It took 50 years for scientists to figure out which of the ends of a freakish 400-million-year creature was the head. The worm is no larger than a thumb and was dubbed Hallucigenia by its founder because of its bizarre features.
Recently, a research team was able to analyze more than 100 fossils with state-of-the-art electron microscopes and introduce the data in a computer which generated a model of how the strange creature might have really looked like.
According to the model, Hallucigenia may have had a ring of teeth around its oral orifice and a minuscule set of teeth around its foregut. The data was collected from fossils found in national parks and was analyzed with help from super modern technology. A few years ago, electron microscopes required that scientists sprayed fossils with a thin layer of gold particles to allow electrons to move around. But new microscopes require just a fine mist of water.
“You don’t have to damage fossils at all,”
rejoiced Martin Smith from the University of Cambridge and senior author of a study on the nightmarish creature.
Hallucigenia was first studied in 1977 by Simon Conway-Morris who reclassified it from a annelid worm to a new species. Conway-Morris realized that the new creature was very different from annelid worms which include earthworms and leeches. Instead Hallucigenia had seven pairs of spines which it used as feet and seven weird-shaped tentacles on its back.
But in 1991, Chinese researchers found a distant relative of the worm which contradicted Conway-Morris’s theory. Rather than having spines, the five-inch creature had plates on its back, while the tentacles were actually legs…
In fact, Conway-Morris analyzed the animal upside-down.
But after that mystery was solved, there was another puzzling question – which of the ends of the fantastic creature was its head?
Conway-Morris believed that a blob-like feature located at one ends was its head, but another researcher said that blob was created by decay fluids that were released by the dead animal’s body after its death.
But more advanced electron microscopes showed that the worm had a pair of eyes and a ring of teeth at one of its extremities. According to the new model, the spines were used as protective mechanism, and a second set of teeth located inside its throat prevented food from escaping.
Nevertheless, the small eyes show that the creature didn’t have a good vision, especially because its habitat was in deep sea where there isn’t much light. But the vision did help it stay away from predators and tell day from night, researchers concluded.
Image Source: Dinopedia