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Scientists finally figure out what that mysterious bug-eyed ancient creature was all about

Neither shrimp nor vertebrate, Nectocaris pteryx was actually a type of mollusk.

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It's not the mythical kraken, but an ancient creature belonging to the largest, nimblest and probably smartest group of invertebrates has jumped out of the fossil record with a different identity than previously thought. That finding restructures a branch on the evolutionary tree.

The tiny mysterious fossil of Nectocaris pteryx — previously described as a shrimp with a chordate tail — is neither a shrimp (an arthropod) nor a chordate (vertebrates and their nearest relatives), but a mollusk, according to a new study detailed in the May 27 issue of the journal Nature.

Don't picture boring mollusks, such as snails, slugs and mussels, however. Think cuttlefish, squid, and octopi — and yes, even the kraken — which are cephalopods, a member of the mollusk phylum. The 505 million-year-old creature is the oldest recorded cephalopod by about 10 to 15 million years and provides clues about modern cephalopod evolution.

IN PICTURES: The 20 weirdest fish in the ocean

Nectocaris is a miniscule cephalopod at only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 centimeters) long. It looks like a cartoon character from a Pixar movie with its bulging eyes and funnel-shaped nozzle that squirts water where one would expect a nose.


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