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Unearthing the secrets of an ancient jellyfish

Free the Ocean Blog

Unearthing the Secrets of an Ancient Jellyfish

Imagine casting a net deep into the past – specifically 500 million years ago. What do you expect to find? Of course, there would be the intriguing trilobites and armored shrimps bearing an uncanny resemblance to our present-day crabs. But among these ancient creatures, there’s a surprise guest: the Burgessomedusa phasmiformis.

Recently identified by scientists, this very unique jellyfish holds the honor of being the oldest free-swimming jellyfish ever discovered.

An artist’s reconstruction of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis – Christian Mccall

A Closer Look at Burgessomedusa

This ancient jellyfish has a boxy hood about 8 inches wide surrounded by 90 tentacles! Given what we know about present-day jellies, it’s likely that this creature’s tentacles delivered a potent sting, a warning for any who dared approach too closely.

The discovery site of this marine marvel is the renowned Burgess Shale of British Columbia. A significant location for paleontologists, it’s believed that an underwater landslide preserved this area, allowing even the most delicate of creatures to be fossilized and giving us a rare glimpse into life from half a billion years ago.

The Fascinating Life Cycle of Jellyfish

Jellyfish belong to the phylum Cnidaria, a group believed to house some of the earliest known animals. Since their soft, gelatinous bodies are a challenge to find in the fossil record, it makes every discovery all the more significant. An interesting tidbit about their life cycle: jellies start life as stationary entities, akin to sea anemones. However, upon reaching maturity, they undergo a transformation, emerging as free-swimming predators.

With the introduction of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis, we’ve managed to venture further back in time to witness this transition. An exciting revelation from the team led by Joseph Moysiuk at the Royal Ontario Museum unveiled trilobites inside the hoods of these jellies. Could it be that these jellies dined on trilobites? Or shared the role of predator with the formidable clawed shrimp, Anomalocaris? As Jean-Bernard Caron, a key researcher in the discovery, aptly noted, the ancient food chain remains a marvelous mystery.

Our journey through the ancient oceans introduces us to creatures both fascinating and formidable. We can’t wait for our next enlightening dive into marine history!

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