480-Million-Year-Old Mystery Creature Finally Identified from Its Preserved Guts

Live Science | 2/22/2019 | Staff
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For the past 150 years, scientists have hotly debated a mysterious creature that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, long before dinosaurs walked the Earth. And now, with the discovery of stunningly detailed fossils in Morocco, paleontologists have finally ID'd the bizarre life-forms.

The creatures, known as stylophorans, looked like flattened and armored wall decorations that had a long arm poking off their sides. But while it was previously unclear where they fit in the animal family tree, the new study revealed that they are echinoderms, the ancient relatives of modern animals such as sea urchins, starfish, brittle stars, sea lilies, feather stars and sea cucumbers.

Fossils - Excavation - Fezouata - Formation - Edge

The incredible fossils were unearthed during an excavation in 2014 at the Fezouata Formation, located along the edge of the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco. The excavation yielded a bounty of fossils, including about 450 stylophoran specimens, each dating to about 478 million years ago.

But the researchers didn't immediately realize that some of the fossils included preserved soft tissues. "It is only when we unpacked and looked at them under the binocular [microscope], back in the laboratory in Lyon, that we could see the soft parts," Lefebvre told Live Science in an email. "Their presence and identification were then confirmed by SEM (scanning electron microscope) observations and analyses."

Team - Researchers - Fossils - Fezouata - Formation

The team of researchers who excavated the fossils from the Fezouata Formation in Morocco.

The soft tissue finding was unprecedented. Stylophoran fossils have been found worldwide since the 1850s, allowing researchers to determine that these creatures lived from the middle Cambrian to the late Carboniferous periods, or about 510 million to 310 million years ago, when the creatures went extinct. But because soft tissues so rarely fossilize, the stylophorans were known only from their hard skeletal parts and not their squishy innards.

Anatomy

"Their internal anatomy was not only entirely unknown,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Live Science
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