Science Current Events | Science News |

World's first super predator had remarkable vision

December 08, 2011

South Australian Museum and University of Adelaide scientists working on fossils from Kangaroo Island, South Australia, have found eyes belonging to a giant 500 million-year-old marine predator that sat at the top of the earth's first food chain.

This important story will be accompanied by an artist's impression of the super predator on the front cover of the 8 December 2011 issue of Nature.

Palaeontologists have discovered exceptionally preserved fossil eyes of the top predator in the Cambrian ocean from over 500 million years ago: the fearsome metre-long Anomalocaris.

The scientists show that the world's first apex predator had highly acute vision, rivalling or exceeding that of most living insects and crustaceans.

The international team behind this discovery includes two Adelaide researchers, Dr Michael Lee (SA Museum and University of Adelaide) and Dr Jim Jago (SA Museum and UniSA), and was led by Dr John Paterson (University of New England).

The World's Oldest Apex Predator

Anomalocaris is the stuff of nightmares and sci-fi movies. It is considered to be at the top of the earliest food chains because of its large body size, formidable grasping claws at the front of its head and a circular mouth with razor-sharp serrations.

Supporting evidence of this predator's dominance includes damage to contemporaneous trilobites, and even its fossilised poo (or coprolites) containing the remains of its prey.

The discovery of its stalked eyes - showing astonishing details of its optical design - from a 515 million-year-old deposit on Kangaroo Island in South Australia now confirms it had superb vision to support its predatory lifestyle.

All The Better To See You With-

The fossils represent compound eyes - the multi-faceted variety seen in arthropods such as flies, crabs and kin - and are amongst the largest to have ever existed, with each eye up to 3 cm in length and containing over 16,000 lenses.

The number of lenses and other aspects of their optical design suggest that Anomalocaris would have seen its world with exceptional clarity whilst hunting in well-lit waters. Only a few arthropods, such as modern predatory dragonflies, have similar resolution.

The existence of highly sophisticated, visual hunters within Cambrian communities would have accelerated the predator-prey 'arms race' that began during this important phase in early animal evolution over half a billion years ago.

The discovery of powerful compound eyes in Anomalocaris confirms it is a close relative of arthropods, and has other far-reaching evolutionary implications. It demonstrates that this particular type of visual organ appeared and was elaborated upon very early during arthropod evolution, originating before other characteristic anatomical structures of this group, such as a hardened exoskeleton and walking legs.


The Artist and the Nature Cover

The striking life-size reconstruction of Anomalocaris painted by Adelaide artist Katrina Kenny was chosen to appear on the cover of Nature. With a background in ceramics, sculpture and painting, Katrina is a self-confessed eclectic with a passion for fossils. She has been honing her skills in biological illustration and reconstruction since 2009, helping to create the impressive displays in the South Australian Museum's new Biodiversity Gallery and the upcoming Journey to the Abyss. The University of Adelaide commissioned the painting.

University of Adelaide

Related Anomalocaris Current Events and Anomalocaris News Articles

Earth's First Great Predator Wasn't
The meters-long, carnivorous "shrimp" from hell that once ruled the seas of Earth a half billion years ago may have been a real softy, it turns out. A new 3-D modeling of the mouth parts of the Anomalocaris,

Origin of claws seen in 390-million-year-old fossil
A missing link in the evolution of the front claw of living scorpions and horseshoe crabs was identified with the discovery of a 390 million-year-old fossil by researchers at Yale and the University of Bonn, Germany.
More Anomalocaris Current Events and Anomalocaris News Articles

The Emergence of Animals

The Emergence of Animals
by Mark A. S. McMenamin (Author), Dianna L. McMenamin (Author)

The authors explore the late Precambrian and earliest Cambrian fossil record to explain the Cambrian phenomenon and discuss the possibility of a major turnover in marine ecology at the beginning of the Cambrian period or whether a new, improved type of animal appeared at this time. They support their often controversial conclusions with photos and illustrations of fossils, some never before published.

Debating Darwin’s Doubt: A Scientific Controversy That Can No Longer Be Denied

Debating Darwin’s Doubt: A Scientific Controversy That Can No Longer Be Denied
by David Klinghoffer (Editor)

In 2013 Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design became a national bestseller, provoking a wide-ranging debate about the adequacy of Darwinian theory to explain life’s history. In Debating Darwin’s Doubt: A Scientific Controversy that Can No Longer Be Denied, leading scholars in the intelligent design community respond to critiques of Meyer’s book and show that the core challenge posed by Meyer remains unanswered: Where did the influx of information essential to the creation of new body plans come from? In addition to ten chapters by Stephen Meyer, Debating Darwin’s Doubt also includes contributions from biologists Richard Sternberg, Douglas Axe, and Ann Gauger; philosopher of biology Paul Nelson;...

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
by Stephen C. Meyer (Author)

When Charles Darwin finished The Origin of Species, he thought that he had explained every clue, but one. Though his theory could explain many facts, Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. During this event, the “Cambrian explosion,” many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock.  

In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. During the last half century, biologists have come to appreciate the...

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
by Stephen Jay Gould (Author)

"[An] extraordinary book. . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer. . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."―James Gleick, New York Times Book Review High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived―a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.

Cambrian Ocean World: Ancient Sea Life of North America (Life of the Past)

Cambrian Ocean World: Ancient Sea Life of North America (Life of the Past)
by John Foster (Author)

This volume, aimed at the general reader, presents life and times of the amazing animals that inhabited Earth more than 500 million years ago. The Cambrian Period was a critical time in Earth’s history. During this immense span of time nearly every modern group of animals appeared. Although life had been around for more than 2 million millennia, Cambrian rocks preserve the record of the first appearance of complex animals with eyes, protective skeletons, antennae, and complex ecologies. Grazing, predation, and multi-tiered ecosystems with animals living in, on, or above the sea floor became common. The cascade of interaction led to an ever-increasing diversification of animal body types. By the end of the period, the ancestors of sponges, corals, jellyfish, worms, mollusks, brachiopods,...

In The Blink Of An Eye: How Vision Sparked The Big Bang Of Evolution

In The Blink Of An Eye: How Vision Sparked The Big Bang Of Evolution
by Andrew Parker (Author)

About 550 million years ago, there was literally an explosion of life forms, as all the major animal groups suddenly and dramatically appeared. Although several books have been written about this surprising event, known as the Cambrian explosion, none has explained why it occurred. Indeed, none was able to. Here, for the first time, Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker reveals his theory of this great flourishing of life. Parker's controversial but increasingly accepted "Light Switch Theory" holds that it was the development of vision in primitive animals that caused the explosion. Drawing on evidence not just from biology, but also from geology, physics, chemistry, history, and art, In the Blink of an Eye is the fascinating account of a young scientist's intellectual journey, and a celebration...

The Big Book Of Dinosaurs

The Big Book Of Dinosaurs
by David Norman (Editor)

How would a protoceratops defend itself against a pack of hungry velociraptors? Which dinosaur had the biggest skull? The longest tail? With the huge 448-page The Big Book of Dinosaurs you can uncover every trace of information--from facts an figures to 3-D illustrations--that an aspiring palentologist could ever hope to find.

Ideal for both school and home, the easy-to-understand text and hundreds of full-color illustrations paint a fascinating picture of the lives of dinosaurs--their appearance, their behavior, and their environments.

This book includes all these great features:

An in-depth profile of hundreds of the most popular dinosaurs.

Dozens of spreads describing the world when dinosaurs ruled.

Dozens of pages focusing on the different features...

by H. B. and D. E. G. Briggs. J. M. Enoch and D. G. Birch. WHITTINGTON (Author)

  Exceptionally preserved nontrilobite arthropods and anomalocaris from the Middle Cambrian of Utah (The University of Kansas paleontological contributions)
by D. E. G Briggs (Author)

Bioinspired Photonics: Optical Structures and Systems Inspired by Nature

Bioinspired Photonics: Optical Structures and Systems Inspired by Nature
by Viktoria Greanya (Author)

Harness the Wonders of the Natural World As our in-depth knowledge of biological systems increases, the number of devices and applications built from these principles is rapidly growing. Bioinspired Photonics: Optical Structures and Systems Inspired by Nature provides an interdisciplinary introduction to the captivating and diverse photonic systems seen in nature and explores how we take inspiration from them to create new photonic materials and devices. See How Photonic Systems in Nature Work The book presents important examples of how combining biological inspiration with state-of-the-art nanoscience is resulting in the emergence of a field focused on developing real improvements in materials and devices. The author walks readers through examples taken from nature, delves into their...

© 2015