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Fossils show shrimp-like superpredator's eyes had 32,000 lenses

Scientists unearthed 515-million-year-old fossil remains of a pair of Anomalocaris eyes. The superpredator's eyes had 32,000 lenses – all the better to stalk their prey.

This image drawn on November 27, and released yesterday by the University of Adelaide, shows an artist's impression of an Anomalocaris which lived 500 million years ago. Each of the shrimp-like animal's two pear-shaped eyes sported at least 16,000 hexagonal lenses. This would have given the 3- to 6-foot-long creatures vision as keen as the sharpest-eye insect today, the dragon fly.

Katrina Kenny/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Jeepers, creepers, where did the Cambrian ocean's top predator get those peepers?

Scientists from Australia and Spain have unearthed 515-million-year-old fossil remains of a pair of eyes the researchers associate with an undersea creature known as Anomalocaris.

Each of the shrimp-like animal's two pear-shaped eyes sported at least 16,000 hexagonal lenses. This would have given the 3- to 6-foot-long creatures vision as keen as the sharpest-eye insect today, the dragon fly. 

A formal report of the discovery appears in the Dec. 8 issue of the journal Nature.

Anomalocaris's newfound eyeballs establish it as an ancient relative of today's arthropods – a broad classification of organisms that includes creatures ranging from lobsters and shrimp to spiders and damsel flies, the researchers say.

But what a relative. "Anomalocaris is the stuff of nightmares," said team leader John Paterson, a paleontologist with the University of New England in Australia, in a prepared statement.

In addition to its length, Anomalocaris sported a pair of barbed arms that protruded like pincers in front of its head, and a circular mouth with rasp-like serrations.

Based on fossil specimens of the creature uncovered in the US, China, and Canada, scientists have inferred Anomalocaris's position at the top of the food chain not only from its outward structure, but from the circular mouth marks found on hard-shelled trilobites, which could grow to lengths comparable to a large umbrella, as well as trilobite remains in fossilized fecal matter associated with Anomalocaris. Some researchers hold that these creatures would have been more partial to soft-bodied marine animals.

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