“Weird Wonder” Fossil Discovery Adds Piece to Puzzle of Arthropod Evolution


Mieridduryn bonniae Ordovician Fossils

Artistic reconstruction of the Ordovician fossils Mieridduryn bonniae. Credit: Original artwork by Franz Anthony

Welsh “weird wonder” fossils provide new clues to the history of arthropod evolution.

The most famous fossils from the Cambrian explosion of animal life, which occurred over half a billion years ago, stand in stark contrast to their modern counterparts. These “weird wonders,” such as the five-eyed Opabinia with its distinctive frontal proboscis, and the fearsome apex predator Anomalocaris with its radial mouthparts and spiny feeding appendages, have become icons in popular culture. However, they were only quite recently recognized as extinct stages of evolution that are crucial for understanding the origins of one of the largest and most important animal phyla, the arthropods (a group that includes modern crabs, spiders, and millipedes).

Two new specimens with striking similarities to Opabinia are described in an article published recently in the journal

The Cambrian explosion, or the biological big bang, refers to an interval of time around 530 million years ago in the Cambrian Period when nearly all major animal phyla began to appear in the fossil record.

The quarry is well known as one of several local sites yielding new species of fossil sponges. “When the lockdown started, I thought I’d make one more trip to collect some last sponges before finally writing them up,” said Botting, “of course, that was the day that I found something sticking its tentacles out of a tube instead.”

“This is the sort of thing that paleontologists dream of, truly soft-body preservation,” said Muir, “we didn’t sleep well, that night.” That was the beginning of an extensive and ongoing investigation that grew into an international collaboration, with lead author Dr. Stephen Pates (University of Cambridge) and senior author Dr. Joanna Wolfe…

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