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Oldest Species of Jellyfish Discovered in 505M-Year-Old Fossils

The oldest jellyfish species offers new insights into the complexity of the ancient Cambrian food chain
The oldest jellyfish species offers new insights into the complexity of the ancient Cambrian food chain. Credit: Mark Doliner / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have identified the oldest species of jellyfish that ever existed. It was found in fossils dating back to about 505 million years ago in the renowned Burgess Shale of Canada.

The location is famous for its well-preserved fossils, and this latest discovery adds to its scientific significance.

Details of the newly found species of jellyfish

The newfound species has been named Burgessomedusa phasmiformis. This ancient jellyfish had a rather distinctive appearance. It resembled a large swimming jellyfish with a saucer-like or bell-shaped body. It stood up to twenty centimeters tall and had about ninety short tentacles. These were likely used to capture sizeable prey.

The discovery of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis provides valuable insights into ancient marine life that existed half a billion years ago.

Scientists are thrilled with the exceptional preservation of the fossils. They offer a rare opportunity to study creatures from such a distant era. It is a finding that opens up new avenues of research and contributes to our understanding of the Earth’s ancient ecosystems.

Oldest group of animals on Earth

Jellyfish are a type of animal that belongs to a subgroup of cnidarians, which is the oldest group of animals on Earth. These particular jellyfish, known as medusozoans, are fascinating creatures made up of ninety-five percent water.

Because of their delicate nature and quick decay, it is very difficult to find fossilized specimens of jellyfish. However, the ones discovered in the late 1980s and early 1990s were remarkably well preserved.

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, a curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and one of the co-authors of a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, expressed his awe at the discovery.

The fact that such delicate animals were found preserved in rock layers on top of mountains is truly extraordinary and fills scientists with wonder.

Challenges faced during the study of jellyfish fossils

Due to the scarcity of jellyfish fossils, scientists have primarily studied their evolutionary history using microscopic, fossilized larval stages and information obtained from molecular studies of present-day jellyfish.

Jellyfish and their family of species pose a challenge for researchers, as they have been difficult to find in the fossil record from the Cambrian period, even though they belong to one of the earliest groups of animals.

Joe Moysiuk, a paleontology student at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the study, highlighted the elusive nature of these creatures in the ancient fossil record.

Evidence of Cambrian food chain

The discovery of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis has provided compelling evidence that the Cambrian food chain was far more intricate than previously thought, according to Joe Moysiuk.

He emphasized that this finding leaves no doubt that these jellyfish-like creatures were actively swimming in the Cambrian seas.

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron also expressed his excitement about the significance of this discovery. He noted that the presence of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis adds another remarkable lineage of animals to the already impressive collection preserved in the Burgess Shale.

This diverse array of fossils is like a historical record chronicling the evolution of life on Earth, offering invaluable insights into the ancient past.

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