Fossil of Ancient Super Armored Worm Discovered

Posted on July 1, 2015

Artist's drawing of Collinsium ciliosum

Scientists have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown species of armored worm. The legged worm had spikes protruding from its body. The creature is thought to be among the first to develop armor. It walked the Earth about half a billion years ago.

The fossil found in southern China was studied by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Yunnan University in China. It has been named Hairy Collins' Monster (Collinsium ciliosum) after paleontologist Desmond Collins, who discovered and illustrated a similar Canadian fossil in the 1980s. The ancient worm is thought to be a distant relative of velvet worms or onychophorans.

Dr Javier Ortega-Hernandez of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, a lead author of the research, says in a statement, "Modern velvet worms are all pretty similar in terms of their general body organisation and not that exciting in terms of their lifestyle. But during the Cambrian, the distant relatives of velvet worms were stunningly diverse and came in a surprising variety of bizarre shapes and sizes."

Fossil of Collinsium ciliosum

Hairy Collins' Monster had a soft, squishy body, which is why it needed the armor to help protect it from predators. It had as many as 72 sharp pointy spikes on its body. It had six feather-like front legs and nine pairs of rear legs that had claws. The researchers think Collinsium ciliosum liked used it clawed back legs to cling onto sponges or other hard substances, while using its front legs to capturing passing nutrients.

The newly discovered creature is somewhat similar to Hallucigenia, another velvet worm precursor that walked the ocean floor 500 million years ago. A research paper on the discovery can be found here in the journal PNAS.

Top Image: Jie Yang

Photo: Javier Ortega-Hernandez

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