Face of the Unusual Ancient Hallucigenia Creature Revealed

Posted on June 25, 2015

Hallucigenia sketch showing face

The discovery of new fossils have helped scientists reveal the head of Hallucigenia, a spiked worm-like creature that walked the ocean floor 500 million years ago. The creature is considered a precursor to velvet worms. With the new fossils researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto have now been able to sort the creature's head from its tail for the first time.

The researchers say Hallucigenia had a throat lined with needle-like teeth. It had spines along its back and seven pairs of legs that each ended in claws. Hallucigenia also had tentacles along its neck. The small creature was about 2 centimeters long.

Hallucigenia fossil next to artist's interpretation


Dr Jean-Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, says in a statement, "It turns out that the ancestors of moulting animals were much more anatomically advanced than we ever could have imagined: ring-like, plate-bearing worms with an armoured throat and a mouth surrounded by spines. We previously thought that neither velvet worms nor their ancestors had teeth. But Hallucigenia tells us that actually, velvet worm ancestors had them, and living forms just lost their teeth over time."

The BBC notes that scientists were baffled by the first Hallucigenia fossil discovered 100 years ago. Scientists had difficulties determining which end was its head and which end was its tail.

The researchers also created this animation of Hallucigenia walking.



A research paper on Hallucigenia can be found here in the journal, Nature.

Images: Danielle Dufault (top)/Jean-Bernard Caron and Danielle Dufault (second)