Fossil Flea Creature Discovered in Ancient Rocks
|The fossil, illustrated without the shell and showing the soft-parts, including limbs and eyes. Courtesy of David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter and Mark D. Sutton|
A research team has uncovered an ancient water flea-like creature from 425 million years ago — only the third of its kind ever to be discovered in ancient rocks. The specimen, which was found in rocks in Herefordshire, represents a new species of ostracod, and has been named Nasunaris flata. Like water-fleas and shrimps, ostracods belong to the group of animals called Crustacea. The find is important because the fossil has been found with its soft parts preserved inside the shell.
Today, its descendents are common, and inhabit ponds, rivers and lakes and many parts of the seas and oceans, having first appeared on Earth about 500 million years ago. Geologists find ostracods useful in order to help recreate past environments — the type of ostracod found in a rock sample would, for example, help to determine a picture of ancient conditions like water depth and salinity.
David Siveter, of the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester worked with Derek Siveter at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Derek Briggs at Yale University and Mark Sutton at Imperial College to make the rare discovery.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. and in Planet Earth, the online journal of the Natural Environment Research Council.
Siveter: “Most fossil ostracod species are known only from their shells. You need exceptional conditions to preserve the soft body — there are only two other known examples of ancient fossil ostracods where the complete soft parts of the animal are preserved along with the shell.”
|The fossil, illustrated with its shell. Courtesy of David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter and Mark D. Sutton|
Siveter and colleagues were able to identify the 5 mm-long fossil, its body and appendages inside the shell, including the antennae and also a set of paired eyes. The ostracod was so well-preserved that the team managed to spot the Bellonci organ, a sensory structure observed in modern species which protrudes out of the middle eye located at the front of the head.
“This is the first time the Bellonci organ is observed in fossil ostracods,’” says Siveter.
Had the soft body parts not been preserved, the scientists were likely to misidentify the fossil based on the shell record alone, claims Siveter.
Citation: David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter and Mark D. Sutton. “An exceptionally preserved myodocopid ostracod from the Silurian of Herefordshire,” UK. Proc. R. Soc. B published online doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.2122