UK scientists have identified the fossil of the oldest known predator.
The 560-million-year-old specimen, found in Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, is a precursor to cnidarians – the group of animals that today includes jellyfish.
The researchers named the fossil Auroralumina attenboroughi. It is a tribute to the BBC’s history presenter, naturalist David Attenborough.
The first part of the name is a reference to a Latin phrase meaning “morning lamp”.
“It’s like an Olympic torch, its tentacles are flames,” says Frankie Dunn of the University of Oxford, who wrote an article about the discovery in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Not only does the fossil place evidence of hunting in the animal kingdom about 20 million years earlier than previously thought, it is also the first example of such a creature with a true skeleton.
The outline of the creature, about 20 centimeters tall, stood on a long, sloping slab of a quarry surrounded by other fossils.
All are believed to have been buried by a stream of sediment and ash flowing down the base of the ancient volcano.
The fossil site was first discovered in 2007 when researchers used high-pressure hoses to clear Charnwood’s cliff face.
It took them 15 years to figure out the location – only then did they figure out exactly where Auroralumina was.
The Leicestershire region is famous for telling us about the period known as the Ediacaran (635 to 538 million years ago).
This is the period of geologic history immediately preceding the Cambrian that witnessed a great explosion in the number and diversity of life on Earth.
The Cambrian (538 to 485 million years ago) set the “model” for many groups of modern animals.
But its grouping Auroralumina demonstrates that cnidarians have a legacy that extends back as far as the Ediacaran.
“This is a strong indication that there were more modern forms of life in the Precambrian. This means that the ‘wick’ for the Cambrian explosion was probably very long,” explains Phil Wilby, head of palaeontology at the British Geological Survey.
Although the name “Cnidaria” is not very familiar, the animals that belong to this category are very familiar: corals, jellyfish, and anemones. One of their specialty is the sting cells used to catch the prey.
Dunn’s analysis of Auroralumina’s features links the animal to the Medusozoa subgroup of cnidarians.
Medusozoa go through several stages in their complex life cycles. In one of them, what appears to be a mass anchored to the bottom of the sea. Later they transform into floating creatures during the breeding season.
In this floating stage, they take the form of an umbrella with stinging tentacles. They become a kind of jellyfish.
Auroralumina thus resembles a meduzooan in its immobile, rooted stage.
“What’s really interesting is that the animal shuddered. So these two ‘goblets’ were stuck at the bottom of it, and there was a skeleton going down to the bottom of the sea, but we didn’t find that piece. Unfortunately, the fossil is incomplete,” Dunn said.
Segmentation – splitting into two branches or parts – is another innovation in the newly discovered fossil.
Charnwood Forest is visited by paleontologists from all over the world.
Its main attraction is the fossil known as Charnia masoni.
It was discovered in the 1950s by two students – Roger Mason and Tina Negus – and was the first Precambrian fossil to come to light.
The animal is buried in an underwater sediment slide of the volcano – Photo: BGS/UKRI
Charnia was also later found in the rocks that make up the Ediacaran Hills in Australia, giving the Ediacaran period its name.
She has a strange shape resembling a fern leaf, but scientists are convinced that she is definitely some kind of animal.
There is an example of Auroralumina measuring only 40 cm in the same location.
Having grown up in this central part of England, the name David Attenborough was used to name the animal.
“When I was at school in Leicester, I was a fossil hunter,” he recalled.
“The rocks that Auroralumina was found in were considered very old, long before life began on the planet. So I didn’t look for fossils there,” he said.
“A few years later, a boy from my old school found a fossil and proved the experts wrong. He was rewarded: his name was used to name the discovery. Now I almost caught him, and I’m really happy. “says Attenborough.
This text was published by https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-62300687
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