The first ever Hallucigenia worm fossil was discovered over a hundred (100) years ago, but scientists have only recently managed to recreate the aquatic animal’s face due to newly discovered fossils. Spoiler alert – the face is just as weird as the body.
The Hallucigenia worm has plagued scientists with numerous questions for a very long time. The main problem was that all of the fossils found until now were missing their heads. From the data that researchers did have, they’ve known for a while that the worm had spikes, seven (7) sets of legs that ended in claws, a head that proved difficult to distinguish from the creature’s tail, and a length of 10-50 millimeters.
But a group of researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge, have just found a new set of fossils in the Canadian Rockies, and along with it clues as to what Hallucigenia’s face looked like – the creature had small eyes, an evil smile lined with needle-like teeth that went all the way down the worm’s throat, and an elongated head.
The nightmare-inducing teeth are thought to have helped the animal suck food into its mouth, as well as move in into its gut.
Dr. Martin Smith, lead author and postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Cambridge, gave a statement stressing that before this study, the scientific community still has trouble telling which end of the worm’s body was the head and which was the tail.
He said that the Hallucigenia worm looks like something that came out of another world, and went on to explain that “A large balloon-like orb at one end of the specimen was originally thought to be the head, but we can now demonstrate that this actually wasn’t part of the body at all, but a dark stain representing decay fluids or gut contents that oozed out as the animal was flattened during burial”.
This realization helped Dr. Smith and his team understand that the balloon-like end was the animal’s tail, and so focus on the other end in their quest for facial features. He revealed that the team was only hoping to find eyes and discovery of teeth with the help of the electron microscope was a great cause for excitement.
The creature roamed the Earth 508 million years ago, and scientists consider it to be an evolutionary misfit since they are not able to link it to any of the modern-day animals on our planet.
However, some scientists believe that Hallucigenia is the ancient ancestor of the velvet worm, arthoropods and tardigrades, with Dr. Smith sharing that the only trait scientists have found in all these species so far is the fact that they molt.
The study was published earlier today (June 25, 2015), in the journal Nature.
Image Source: ibtimes.co.uk