Mystery fossil is ancestor of squid

An artist's drawing of a Nectocaris pteryx The ancient squid hunted using its two long tentacles

Related Stories

The ancestors of modern squid may have existed half a billion years ago - a lot earlier than previously thought.

In a new study, Canadian researchers identified a previously unclassifiable fossil that was long believed to belong perhaps to the shrimp family.

They called it Nectocaris pteryx - a small soft-bodied cephalopod with two tentacles rather than the eight or 10 seen in today's octopuses.

The new survey's results were presented in the journal Nature.

The findings make the ancestors of modern squid and octopuses at least 30 million years older.

Evolutionary biologist Martin Smith, the main author of the study, told PA news agency that the findings bring cephalopods much closer to the first appearance of complex animals.

"We go from very simple pre-Cambrian life-forms to something as complex as a cephalopod in the geological blink of an eye, which illustrates just how quickly evolution can produce complexity," said Mr Smith.

The authors described Nectocaris as a kite-shaped creature that was flattened from top to bottom. They say it was between two and five cm long and had large, stalked eyes.

The tiny animal is believed to have been a carnivore that hunted for prey with two long grasping tentacles. It used a nozzle-like funnel under its eyes that could "swivel like a pivoted cannon" to jet itself around the ocean - just like modern squids and octopuses.

'Unclassified' creature
Fossil of Nectocaris pteryx Nectocaris was a small, kite-shaped creature

The fossil isn't a new find - it was discovered decades ago in the Burgess Shale deposits atop a mountain in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada.

The Burgess Shale Formation is one of the world's most famous fossil fields.

Scientists tried to describe the fossil for the first time in 1976 - but back then, they just weren't sure where it belonged on the evolutionary tree.

They dubbed it "unclassified". According to Jean-Bernard Caron, Mr Smith's co-author, researchers originally thought the mystery creature could have been a relative of anything from a lobster to a fish.

But after Mr Smith, a University of Toronto PhD student, decided to re-examine the fossil together with 91 new specimens collected in recent years, scientists were finally able to give the animal its proper place in history.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Science & Environment stories


Features & Analysis

  • French luxury Tea House, Mariage Freres display of tea pots Tea for tu

    France falls back in love with tea - but don't expect a British cuppa

  • Woman in swimming pool Green stuff

    The element that makes a familiar smell when mixed with urine

  • People take part in an egg-cracking contest in the village of Mokrin, 120km (75 miles) north of Belgrade, Serbia on 20 April 2014In pictures

    Images from around the world as Christians mark Easter Sunday

  • Female model's bottom in leopard skin trousers as she walks up the catwalkBum deal

    Why budget buttock ops can be bad for your health

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • ITChild's play

    It's never been easier for small businesses to get their message out to the world


  • An aerial shot shows the Olympic Stadium, which is closed for repair works on its roof, in Rio de Janeiro March 28, 2014.Extra Time Watch

    Will Rio be ready in time to host the Olympics in 2016? The IOC president gives his verdict

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.