Scary, Spiky Fossil Discovered in China is New Species Collinsium Ciliosum

A scary, spiky fossil of Collinsium ciliosum has been discovered by paleontologists in China. The now-extinct half-a-billion year old bizarre creature is believed to be one of the first animals to have developed armor for self-defense.

Spiky Fossil Found in China Reveals New Species Collinsium ciliosum

Collinsium ciliosum is the newest species of armored worms after researchers discovered the half-a-billion year old spiky fossil in southern China. The bizarre creature was almost entirely covered in spikes and is believed to be one of the first animals to evolve such heavy armor for self-defense against predators.

The study also showed that the creepy, spike-covered creature had developed an intriguing digestive system. Using its feather-like front legs, the ancient, sedentary worm filtered seawater to absorb nutrition. This specialized feeding system was also first of its kind according to the paleontologists.

Researchers from Cambridge University and Yunnan University made the discovery in the Xiaoshiba deposit in southern China. The study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Spiky Fossil is Hallucigenia’s Scarier Monster Cousin on Steroids

The Collinsium ciliosum fossil found is around 500-million-years old, but it’s not the first discovery of the creature. In the 1980s, paleontologist Desmond Collins discovered and illustrated a similar fossil. Paying homage to Collins’ discovery, the researchers also call the creature the Hairy Collins’ Monster.

According to the study, the spiky, super-armored worm roamed during the Cambrian explosion, a time period that witnessed the birth of many major animals.

The Collins’ Monster is perhaps the earliest ancestor of modern velvet worms that presently reside in tropical forests all over the world. The researchers noted that the Cambrian ancestors have a much wider diversity than today’s velvet worms. Though observed in other fossils, this particular evolution pattern–diverse ancestors that led to unvaried descendants–was the first ever seen in soft-bodied animals.

Interestingly, somewhere in the line of descendants is Hallucigenia, another Cambrian worm that has been well-studied and has recently made headlines.

Both are lobopodians (legged worms), but researchers have said the Monster was “like Hallucigenia on steroids” with its heavier armor of five spines per leg. Hallucigenia had a measly 2 spines in comparison. Also, the Collins’ Monster had most likely adapted the heavy armor as a result of its sedentary lifestyle due to its specialized filter feeding system.

So what did the super scary, spiky monster look like?

Dr Javier Ortega-Hernández of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and his colleagues painted quite a remarkable picture from the well-preserved fossil. The fossil is so detailed, the researchers could identify the entire body’s organization, from its sharp spikes to the hair-like filtering structures on its legs.

Picture this: a soft, squishy body with six pairs of feather-like legs in the front and nine pairs of clawed legs at the back. Because this small creature was sedentary, it was only out of necessity that the 72 sharp spikes evolved. With the pointed prongs covering its entire body, it became the earliest soft-bodied adopters of armor as a self-defense mechanism.

Though the scary creature had adapted self-defense, it did not survive long enough to have any direct descendants left today.

As Ortega-Hernandez noted, these fossils are not only sparse, but to find one in such great condition was a truly rare and amazing find. The spiky fossil may seem like it has come out of a nightmare, but it’s a dream come true for paleontologists interested in understanding more about evolutionary patterns.


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