Scientists in the U.K. have discovered an ancient fossil that they believe is the earliest known animal predator. Those who found it have decided to name it Auroralumina attenboroughii, with the first part of it meaning "dawn lantern" in Latin. They came up with the name to honor Sir David Attenborough. Here's everything they know so far.
The fossil that was found in Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire has been said to be a 560-million-year-old specimen. This location is already well known all over the world for the information it gave researchers about the Ediacaran (635 to 538 to million years ago). And the Auroralumina has shown scientist that its grouping - the cnidaria - have a heritage that goes all the way back into the Ediacaran. The fossil is believed to be a forerunner of cnidaria, aka what we call jellyfish today. "I think it looks like the Olympic torch, with its tentacles being the flames," said Oxford University's Dr. Frankie Dunn. He is also the one who reported the discovery in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
"This is the cast-iron evidence of modern-looking organisms in the Pre-Cambrian. That means the fuse for the Cambrian explosion was probably quite long," said Dr. Phil Wilby, paleontology leader at the British Geological Survey. The name cnidaria isn't popular, but the species that belong to that group probably are. This includes corals, jellyfish, and anemones - basically anything that has a stinging cell that is used to catch the animal's prey. The Auroralumina's is more specifically said to be a part of the medusozoa sub-grouping within the cnidaria, according to Dr. Dunn's analysis.
This sub-group of Medusozoans transitions through various stages during their complex life cycles. In one stage, they are a mass anchored to the seafloor. And as they grow up, they turn into a free-floating species that engage in reproduction at this stage. At this point, they create an umbrella-shaped body with stinging tentacles, becoming a fully formed jellyfish. But the Auroralumina is the medusozaoan at its immobile, rooted stage. "What's really interesting is that we think it's bifurcating, so you have these two 'goblets' which are attached near their base, and then there would have been a continuous bit of skeleton going down to the seafloor, which we don't see. Unfortunately, the fossil is incomplete," Dr. Dunn told BBC News. Stay tuned for updates about the fascinating fossil.