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Ancient Fossils Provide Intriguing Insights On The Development Of Skeletal Systems In Animals

Credit: Jon Butterworth on Unsplash

Crucial details about the history of life on Earth have been uncovered in a study just released in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This study, which was released on November 2nd, describes the appearance of the earliest animal skeletons.

The study of complete fossils from China revealed that the earliest animals with hard bones appeared on Earth during the Cambrian epoch, some 500 million years ago. The eastern Yunnan province is where these exceptionally preserved fossils were found.

Several millimeters to several centimeters in length, many ancient fossils resemble hollow tubes. Researchers were unable to determine for certain what kind of animal the fossils represented since the bones, which were primarily hollow tubes, lacked any recognizable soft tissue. Researchers were unable to determine the identity of the bulk of the species represented by the fossils by making comparisons to the surviving representatives of the same groupings of animals.

All the major groups of animals first appeared during the Cambrian epoch, roughly 538 million years ago, in a phenomenon known as the Cambrian explosion. Most species on Earth were either unicellular or simple multicellular prior to the Cambrian explosion, commonly known as the biological Big Bang. It was during the Cambrian period when life on Earth began to diversify.

The new 514-million-year-old fossil collection includes four Gangtoucunia aspera fossils, all of which preserved gut and oral soft tissues. The researchers determined that the mouth of this species featured a ring of smooth, unbranched tentacles of around 5 mm in length.

These sections may have been employed to sting and capture prey, such as small arthropods. The fossils showed that the Gantoucunia had a stomach that was open on one side but divided into interior cavities. Fascinatingly, only jellyfish and anemones share these fossilized characteristics. According to the research, these uncomplicated animals were the pioneers of the skeletal system.