Palaeontology: Prehistoric worm was the terror of the seas - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: Primordial worm Timorebestia koprii was the terror of the seas

Peary Island is located in the north of Greenland. It is a peninsula on which researchers discovered an important fossil deposit in 1984 and named it the Sirius Passet faunal community. Since this discovery, several thousand fossils have been found at the site, mostly from Cambrian molluscs. The Cambrian, an age that began around 540 million years ago, is characterised by a sudden and explosive increase in life forms on our planet. Based on fossilised finds in northern Greenland, researchers have described a new genus. These are the 30-centimetre-long, carnivorous prehistoric worms. These were possibly the first predators in the history of the earth.

Similar meaning as sharks and seals

The generic name of these prehistoric worms, Timorbestia, means “terrible beast” in Latin. It is assumed that these prehistoric worms, with a body length of up to 30 centimetres, were among the largest swimming animals of the early Cambrian and possibly taught other sea creatures to fear. They were characterised by distinctive heads with long antennae, massive jaw structures in their mouths, fins on the sides of their bodies and an enormous appetite. Among the creatures that populated the world’s oceans at that time was a previously unknown species of worm called Timorebestia koprii. An expedition from the Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) in Incheon, Korea, discovered the fossilised remains of 13 specimens of this extinct species. The description was made by a research team from the University of Bristol, England. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that these worms may have been the first predators in the history of the earth.

The presence of remains of small arthropods of the genus Isoxys inside the fossilised digestive system of Timorebestia suggests that these arthropods were common at Sirius Passet and were a food source for many animals there. Despite the fact that these arthropods had long protective spines – which were directed forwards and backwards – they were still eaten by Timorebestia. And in large quantities. “Timorebestia were giants of their time. They were obviously at the top of the food chain,” explains Jakob Vinther, palaeontologist at the University of Bristol. “As carnivores, they were as important to ecosystems as sharks and seals are to today’s oceans.”

The worm had the ventral ganglion. This was a nerve centre on the abdomen. Nowadays, this is only found in arrow worms, a phylum of small marine predators that feed on zooplankton. Their evolutionary history goes back at least 538 million years. The unique ventral ganglions in both Timorebestia and arrow worms could indicate that a relationship exists. It also suggests that the prehistoric arrow worm swam through the oceans a very long time ago.

This finding is significant because it was previously thought that primitive arthropods, including the Anomalocarididae or ‘unusual shrimps’, were the dominant predators of the Cambrian, although they only appear in the fossil record between 521 and 529 million years ago.

Sladjan Lazic

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