I’ve always been fascinated by the fossil record, and the evolution of life, so when the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren mentioned a “segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” I was more than a little bit intrigued. I mean, can you imagine? Shudder.
Fortunately, upon further lazy Google research, I discovered that these creatures only lived during the Cambrian period. They were quite possibly nature’s first predators, though, and they were around for about 20 million years. I’m glad our species’ time on earth didn’t overlap, or I’d never swim in the ocean again. Ever.
Before they ever discovered any Anomalocaris fossils, they kept coming across trilobite fossils with strange bite marks on their shells. What could be hunting these trilobites? What creature in the Cambrian period had such formidable jaws?
The first part of Anomalocaris that was discovered was a long, segmented appendage that juts off near its mouth. When a fossil of that part was found, scientists assumed it was some sort of shrimp. They named it Anomalocaris, or Odd Shrimp, for that very reason. They kept waiting for a fossil that would show the head of this shrimp, but they never found one.
Then they found a fossil of the mouth. It’s a very weird thing, most often described as a pineapple slice. It’s segmented, and doughnut shaped, with sharp prongs in the center. As a stand alone creature, it was assumed that this was some weird kind of jellyfish.
A fossil of the body was mistaken for a sponge.
But over time, paleontologists came to realize that these fossils were quite often found together, and then finally it was determined that these weird body parts all belonged to one creature. A highly efficient, shell cracking, trilobite terrorizer. And now I can’t get this creepy thing out of my head.
So I figured that the least I could do was put it into yours, dear reader. Now, check out this video, and your journey will be complete.