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Hallucigenia Fossils Reveal A Worm With Teeth

A new analysis of the Hallucigenia fossils has given scientists a complete understanding of the oddball from the sea that graced the depths of the oceans 508 million years ago.

Aptly named for its appearance, Hallucigenia is from the Cambrian Period, a time in history when most major groups of animals appeared on Earth. Many unusual animals came and went during this time of evolution.

The fossils, which were unearthed in the Burgess Shale site in the Candaian Rocky Mountains, belong to a family of primitive velvet worms, which still exist today.

Hallucigenia measures 0.4 to 2.2 inches long and possesses seven pairs of long legs topped with claws, and an equal number of pointy spines protruding from its back. The worm also boasts three pairs of thin tentacles near its head.

Scientists had a hard time classifying Hallucigenia, due to its “bizarre appearance,” reports International Business Times. Scientists first had the worm upside down and backwards. Hallucigenia’s head was initially thought to be its tail, its legs were mistaken for tentacles along its back, and the spines were believed to be legs.

According to CNET, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Toronto, and the Royal Ontario Museum have discovered new evidence:  a ring of needle-like teeth lining the worm’s throat and a pair of small eyes.

The teeth are presumed to have generated suction, flexing to assist the worm suck food into its mouth and preventing food from slipping out.

Martin Smith, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper that detailed the findings published in the journal Nature said that scientists “previously thought that neither velvet worms nor their ancestors had teeth.”

We previously thought that neither velvet worms nor their ancestors had teeth. But Hallucigenia tells us that actually, velvet worm ancestors had them, and living forms just lost their teeth over time.

Modern velvet worms may have lost their teeth, but they still have claws at the end of their legs.

In other news, flatworms have begun an invasion in Florida, attacking local snails and earthworms.

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