Giant worm-like creatures that lived over 500 million years ago have been discovered in the high Arctic area of North Greenland. Nicknamed “Terror Beasts”, these predators challenge our understanding of early complex marine life on Earth.
Key Details About the Discovery
Researchers from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences uncovered imprints of the fossilized worms at the top of Greenland’s peaks, preserved for posterity in rocks. The imprints indicate the Terror Beasts grew up to nearly 12 inches (30 cm) long – almost the size of a small shark.
The worms date back to the Cambrian explosion over 518 million years ago when complex animals and predators first appeared in the oceans. Up until now, scientists believed the first marine predators were creatures called anomalocaridids which resembled scorpions or shrimp. But these new fossils suggest the Terror Beasts are actually the earliest known large predators on the planet.
The director of the study, Dr Karma Chitrakar, said:
“It’s incredibly exciting to uncover such enigmatic fossils from the dawn of the animal evolution in the immediate aftermath of the Cambrian explosion. These are the oldest large predator worms ever found, showing that humble worms were apex predators hundreds of millions of years before vertebrates arrived on the scene.”
|Age of fossils: Over 518 million years (Cambrian Period)
|Size of worms: Up to 12 inches long
|Location found: Peary Land peninsula, North Greenland
|Species name: Timorebestia koprii
|Previous beliefs overturned: Worms ruled oceans earlier than previously thought
Lead Up to the Discovery
The fossils were found during an expedition by researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s GlobEx project which aims to explore the historical links between Greenland and Europe. The team was dropped off on the Peary Land peninsula by snowmobile and searched for fossils at the top of steep cliffs. They endured challenging weather conditions but persevered and uncovered imprints of several Terror Beasts.
The researchers state that more excavation is likely needed in the area which will probably uncover additional specimens and provide more clues about the biology and ecology of the ancient worms.
Details About the Terror Beasts
The imprints show the Terror Beasts had eerily circular mouths rimmed with teeth which they likely used to snare prey and shred flesh. Powerful body muscles would have enabled them to contract their bodies rapidly to ambush victims.
Remarkably, some key features of the fossils indicate they are ancestral to present-day velvet worms – shy creeping creatures found in tropical rainforests. But the Cambrian ancestors were giants by comparison, evolving to fill the predatory niche left vacant at the time.
Significance of the Discovery
The finding of the Terror Beasts shakes up over a hundred years of thinking about early predators. Their discovery proves humble worms were already gigantic apex predators ruling over the seabed, rather than only becoming powerful hunters during the ensuing Ordovician period over 20 million years later as previously thought.
It also cements the theory that major animal groups we see today find their origins in the Cambrian explosion event.
There is still much analysis needed to fully understand the Terror Beasts and their place on the tree of life. Researchers will conduct additional tests like CT scans on the fossils to reveal minute anatomical details and perhaps even traces of muscles or internal organs. Microscope analysis of rock layers may also uncover microscopic Terror Beast eggs or larva.
Further expeditions in the area could potentially uncover more complete Terror Beast fossils trapped in the tds. The rugged environment has helped partially preserve some soft-bodied Cambrian creatures elsewhere on the peninsula. Finding more complete worms would aid tremendously in understanding their full morphology and evolution.
Researchers also hope to uncover transitional fossils to pinpoint exactly when velvet worms evolved from the giant Terror Beast ancestors. Filling in this gap will clarify how humble worms transformed into the tiny tropical species we known today.
The Terror Beasts upend over a century of thinking about ancient apex ocean predators and underscore there is still so much to learn about the origins of complex life on Earth. More fossils waits to be found that will undoubtedly rewrite the history books once again. Just what other radical discoveries lie waiting in Greenland’s ancient tds? Only time (or rather, intrepid fossil hunters) will tell!
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.