A team of scientists from Yale University and the Royal Ontario Museum stumbled upon some tiny intact fossils on an archaeological site in British Columbia. Then, they discovered the fossils belonged to a small ocean predator which lived about 500 million years ago, and terrified its prey with its mouth surrounded by spines.
The predator in question bears the scientific name Capinatator praetermissus. It used to pry on tinier sea creatures, such as plankton or shrimp larvae, and terrify them with its mouth. The animal resembled a worm, but had a threatening gaping mouth surrounded by spines.
The purpose of these spines wasn’t only to be scary, but also to get a grip on the prey. They acted as small hooks, which grasped the prey and held it until the worm-like creature could bite it and feed on it. However, as horrifying as you might imagine it, it wasn’t exactly a sea monster.
C. praetermissus measured only 10 centimeters in length, so it wasn’t threatening for a big animal. However, the period when it lived was the best time for a creature to become a predator. This period was the Cambrian explosion, when life blossomed in the oceans. With so many creatures around, there was food for everybody.
Researchers think this creature was actually more important than it seemed. It could have contributed to the evolution, by determining many species to adapt and find ways to survive its spiny jaws. Also, as predators evolve, the prey evolves as well, by developing the most diverse escape mechanisms ever seen.
C. praetermissus has descendants even today. These are arrow worms, which also prey on plankton and other small sea creatures, and use spiny mouths to catch them. However, they are much smaller, as they measure only a few millimeters.
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