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The discovery of a fossil showing an ancient sea creature with 18 tentacles surrounding its mouth has helped to solve a modern-day mystery about the origins of a gelatinous carnivore called a comb jelly, a new study finds.
The previously unknown "sea monster," which scientists dubbed Daihua sanqiong, lived a whopping 518 million years ago in what is now China. And the extinct animal shares a number of anatomical characteristics with the modern comb jelly, a little sea creature that uses so-called comb rows full of loads of hair-like cilia to swim through the oceans.
Fossils - Comb - Jellies - Vinther - Live
"With fossils, we have been able to find out what the bizarre comb jellies originated from," Vinther told Live Science. "Even though we now can show they came from a very sensible place, it doesn't make them any less weird."
This finding, however, has sparked a debate. While the discovery of D. sanqiong is impressive, it's hard to say whether this ancient creature is part of the lineage that produced comb jellies, said Casey Dunn, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, who was not involved with the study.
Conclusions - Dunn - Live - Science
"I am highly skeptical of the conclusions they draw," Dunn told Live Science.
A magnified shot of the rows of cilia on Daihua sanqiong, which suggest that it might be a distant relative of the modern comb jelly.
Vinther - D - Fossil - Colleagues - Yunnan
Vinther came across the D. sanqiong fossil while visiting colleagues at Yunnan University in China. The scientists there showed him a number of fossils in their collection, including the mysterious creature they later named Daihua sanqiong, which was discovered by study co-researcher Xianguang Hou, a paleobiologist at Yunnan University. The genus name honors the Dai tribe in Yunnan; "hua" means flower in Mandarin, and refers to the critter's flower-like shape.
On each of D. sanqiong's tentacles are fine, feather-like branches with rows...
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