Around 520 million years ago, a walking cactus roamed the Earth. Its body had nine segments, each bearing a pair of armour-plated legs, covered in thorns. It was an animal, but one that looked more like the concoction of a bad fantasy artist. Jianni Liu from Northwest University in Xi’an discovered this bundle of spines and named it Diania cactiformis – the “walking cactus from Yunnan”. And she thinks that it sits at the roots of the most successful group of animals on the planet.
If Liu is right, Diania is one of the earliest relatives of the arthropods – the group that includes insects, spiders, crabs, and more. These species all share a segmented body, a hard external skeleton and jointed legs. They are life’s winners, the most diverse of all animal groups.
For plenty more about this weird ancient armored creature, check out the rest of Ed’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
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80beats: Ancient Invertebrates May Have Formed Chains for Strength in Numbers
A new fossil discovery shows that tiny, shrimp-like invertebrates living 525 million years ago linked up into formations that resemble daisy chains, and researchers say this could be the earliest example yet of animals engaging in group behavior. The fossilized creatures were found in closely interlocked chains of up to 20 individuals, with the tail of one animal inserted into the carapace of the next.
The ancient arthropods, a category of animals that includes insects, crustaceans and spiders, lived in open water rather than remaining on the sea bed. When they died, possibly as a result of moving into water loaded with toxins or short of oxygen, they sank to the seabed, where they were covered in sediment [The Times]. Researchers can’t be certain why the arthropods joined together into chains, but their best guess is that the animals were in the middle of a migration when they perished.