A research team found the fossil of a crustacean-like creature in the Xhiashiba area in Kumming, South China. Not only the body of the arthropod was preserved, but also the nerve system was found almost intact. The discovery is rare as the soft parts of most fossils are lost with time.
The scientific name of the arthropod is Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis. The crustacean-like creature inhabited the South of China 520 million years ago in the Cambrian period. When scientists studied the fossil, they found a well-preserved nerve system which extended from the head to the rest of the body “like a rope”. Dozens of nerves emerged from the central cord to the sides and scientists were shocked when they spotted them. These nerves are thinner than a human hair and scientists are trying to understand how this tissue was preserved.
Javier Ortega-Hernández, the co-author of the study, is a biologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. He said that the South Area of China is famous for preserving soft-bodied life.
“Our jaws dropped when we put the specimens under the microscope and observed the fine nerves on the sides,” he told Live Science. “It was hard to believe that something so small would be preserved along with the main nerve cord, but even more so because they show a unique organization that is otherwise unknown in living arthropods.”
Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis is supposed to be an ancestor of modern insects, but the thin nerves on the sides of the creature are not found in modern insects. The fossil could help scientists trace the evolutionary route that the nerve system took among arachnids, crustaceans, insects and myriapods. As a bonus, the remains are also the oldest found of the Kunmingensis species.
In appearance, the creature was similar to modern shrimps. They had an armored head and armored segments throughout their bodies. The creature’s width reduces from the head to the bottom and scientists also reported many pairs of legs which also reduced in quantity and length from head to bottom. The nerves pouring from the sides are common in modern worms, but no modern insect, arachnid or crustacean creature have them.
“Some of the largest individuals can reach up to 15 centimeters (6 inches) long, and they had at least 80 legs!” Ortega-Hernández told Live Science in an email.
A modern day arthropod’s nerve system is simpler than the fossil’s. The group of scientist will study the remains to find further differences and explain said changes.
Source: Voice of America