Scientists may have discovered the earliest EVER animal!
Scientists at Edinburgh University think they may have discovered one of the first complex animals to have ever lived on Earth.
Their find shows that these creatures lived millions of years earlier than previously thought.
Fossils of the teeny marine animal, known as Namacalathus hermanastes, were found in Namibia, Southern Africa, back in 2000.
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But the scientists who’ve been studying it think it could be the earliest example of an animal with a complex skeleton (similar to those you might find in today’s sea creatures).
It was believed that the earliest known animals began life in the Cambrian Period – 541 million years ago – but we now know that the Namacalathus were thriving nine million years earlier in the Ediacaran Period, 550 million years ago.
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The Edinburgh-led team studied perfectly-preserved fossils of the Namacalathus. They learned that the species had a rigid skeleton made of calcium carbonate – the same hard material that makes up the shells of sea creatures today.
“This fossil has been known for a long time, and was assumed to have been a primitive animal,” says geologist Rachel Wood, from Edinburgh University. “But this study suggests that it was, in fact, more advanced. We have suspected that these complex animals were present in the Ediacaran, but this study provides the first proof.”
The Namacalathus had a ball-shaped body and long, worm-like stalk that it used to attach itself to the sea floor. Many of today’s animals could count the Namacalathus as their ancestors – cool!
Creatures before the Namacalathus were primitive beings like sponges and coral that don’t have skeletons.
The discovery has changed scientists’ belief that most major animal groups evolved during the Cambrian Period.