Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Researchers Discover a Global Family Tree for Ancient Fossil Found in Canada

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Researchers Discover a Global Family Tree for Ancient Fossil Found in Canada

Article excerpt

Ancient Canadian walking worm had relatives

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VANCOUVER - Researchers have filled in the family tree of a bizarre walking worm that lived in a tropical, underwater Canada 505 million years ago.

The first fossil of the Hallucigenia sparsa was found in a world-renowned fossil bed in Yoho National Park more than a century ago, but remained a bit of a mystery.

"It really looks like something that you would see if you were hallucinating, or if you were having a nightmare," said Omar McDadi, of Parks Canada.

Small, ranging in size up to 30 millimetres, the worm-like creature found preserved in the Burgess Shale deposit in the British Columbia Rocky Mountains had a row of dorsal tentacles and paired spikes the length of its body. It's head was missing, and it was unlike anything else on record.

"It's a really strange-looking creature. It has these spikes, or spines, and for over 100 years it really baffled scientists. They weren't quite sure which way was right side up, they weren't totally sure what it ate, how it lived, or if it had any family members," McDadi said.

"A small part of that puzzle has now been solved."

In an article published Wednesday in the United Kingdom-based scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Toronto and Cambridge University say they've determined the creature was part of a group of animals that once lived on the sea floor from Canada to China, the U.K. to Australia.

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, said the team took a closer look at the creature's spine, and found it looked like a stack of ice cream cones -- a structure similar to other fossils found around the world.

"They may not be exactly the same species, but they are all probably related to the same group of worm-like creature that we call lobopods," he said. …

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