Scientists discover giant animal fossil from the Cambrian period

A fossil discovered by scientists at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada challenges our understanding of the animal world from the Cambrian period (542 million and 488 million years ago). In an era known for prehistoric creatures smaller than the human hand, experts unearthed a fossil corresponding to an animal of about half a meter – something unprecedented in research at the time.

“The size of this animal is absolutely incomprehensible, it is one of the largest animals ever found from the Cambrian period,” said Richard M. Ivey, curator of the museum’s Invertebrate Paleontology area.

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Titanokorys gainesi fossil, an animal from the Cambrian period that Canadian scientists recently discovered
Impressions left by Titanokorys Gainesi, animal from the Cambrian period that Canadian scientists discovered in a national park. Image: Royal Ontario Museum/Disclosure

baptized of Titanokorys Gainesi, the discovered specimen belongs to a category of arthropods called “radiodons”, which according to specialists includes the first large known predators. Like its counterparts, the Titanokorys it had multifaceted eyes, a mouth full of teeth shaped similar to a slice of fruit, a pair of spiny claws below its head (which served for hunting and swimming), and, finally, a protective carapace.

“O Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodons called hurdiid, whose main feature is a very elongated head, covered by a three-part carapace that can take various shapes,” said Joe Moysiuk, study co-author and resident Ph.D student at the museum. “In fact, this animal’s head is so long that they are little more than swimming heads.”

The variation in the shape of radiodon shells is still unknown to scientists, but Ivey and Mosiuk believe that the Titanokorys it has developed a flatter and straighter cover because it is probably better suited to living on the ocean floor.

3D rendering of Titanokorys gainesi
A 3D illustration of the animal highlights its carapace and small arms in the middle of the drawing. Image: Royal Ontario Museum/Disclosure

“These enigmatic creatures have certainly had a huge impact on the Cambrian ecosystem. Their arms are more forward, like a pair of squeegees, and seem to be efficient at pulling any prey they’ve captured closer to their mouth. And the dorsal carapace could also function as a sledgehammer,” said Dr. Caron, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and Moysiuk’s Ph.D advisor.

This and several other fossils were excavated from a region known as the “Burgess Shale” within Kootenay National Park. In addition to the “giant”, another Titanokorys was also identified – nicknamed cambroraster falcatus, in reference to its format similar to the spaceship Millenium Falcon, from the film franchise Star Wars.

The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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