Paleontologists seeking to comprehend the relationship of soft-bodied organisms to the distant past have designated a fossil that dates back 508 million years that was uncovered in the mountains of British Columbia as the oldest adult swimming jellyfish ever discovered.
Burgessomedusa phasmiformis, a newly named animal and the first jellyfish species found in Canada’s Burgess Shale, located in Yoho National Park, is described in a new research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Only at a location known as Raymond Quarry did paleontologists discover 182 fossils of Burgessomedusa between the late 1980s and 1990s.
According to the National Museum of Natural History, the Burgess Shale, regarded by UNESCO as one of the most significant in the world, preserves fossils that provide a glimpse of early life on Earth during the Cambrian, a time when animal variety erupted more than half a billion years ago.
Royal Ontario Museum paleontologist and study author Joseph Moysiuk said paleontologists who first saw the ancient jellyfish fossils decades ago knew almost immediately that it was an early jellyfish, but it took years before a formal description of the fossils was undertaken.
According to the study’s paleontologists, Burgessomedusa’s combination of characteristics suggests that it was a near relative of the common ancestor from whom modern jellies diverged. The fossil, which has more than 90 small, “finger-like” tentacles dangling from the roughly seven-inch umbrella-like animal, reveals that prehistoric jellies floated above reefs where their tentacles could trap prey, similar to jellyfish seen today.
The Burgess Shale fossil group, which varies in shape and size, is so well preserved because an avalanche of fine mud buried them underwater.
“Finding such incredibly delicate animals preserved in rock layers on top of these mountains is such a wonderous discovery,” said study co-author Jean Bernard Caron. “This adds yet another remarkable lineage of animals that the Burgess Shale has preserved chronicling the evolution of life on Earth.”