of the research team are eager to return to Sirius Passet, where they discovered the fossilized remains of Timolebestia’s other relatives, to better understand the ocean’s first food chain.
“Thanks to Sirius Passet’s remarkable and exceptional preservation, we can also reveal interesting anatomical details such as the digestive system, muscular anatomy, and nervous system,” Park said. . “We have many more exciting discoveries to share in the coming years that will help show how early animal ecosystems looked and evolved.”