Thursday, 23 January 2014

Bottle-brush arthropod - Enalikter aphson

A bizarre marine creature that roamed the oceans 425 million years ago has been revealed in unprecedented detail. The strange animal, named Enalikter aphson, was just under an inch (2.4cm) long and had a round head, no eyes and a whip like 'tongue' protruding from its mouth that it used to catch tiny sea creatures. At the end of its body there was a pincer attached to a primitive tail that may have been used as a weapon against predators. The extinct arthropod did not have a hard shell but was remarkably well-preserved after becoming encased in a nodule of minerals that acted, according to scientists, like a womb - preventing the fragile creature's deterioration. This enabled the specimen to be digitally recreated in 3D after researchers painstakingly used an X-ray technique to analyse a series of images pixel by pixel. Dr Derek Siveter, of Oxford University, described the specimen as "the jewel in the crown of palaeontology. In 3D it looks a bit like a tiny bottle brush, or even a Christmas tree. Its body was soft and flexible so it is incredible it has survived. It is beautiful."
Arthropods are a highly diverse family of invertebrates which include insects, arachnids and crustacea. They make up more than 90 per cent of the entire species within the animal kingdom. Enalikter aphson predates any known living arthropod and was discovered in rocks in Herefordshire at a site that has proven to be a treasure trove of fossils. The bizarre animal lived so long ago the UK was south of the Equator at the time. The temperature would have been warm and tropical.

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