February on this blog is going to be Daily Paleo Art Month! Because doing dinosaurs all last July was so much fun I want to do this thing again. Every weekday for the rest of the month I’ll be posting a new image of something strange, obscure, or just plain interesting from the fossil record — only this time we’re staying firmly outside of the Avemetatarsalia (pterosaurs and dinosaurs/birds) to give some less famous critters the spotlight.
A cartilaginous fish from off the southwest coast of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana (and later Pangaea), Helicoprion first appeared in the late Carboniferous (310 million years ago) and survived up until just past the massive Permian-Triassic extinction (250mya). Despite looking rather shark-like and possibly reaching sizes of around 6m (20ft) long, it was actually closer related to the chimaeras.
For a long time, the only parts of this animal known were bizarre buzzsaw-like spiral whorls of teeth, since cartilage skeletons very rarely fossilize. The ideas for just where in the body this structure was positioned were ridiculously varied.
The most recent reconstruction is based on CT scans of a well-preserved fossil with jaw and skull elements, which showed the whorl taking up the whole lower jaw. It also turns out Helicoprion had no upper teeth at all. It’s thought to have used this arrangement to shred and crush up squid and other soft-bodied marine prey, but there’s still very little known about how such a unique type of teeth evolved in the first place.
A Dunkleosteus skull, photographed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller Alberta. Dunkleosteus was a placoderm fish that lived in the late Devonian, 380 to 360 million years ago. It was a hypercarnivorous apex predator, feeding on armored prey such as ammonites, arthropods, and other placoderms. Fully grown individuals had more than 700 kilograms of bite force, enough to easily shear through bone and protective tissues. Members of the largest species could grow up to 10 meters in length and weigh almost four tonnes.
Sometime, in the Devonian, on the floors of shallow, green seas, the fish looked like stones. They lives their lives encased in tight-fitting armor. Bodies locked in cuirass, plackart, and pauldron. Arms: gauntlets. Just a keyhole in the helmet for peeking eyes. Life was lived hidden in an envelope of bone; and the world was only touched through chinks in the walls built against one’s own flesh.
…an extinct genus of antiarch placoderms that lived during the late Devonian period. This genus was largely successful with over 100 species that lived throughout the Devonian. Most members of Bothriolepis were freshwater benthic detritivores, although some were probably able to enter saltwater as well. Some paleontologists hypothesize that live salmon they lived their lives in saltwater and returned to freshwater to breed. Like other antiarches Bothriolepis had a heavily armored head that was attached to a thoratic shield. It also had a long pair of pectoral fins, these fins were likely used to lift it off the bottom as its heavy armor would have made it sink when it lost momentum. It might have also used its fins to throw sediment over itself.
Trilobites appeared in ancient oceans well before life emerged on land. These marine arthropods existed for almost 300 million years, and over 20,000 species have been described so far. In this video, Museum Curator Neil Landman and Field Associates Andy Secher and Martin Shugar discuss trilobites, their unique features, and how fossils are collected and prepared while highlighting a new Museum exhibit that features 15 rare and beautiful trilobite fossils from the Museum’s collection.
Ancient trilobite fossils are now on display in the Museum’s Grand Gallery. The exhibit is made possible thanks to Martin Shugar, M.D., and Andy Secher.
Known from the 525-520 million-year-old Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte, Vetulicola is a member of a strange group of creatures known as vetulicolians. About 9cm (3.5in) long, it’s thought to have been an active swimmer that fed on either plankton or seafloor debris.
And nobody’s sure just what these animals are. They were originally thought to be early limbless arthropods, but more recently opinions have swung in the opposite direct and they’re now considered to be early deuterostomes instead.
The type species, Vetulicola cuneata (Hou, 1987) has a body composed of two distinct parts of approximately equal length. The front part is rectangular with a carapace-like structure of four rigid cuticular plates, with a large mouth at the front end. The posterior section is slender, strongly cuticularised and placed dorsally. Paired openings connecting the pharynx to the outside run down the sides. These features are interpreted as possible primitive gill slits. Vetulicola cuneata could be up to 9 cm long. The Vetulicola are thought to have been swimmers that were either filter feeders or detritivores.
Vetulicola’s taxonomic position is controversial. Vetulicola cuneata was originally assigned to the crustaceans on the assumption that it was a bivalved arthropod like Canadaspis and Waptia, but the lack of legs, the presence of gill slits, and the four plates in the “carapace” were unlike any known arthropod. Shu et al. placed Vetulicola in the new family Vetulicolidae, order Vetulicolida and phylum Vetulicolia, among the deuterostomes. Shu (2003) later argued that the vetulicolians were an early, specialized side-branch of deuterostomes. Dominguez and Jefferies classify Vetulicola as an urochordate, and probably a stem-group appendicularian. In contrast, Butterfield places Vetulicola among the arthropods.
Scientific Illustration in Research Journals PRIMITIVE ECHINODERMS
Stem group Ctenoimbricata [type species Ctenoimbricata spinosa]. Organisms in a stem group are known only from fossils. [More …]
Echinoderms (Phylum Echinodermata) are a phylum of marine animals that includes such well-known animals as starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers. Echinoderms are found at every ocean depth, from the intertidal zone to the abyssal zone.
The phylum contains about 7000 living species, making it the second-largest grouping of deuterostomes after the chordates
Deuterostomes are distinguished from protostomes by their embryonic development: in deuterostomes, the first opening (or blastopore) becomes the anus, while in protostomes it becomes the mouth.
Chordates include the vertebrates, such as birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.
Echinoderms are also the largest phylum that has no freshwater or terrestrial (land-based) representatives. [Wikipedia] ______________________________________________
TOP Natural mold and latex casts of the holotype of Ctenoimbricata spinosa in dorsal (A, C) and ventral views (B, D).
MIDDLE Radiate and asymmetric echinoderms from the Cambrian showing a selection of primitive echinoderm body plans: A, the ctenocystoid Ctenocystis; B, the cinctan Gyrocystis; C, the helicoplacoid Helicoplacus; D, the solute Coleicarpus; E, the eocrinoid Gogia; F, stromatocystitid edrioasteroid.
BOTTOM Reconstruction of Ctenoimbricata spinosa by paleo illustrator Nobu Tamura. [X]
If you were to wake up one day and find yourself surrounded by these amazing creatures, after first freaking out, you would probably come to the conclusion that you were on some alien world.
But in actuality these are all real organisms from earths distant past - the Cambrian period. Artists and animators have joined forces with paleontologists to produce these visualisations of the various fossils found all over the world.
It is likely planet earth will never see a period like this again, and however horrifying it may have been, that is disappointing.
I have listed the names of the arthropods in the captions of each photo.
Anomalocaris group. going clockwise from the lower left, the animals are: Anomalocaris canadensis, Amplectobelua symbrachiata, Hurdia victoria, Opabinia regalis, Kerygmachela kierkegaardi, Schinderhannes bartelsi, Pambdelurion whittingtoni and Laggania cambria.
Lobopods. Clockwise from top: Microdictyon sinicum, Hallucigenia sparsa, Onychodictyon ferox and Aysheaia pedunculata. Note, by the way, that what appear to be “eyes” on Microdictyon, Hallucigenia and Onychodictyon are actually sclerotized armor plates.
Ancient sea creatures filtered food like modern whales
The animals lived 520 million years ago during the Early Cambrian, a period known as the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ in which all the major animal groups and complex ecosystems suddenly appeared. Tamisiocaris belongs to a group of animals called anomalocarids, a type of early arthropod that included the largest and some of the most iconic animals of the Cambrian period. They swam using flaps down either side of the body and had large appendages in front of their mouths that they most likely used to capture larger prey, such as trilobites.
However, the newly discovered fossils show that those predators also evolved into suspension feeders, their grasping appendages morphing into a filtering apparatus that could be swept like a net through the water, trapping small crustaceans and other organisms as small as half a millimetre in size.
Millions of years before hikers and livestock roamed the Ediacara Hills, the region was home to ancient creatures that mark the birth of animal life. In 1946, geologist Reg Sprigg was exploring the mountainous region in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, when he came across fossilised imprints of soft-bodied organisms on slabs of quartzite and sandstone. Some had disc-shaped forms like jellyfish, others bore resemblance to worms and arthropods, and others were completely foreign. Sprigg first thought these fossils were from the Cambrian period, but later work showed they were Precambrian—a new geological period was created, set immediately before the Cambrian from 635–541 million years ago, and it was named after the Ediacara Hills. “Ediacara” comes from the Indigenous phrase for “veinlike spring of water”, so it’s pretty fitting that at that time, the region was underwater. The fossils are actually of marine animals, and they existed before animals had skeletons—they represent the oldest complex organisms on Earth. Other fossils of Precambrian soft-bodied organisms had been found before, scattered all over the world, but Ediacara Hills’ collection is the most diverse and most well-preserved. Over 40 different types of organisms have been identified so far, and NASA has even funded some work in the region in the hopes it will shed light on how life might evolve on other planets.