England

Pauline avibella 425m-year-old fossil 'a new species'

  • 12 December 2012
  • From the section England
Computer generated reconstruction of 425m-year-old fossil
Image caption Computer generated reconstruction of 425m-year-old fossil named Pauline avibella

Fossils discovered of 425-million-year-old tiny shrimp-like creatures are of a species new to science, say experts.

Found in Herefordshire, the invertebrates were preserved by volcanic ash when the UK had a subtropical climate.

The fossils show the animals' shells and soft tissues, such as eyes and limbs, the Leicester experts say.

Prof David Siveter said the species, named Pauline avibella in honour of his late wife, was a rare discovery.

'Beautiful bird'

"The find is important because it is one of only a handful preserving the fossilised soft-tissues of ostracods [type of crustacean]," he said.

"[The fossils] allow unparalleled insight into the ancient biology, community structure and evolution of animals."

Avibella was chosen because it means beautiful bird, reflecting the fact the shell of these creatures looks like a wing to those that have studied it.

The genus name, Pauline, was a personal touch for Prof David Siveter.

"My wife gave me enormous support and it's a tribute to her," he said. "I can stand up at scientific meetings and talk about Pauline."

The 1cm-long fossils were found in rocks at a site in Herefordshire, near the Welsh border.

'Salami slicing'

The site has been known for about 10 years and once the University of Leicester team visited the area, they realised there was a "treasure trove" of ancient fossils.

The professor said the process of extracting the fossils from the limestone rock was like "salami slicing".

Each specimen was ground down, with photographs taken at each stage, until they were completely destroyed.

The resulting 500 images were then stitched together using a computer to create "a virtual fossil".

"What you have in the image is a real animal, warts and all," said Prof Siveter.

"It might look strange but you've got relatives of these ostracods in your ponds, in lakes, rivers and the oceans."

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