Researchers Discover Ancient Tulip-like Creature In The Canadian Rockies
January 20, 2012

Researchers Discover Ancient Tulip-like Creature In The Canadian Rockies

A strange tulip-shaped creature discovered in half-a-billion-year-old rocks had a feeding system unlike any other animal, researchers reported this week.

Officially named Siphusauctum gregarium, the fossils, unearthed from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies, reveal a peculiar creature roughly 7-8 inches long with a unique filter feeding system.

The creature has a long stem with a bulbous cup-like structure -- similar to that of a tulip -- near the top that encloses the filter feeding system and a gut. Researchers believe the animal fed by filtering particles from water actively pumped into its calyx through small holes. The stem ends with a small disc which anchored the animal to the seafloor. The research team also believe the animal lived in large clusters, due to slab samples showing as many as 65 individual fossils in one group.

“Most interesting is that this feeding system appears to be unique among animals,” study researcher Lorna O´Brien, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, told LiveScience in a statement.

“Recent advances have linked many bizarre Burgess Shale animals as primitive members of many animal groups that are found today, but Siphusauctum defies this trend. We do not know where it fits in relation to other organisms,” she said.

“Our description is based on more than 1,100 fossil specimens from a new Burgess Shale locality that has been nicknamed the Tulip Beds,” O´Brien added.

The Tulip Beds -- located in Yoho National Park, British Columbia -- were first discovered in 1983 by the Royal Ontario Museum. They are found high up on Mount Stephen, overlooking the town of Field. The beds represent rock layers with exceptional preservation of mostly soft-bodied organisms.

The Burgess Shale is protected under the larger Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site and is managed by Parks Canada. It preserves fossil evidence of some of the earliest complex animals that lived in the oceans of our planet 500 million years ago.

The research was partially funded by University of Toronto fellowships to O´Brien and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant awarded to professor Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, coauthor of the study.

The study findings were published Monday (Jan. 18) in the online science journal PLoS ONE.


Image Caption: In this reconstruction of Siphusauctum gregarium, the animals are shown in life position, standing upright in the water column. (Illustration by Marianne Collins)


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