Giant killer worms may have been top predators in the world’s oceans 500 million years ago!
If you had somehow managed to drop yourself to Earth about 500 million years ago, when the planet was going through the Cambrian explosion, you would have felt like you had been transported to an alien world. The blue planet was going through an insect-like invertebrate phase, and was soon producing a variety of the most bizarre things you can imagine.
The Cambrian was when complex life first appeared, and scientists hypothesized that the upper levels of the earlier food chain were dominated by primitive arthropod predators during this time. But a terrifying new discovery in Greenland is rewriting the narrative.
Scientists have discovered fossils of a previously unknown group of giant worms called Timorpestia, meaning “terror monsters” in Latin, that ruled the Cambrian oceans 518 million years ago. These 30-centimeter-long creatures were quite massive at a time when most living creatures were only a few inches long. Timorbestia were adorned with fins and possessed massive jaws, making them likely predators of their time.
Senior author Dr. Jakob Vinther suggests that Timorbestia may have been a close relative of living modern-day arrowworms, or chaetognaths. Today’s arrowworms are much smaller than their ancient cousins, but they share a common ancestor. This discovery suggests that these small predators may have had control over the oceans before the inevitable rise and dominance of arthropods.
“Our research shows that these ancient ocean ecosystems were fairly complex with a food cascade that allowed for several levels of predators,” Finther explains. “Timorbestia were giants in their time and were near the top of the food chain. This makes them equivalent in importance to some of the best carnivores in the modern oceans, such as the sharks and seals of the Cambrian period.”
In fact, the diet of Timorbestia, as evidenced by its fossilized digestive systems, showed the remains of common arthropods called isopods. Despite being covered in long protective spines, these armored creatures were definitely not immune to the rule of terror monsters.
The discovery of Timorbestia is just the beginning. Researchers have collected a wealth of exciting new fossils from the Sirius Passet region of northern Greenland, promising further discoveries about the Cambrian world and the creatures that inhabited it.
The results of this research were published in Advancement of science It can be accessed here.
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