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Dream animal lives - as a fossil

By Paul Robinson - 18 Aug 2014 6:14:0 GMT
Dream animal lives - as a fossil

Artists go mad too with the image of a spiky cartoon with lags, although there really is no head. Cephalisation hasn't been invented yet! Hallucigenia image; Credit: © Wikimedia Commons:GNU Free Documentation License

It has been awaited for months if not eons. News about whether a mysterious fossil has living relatives or whether it is after all a lost link. The dreams that children have and sometimes draw can produce a basic animal like this interesting impression on a piece of Birkhill Shale. Its name is, understandably, Hallucigenia sparsa Now that religious fundamentalists finally accept some form of evolution, we should all relish the prospect of understanding even those ancestors that don't seem possible!

Martin R. Smith & Javier Ortega-Hernández of Cambridge University author a fine attempt to prove that the charming microscopic water bears (Tardigrades) and the even more cuddly and colourful "velvet worms" or Peripatus species have links to relatives 505 million years ago. Nature has the paper under the title of - Worm-like creature with legs and spikes finds its place in the evolutionary tree of life.

Deep in the early "Panarthropods", this Palaeozoic puzzle is regarded as a worm, but instead of setae, it has claws. These double structures resemble the jaws and claws of living velvet worms. The analysis conducted at Cambridge reveals that that they are homologous ie. they are distant descendants of the fossil. Despite being called worms, these creatures have often been thought to be the ancestors of the living insects and spiders.

Water bears also come into the picture because they also have these claws, although as microscopic creatures, they have little right to own such an Arthropod structure. Whatever the relationships, it seems a home has finally been found for a small but absolutely fascinating in the so-called tree of life. Larger softies from the same period survived for much longer, at least in the fossil record, as described in Soft Bodied Giants.