Fossil Evidence of Ancient Vampire Amoebas Discovered in Grand Canyon

Posted on August 22, 2016

Holes drilled into ancient eukaryotes by amoebas

Ancient vampire microbes have been discovered in the Grand Canyon. The amoebas lived in the Grand Canyon 740 million years ago when it was an ancient seabed. These amoebas drilled tiny half-moon shaped micrometer holes into the walls of their prey, tiny organisms called eukaryotes. The image above shows the 780–740 million-year-old fossils containing the holes.

UC Santa Barbara paleobiologist Susannah Porter says in a statement, "To my knowledge these holes are the earliest direct evidence of predation on eukaryotes. We have a great record of predation on animals going back 550 million years, starting with the very first mineralized shells, which show evidence of drillholes. We had nothing like that for early life - for the time before animals appear. These holes potentially provide a way of looking at predator-prey interactions in very deep time in ancient microbial ecosystems."

The mordern relative of these ancient amoebae are known as Vampyrellid amoebae. A research paper on the study can be found here in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Porter also says, "Different species of amoebae make differently sized holes. The Vampyrellid amoebae make a great modern analog, but because vampirelike feeding behavior is known in a number of different unrelated amoebae, it makes it difficult to pin down exactly who the predator was."

Photo: Susannah Porter