Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You Wouldn't Want This Spiky, Armored Worm to Turn on You

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You Wouldn't Want This Spiky, Armored Worm to Turn on You

Article excerpt

Scientists have identified a new species of "super-armored" worm they believe lived on Earth more than 500 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary development.

The wormlike animal was about 4 inches long and featured 30 legs - 18 clawed rear legs and 12 feathery front legs - as well as a phalanx of up to 72 spikes along its back. It lived in ancient oceans and is believed to be one of the first on Earth to develop armor to protect itself from predators. Scientists also believe it is one of the first animals to feed itself by using its feather- like front legs to filter nutrients out of seawater.

Scientists have dubbed the new creature Collinsium ciliosum, or the "Hairy Collins' Monster," after paleontologist Desmond Collins, who discovered the fossil of a similar worm-like animal in Canada in the 1980s. Since then, scientists have discovered five species of Collins' Monster - believed to be the ancient ancestors of modern velvet worms - including one species in Australia.

This fossil was discovered in southwest China, and one of its discoverers - Javier Ortega-Hernandez of Cambridge University's Department of Earth Sciences - says that the animal was likely part of this diverse crowd of prehistoric worms that later died out, paving the way for the much cuddlier but less interesting velvet worm.

The fossil was analyzed by researchers from the University of Cambridge in England and Yunnan University in China. Their findings were detailed in a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Modern velvet worms are all pretty similar in terms of their general body organization and not that exciting in terms of their lifestyle," said Dr. Ortega-Hernandez, one of the lead authors of the paper, in a statement.

"But during the Cambrian," he added, "the distant relatives of velvet worms were stunningly diverse and came in a surprising variety of bizarre shapes and sizes."

The Chinese Collins' Monster fossil was remarkably well- preserved, enabling researchers to detail everything from its full body organization and digestive tract down to a delicate coat of hair-like structures on its front end. …

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